She was right: I did not do yoga and, not knowing what it might offer me, I was loath to try it. I also was concerned that the meteoric growth of yoga had outpaced the training of quality teachers able to protect my aging body parts.
Now, it seems, my thought and schedule may be the result for a change. After reading my colleague William J. Broad’s new book,’ The Science of Yoga,’ and observing a class at my local Y, I see there may be much to this centuries-old activity, more to its advantages and its risks, than I had ever imagined.
Adding to this discussion.
And if the science recounted in this volume is correct (knowing Mr. Broad, I have every reason to believe that it is), my creaky joints and muscles may reap some important rewards from an individualized yoga prescription. I’m particularly concerned about my back. This is riddled with narrowed vertebral spaces and prone to spasms and sciatica.
Not all yoga poses are beneficial or safe for everyone. Enthusiasts are hard put to ask whether the teacher and class they select are most likely to help than to hurt them.
What I need is yoga therapy. I can only hope to profit from it if the teacher is well-qualified. And therein lies the rub.
Anyone who chooses to can hang out a shingle and call himself a yoga therapist. Licensing requirements exist for beauticians and hairdressers, but not for yoga therapists.
The Yoga Alliance, a national organization for yoga in the United States, fills in this gap with specific training standards that, if met, earn the title registered yoga teacher. The standards involve either 200 or 500 hours of education and supervised practice, with specialized training for children’s and prenatal yoga.
To be sure, the yoga world is rife with true believers, many of whom bombarded Mr. Broad with complaints about an article he wrote in The New York Times Magazine last month chronicling a raft of devastating yoga-induced injuries. But he was also deluged with dozens of personal injury stories that included strokes and ruptured discs.
Then, in 2010, he recorded in a new class and developed ‘severe spinal stenosis’ with debilitating back spasms when the teacher ‘literally forced me into maintaining an extremely painful Downward Dog. ‘ This is a classic pose in which hands and feet are flat on the floor, knees are straight (though not locked) and the body is bent at the waist at a right angle.
In a more serious injury resulting from the Downward Dog, a woman in Washington, D.C. suffered a spinal cord infarction, a blockage that caused sudden leg paralysis. She has since regained only partial use of her legs.
Thus, it is essential to choose your class and teacher carefully. Grace Grochowski, a registered yoga teacher at my local Y who has been teaching for two decades, recommends that prospective students ask about an instructor’s formal training, tell him or her what they hope to get from the discipline, and report any injury, health, or ache condition that might affect their participation.
The teacher should be prepared to suggest changes in the moves you attempt or even point out that the class may not necessarily be right for you.
A more immediate benefit, to which Mr. Broad devotes an entire chapter, is yoga’s apparent ability to revitalize a person’s sex life by producing surges in sex hormones and the brain waves associated with sexual arousal. Just do not try to act on this stimulation in class.
Good scientific studies, including many supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an arm of the National Institutes of Health, have demonstrated that regular yoga practice can improve cardiovascular risk factors like elevated blood pressure, blood cholesterol, clot, and blood sugar-inducing fibrinogen, and it can raise blood levels of protective antioxidants.