YOGA AND ITS DANGERS
by Lawrence Wilson, MD
© March 2013, The Center For Development
Yoga, which means union, is a proud tradition of the Orient that was developed over thousands of years as a way to achieve superior health and mental development. Unfortunately, in my experience with thousands of people who practice yoga, modern-day yoga is hurting people more than it is helping them. As a result, I cannot recommend it at all for those seeking to improve their health, except perhaps for the most gentle restorative exercises or postures.
Many people ask why I would make such a harsh and blanket statement. The reason is that I have observed that yoga today causes subtle injury to everyone’s body who practices it. The injuries are to the soft tissues such as tendons and ligaments, but are also to the third chakra or abdominal area. In addition, the vegetarian diet often recommended with it is very harmful, as well. This causes a toxic and malnourished condition.
The result is that those who do yoga are hardened by it, weakened by it, and often become a little more angry and rigid in a way that harms their later spiritual development. You may not notice this problem, but it is occurring in all cases of people who do yoga on a regular basis, even just once a week. This is why I discourage yoga in all cases, along with most pilates and other yoga spin-offs. The spinoffs are less harmful, however, especially if they do not resemble yoga very much. The only yoga I can recommend is extremely gentle restorative yoga, as this does not seem to cause damage.
I know these assertions are the exact opposite of what is claimed for yoga. People say it calms them down, makes them more flexible and more happy. However, while it may seem this way, more is going on that is not helpful. Here is more detail on the problems of yoga today.
PROBLEMS WITH MOST PRESENT-DAY YOGA INSTRUCTION AND CLASSES
The problems include:
1. Damage to the abdominal area, or third chakra area of the body. This is quite subtle, however, and will not be noticed by most people. Oddly, drinking reverse osmosis water and doing hatha yoga or physical yoga poses have a similar effect of spinning the third chakra or energy center faster, and backwards.
This causes a person to become more stubborn, more judgmental and often angrier. It reduces one’s health, even though one may appear to feel better and stronger. It is an ego strength, not a true strength, and this is the problem with it. Unfortunately, it affects women more, perhaps than men, as the women generally have a weaker third chakra to begin with.
2. Upward-moving energy. This means that instead of moving energy downward through the body, from the head to the feet, most yoga teachers either do not discuss the subject at all, or get it backwards. This is extremely harmful to the body at the deepest levels.
For example, breathing upwards from the earth into the head is absolutely harmful. Likewise, moving energy from your center out your arm or even an outstretched leg is harmful.
The effect is to further unground a person. Most yoga students are already ungrounded to a degree, as this is the norm, and this tendency of yoga makes them much worse. A good teacher could avoid this, but they are extremely rare.
The reason for this problem is an unusual one: the intensity of the earth’s magnetic field has diminished. This is quite important. One idea that needs testing would be to do your yoga on a magnetic pad. These are sold commonly and the best is made by Magnetico, though others are probably okay, too.
However, do not buy a magnetic pad to sleep on, as these cannot duplicate the earth’s magnetic field, no matter what the manufacturer’s claim. None of the brands are recommended for sleeping on, but one could try it for yoga and contact me if you want to try this.
3. Physical injuries of many kinds. Most people, both students and yoga teachers, suffer soft tissue injuries during yoga classes due to the tightness of their tendons, ligaments, joints and other body structures. Most of the time, this damage goes unnoticed until later in life when it is difficult to reverse.
This may not seem important, but it can be very much so. Yoga is not a substitute for chiropractice, for example, or for Rolfing or other soft tissue bodywork. Yet many are taught and believe that yoga will solve everything when it is not true.
4. Not enough focus on rest and relaxation. Too many classes stress how many poses one can do in an hour, and how many classes a week one can take. The worst is “power yoga”, and some pilates classes that are even more vigorous.
The best yoga classes focus on relaxation and ease. This is what people need the most, and it is the safest. Only the very relaxing yoga class is safe at all.
5. Incorrect dietary and lifestyle suggestions given during
yoga classes and in yoga books. Often the dietary
recommendations are backwards, such as vegetarianism, raw foods, nuts and
seeds, and similar suggestions.
These were appropriate in the past, and were taught by many of the great
yoga masters. However, today this
is dangerous and wrong advice, I would maintain. It might help your yoga for a while, but it is harmful for
overall health today and tends to shorten one’s lifespan.
6. Poor or missing aspects of training. One of the worst problems is that the teachers never even learn the poses correctly. It takes years of working on one pose to really do some of them right. This means that the students do not even have a chance of doing the poses correctly.
Real yoga teacher training takes years, and almost all training programs are woefully inadequate. There are very few exceptions to this today, especially in America where everyone is in a hurry to learn and do things. However, the training in India, even, is not that much better in most cases. Older methods are repeated without much understanding of people’s needs today.
