Imagine you’re at a yoga studio watching someone going through their poses. Just as they make a spinal twist, you hear three popping sounds – pop, pop, pop. The person crumbles and lies wreathing in agony. That is when the truth hits you – this guy just broke three ribs!
This is a cautionary tale often narrated by Glen Black – a yoga teacher with over 40 years’ experience. He witnessed it in 1987 during his time at B.K.S Iyegar’s yoga school in Pune, India. Glen reports watching with horror as the yogi broke his ribs right in front of him.
And Glen Black isn’t the only person to speak out about yoga-induced injuries. As far back as the 1970s, medical journals in the US and England were publishing about injuries caused by yoga. Among the injuries recorded are raptured spines, brain injuries, damaged sciatic nerves, retinal tears, neck injuries, and – as mentioned earlier – broken ribs.
You may imagine that yoga novices or newbies are the ones who get hurt. Oh no! Even some so-called yoga gurus are hurting themselves. Back in 2012, the New York Times published a story about yoga injuries. The story mentioned some instructors whose backs were so damaged that they have to teach their classes while lying down. (https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/magazine/how-yoga-can-wreck-your-body.html).
But when you mess around with the wrong type of yoga, three broken ribs could be the least of your worries…
Messing With Powers Beyond Your Ken
There is one thing which most of us in the West take for granted. That is the spiritual roots of yoga. Since the first contact we often have is with hatha yoga – which focuses on physical postures – we think that is all there is to it.
Anybody who speaks about the spiritual aspects of yoga is often branded a mystic, superstitious or a total nutjob. Whenever someone mentions anything in Sanskrit, we brush them off as being overly dramatic. This is a dangerous attitude.
The Asanas (yoga postures) actually have spiritual roots. The postures were specifically designed to align the body to the cosmic geometry. Different postures make your body receptive to different energies from the universe. This is precisely why certain postures have a calming effect on your mind and emotions. They get your body in tune with positive energies in the universe.
The problem is that there are lots of negative energies flowing through the universe. Just like making the right poses can make your body receptive to positive energies, the wrong poses can make your body receptive to negative energies.
The end result is that you can experience a host of emotional problems like anger, frustration, depression, depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances from practising the wrong kind of yoga. In extreme cases, awakening the wrong energies can attract unwanted situations in your life.
Aside from that, practising yoga wrongly can also lead to imbalances of ushna your body. There is English equivalence of the Sanskrit word “unsha”. It is often (wrongly) translated as heat. This is because people typically experience ushna as heat during yogic practices.
However, the heat you experience during yoga isn’t physical. It is experiential i.e. arises from an interplay between your body’s energies and universal energies. The physical and emotional benefits you get from yoga is because it rises your ushna to a level higher than that of normal people. But, as is often said, “too much of anything is dangerous”. Raising your ushna too high (you’ll find out how this occurs shortly) can damage your cells and cause physical ailments.
The bottom line is that when you dabble in wrongful yogic practices, you’re messing with forces beyond your ken (understanding). Essentially, you’re setting yourself up for physical, emotional and spiritual problems. Even if you get lucky and don’t mess up your life, you’ll still miss out on a tremendous opportunity. The opportunity to experience the amazing power of yoga.
You’re probably asking yourself: what is the wrong kind of yoga? Have I been doing it wrong? How can I protect myself? Well, we’ll answer all those questions (and more) shortly.
How People Screw Up Yoga
In and of itself, yoga has no problem. It has been practised for over 4,000 years. In today’s stressful world, yoga has helped millions of people to live calmer, healthier and happier lives. Even medics and psychologists testify to the physical, mental and emotional benefits of yoga.
The problem – especially in the US – is that yoga has become commercialized. The yoga industry rakes in over 9 billion dollars in revenue each year (Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/605335/us-yoga-industry-revenue/). This has led to an explosion of yoga instructors, teachers, and “gurus”. Many of these are totally unqualified or half-baked. These people – due to ignorance or sheer bravado – are leading well-meaning people towards a deadly part.
Here is a selection of the wrongful yogi practices which can be potentially harmful.
1. Pushing Your Body Beyond Its Limits
The simple fact is that not every yogic pose is suited for everybody. You need a level of physical fitness and stamina to perform certain poses. If your body isn’t ready for a pose, the strain on your body can cause an injury. The shoulder stand or head stand – for example – can damage your cervical vertebrae.
Even “simple” poses need to be performed with humility and commonsense. For instance, some people have done the downward-facing-dog so strenuously that they have raptured their Achilles tendon. Even sitting in vajrasana for prolonged periods damage your sciatic nerve. This is because it cuts off the oxygen supply to the sciatic nerve branch below the knee – deadening it.
In most cases, injuries from postures arise from inexperienced instructors who push people too fast. They encourage you to do asanas for which you aren’t yet ready, and you end up injured To be fair to these instructors, most of them aren’t malicious. They are just ignorant. That is why most of them often end up with similar or worse injuries.
2. Ignoring Yoga’s Spiritual Roots
In the US, new-age “gurus” are modifying the yogic arts. They’re removing yoga from its Hindu roots and fusing it into American culture. The problem is that you need certain safeguards to perform Yoga safely. This safeguards have been developed over millennia of yogic practice. Ignoring these safeguards is creating a wealth of problems.
For example, without even realizing it, people are opening up themselves to forces they do not understand. This is because they imagine that yoga is simply a series of exercises. But yoga is much more than that. It is a way of seeking oneness with yourself, nature and the universe. Divorced from this holistic approach, the consequences of yoga can be quite deadly.
3. Practising Yoga at the Wrong Time
Yoga emerged in the tropical climate of India. Traditionally, it was practised before 8:30 AM in the morning and 4:00 or 4:30 PM in the evening. Between 8:30 and 4:00 PM, it wasn’t practised because the temperature was too hot. This was deliberate.
You see, doing asanas can lead a large rapid rise in the amount of ushna in the body. An extreme rise can easily cause harm to your body by damaging the cells. Scheduling yoga in the cooler times of the day is a safeguard to prevent this from happening.
Nowadays – particularly in the US – people don’t pay attention to the prevailing temperatures. It is normal to see people doing asanas in the mid-morning summer heat on the beach. This is potentially dangerous. The ushna imbalances this can unleash has the potential to severely damage your body.
4. Self Help Yoga
We live in an era of self-help books, YouTube videos and websites. This has crept into the realm of yoga as well. There are numerous self-help books and YouTube videos made by yoga “gurus” instructing people on different yogic practices. This is actually potentially hazardous.
Take yoga poses, for instance, it is difficult to master them by watching a video or seeing a series of pictures on a website. This is because most poses require minute adjustments which you need an instructor to fine-tune for you. Without being in physical proximity with the instructor, it is difficult for them to help you make the micro-adjustments. And, as already established, doing the poses wrongly can lead to injury.
Learning yoga on your own can be particularly dangerous if you tap into the wrong cosmic dimensions. This is because you will not even realize the potential danger you’ve put yourself in. An experienced instructor can help you to safely navigate the different cosmic dimensions.
How To Protect Yourself
The best way to protect yourself from the wrong yogic practices is by finding the right instructor or studio. How can you do this? Well, here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Do Your Homework
Before signing up with a yoga studio or instructor, carry out your basic research. Who is the instructor, how many years’ experience do they have? Where were they trained? The training is especially helpful. You want an instructor who has been trained with a celebrated guru or yoga instructor or school.
You can also read online reviews about the instructor or studio. For a newbie, these might not be useful since some of the words used may be quite unfamiliar. However, online reviews can give you a feel about the experiences people have had with a specific instructor or studio. The simple fact is that even if you don’t fully understand everything said, you can tell whether the experiences are entirely positive or negative.
2. Ask Questions
During any yoga session, ask lots of questions. Try to understand the reason behind every pose. Also, ask about any potential downsides. The more questions you ask, the more you will develop a feel of what is right and wrong.
3. Listen to your body
The most important feedback mechanism about specific yogic practices is your body. Do not ignore any pains, aches or discomforts arising from the asanas. Even though it is important to stretch your body, realize that there’s such a thing as too much too soon. If you begin experiencing any unmanageable pain, stop immediately.
Also, if pain persists beyond the class, ask your instructor about it. Or better yet, consult a physician. This will help you to identify and prevent any potential damage before it escalates into a major problem.
In a nutshell, the benefits of yoga come down to how it is practised. Doing it right can unleash unimaginable physical, mental and emotional benefits. However, the reverse is also true. Doing yoga the wrong way can lead to serious physical or emotional problems. There are a few people who have ended up in the Emergency Room due to yoga-related injuries. To avoid falling victim, use the strategies outlined above. Best Wishes.