A second part of faulty training is the teacher must walk around the class the entire time, or at least look around, to make sure the students are doing the poses right. If not, the teacher must rush over and correct the posture before the student does too much damage to the body. This, also, rarely happens in most yoga classes. It is impossible if the class is larger than about 10 students, as most are.
7. Social, sexual and other pressures and distractions that occur in yoga classes and in yoga training schools. These include such problems as peer pressure to do more poses, and to do them deeper than one can comfortably tolerate. Other distractions that endanger students include trying to impress a sexy teacher, “bouncing” in poses, showing off, feeling guilty for stopping when you feel pain, showing off your body parts with sexy clothing, checking out the girls and boys in the class, and others.
These may seem like minor problems, but they are distractions that can lead to even more injuries.
8. The yoga ‘identity’. Another common problem is a tendency to view doing yoga as a “new identity”. This idea is heavily promoted, as though you are a better person because you do or know yoga. This is nothing less than a type of cult. A cult occurs when one loses individual reasoning and judgment, in favor of a new group identity.
Part of this cult-like quality seen in some yoga participants is to think of hatha yoga as a “spiritual path”. This is not the truth, no matter what anyone says. It is a set of exercises designed to change or alter the body in certain ways. Efforts to make more of yoga than it is lead to overdoing, wrong intent, and other problems.
Certain personality types are more prone to these problems. They include anyone who is a hard driving, focused and/or a competitive achiever. Yoga classes are full of these people, as they come to relax. However, they compete in this with their friends and others, and it tends to defeat the whole idea of relaxing and gently moving the body in new ways.
9. Too often, yoga is mixed with all sorts of questionable practices and beliefs. This is related to the two problems just above. Beware of yoga meditations, yoga diets, yoga breathing exercises, yoga music, yoga incense, and so on. Too often, these are not helpful at all, but are promoted as being part of yoga and therefore beneficial. Once again, hatha yoga is simply a set of physical exercises designed to move the body in rather unusual ways to achieve certain goals. It happens that today these goals are not as helpful as they once were.
10. Yoga addiction. This may sound odd, but I have encountered it on a number of occasions. Just as exercise can be addictive, yoga can be, as well, for certain personality types. The nature of the addiction is similar to exercise addiction. That is, a person finds that he or she must continue to do a lot of yoga, or vigorous yoga every day or two, or one begins to feel depressed, exhausted, or develops other symptoms such as weight gain or aches and pains.
Because yoga is thought to be so beneficial, the person does not realize that it has become an addiction. In fact, the person needs energy and yoga “revs them up” and gives a certain energy, and relieves unpleasant symptoms, as well, such as aches and pains, or depression feelings. Soon the person is lying to themselves and others that yoga is wonderful, when in fact it has just become a way to avoid depression, fatigue or other symptoms.
SPECIAL PROBLEMS OF CERTAIN KINDS OF YOGA PRACTICES
Bikkrum yoga causes more injuries than most others. The reasons for this are not always clear, but may include:
Š The hot room stimulates the body in some ways, even though it relaxes it in other ways.
Š One thinks one is more flexible and relaxed due to the warmth, when it is not the case in many instances.
Š The yoga routine is often fast and vigorous to encourage sweating. This is the most dangerous kind of yoga class.
Only if one is very careful with bikkrum yoga, can it be a more healthful type of yoga. All the rules above must be strictly observed, especially relaxing during class all the time, and stopping if one feels any pain or discomfort.
Other types of yoga that cause more injuries are any that move fast, try to fit in a lot of poses, or do not rest a lot between poses.
The only type of yoga classes I would recommend are those called restorative yoga. Even in these classes, one must be careful and one must work with an older, experienced teacher, if possible, who walks around the room often checking everyone, and who is not caught up with doing the class himself or herself.
IS YOGA NEEDED AND HELPFUL TODAY?
The simple answer is no. It is not helpful at all for the type of mental and spiritual development discussed on this website. If it were needed, we would incorporate it. In fact, it gets in the way in all cases.
For exercise, take walks or hikes, bicycle on safe streets away from traffic and pedestrians, or swim gently now and then in a clean lake, ocean, river or hot spring, but not a pool full of chlorine and other chemicals. Treadmills, gentle weights and other spa equipment is okay, as is playing tennis or other sports, provided you rest often and do not become exhausted or injured.
If you love going to exercise classes, find a very gentle restorative yoga class or simply an exercise class, perhaps designed for seniors so it is extra gentle. That is all that is needed.
Also, as one feels better due to a nutritional balancing program, be especially careful of the great temptation to return to doing yoga the old way.