“We’re all in this alone,” Manouso Manos told students in his January workshop in Los Angeles, quoting Lily Tomlin.
It was part of a weekend-long message on what yoga is and how to do it. When it comes to asana, poses must be done with dedicated application of the intelligence to accomplish the pose with every cell of our being. Applying that intelligence is a solitary activity, yet, to learn asana, we go to class.
Manouso relentlessly demanded that the 90 some students in his workshops work alone to trigger the actions to create equanimity within ourselves, to find a balance of work and opening and release that must be unique to ourselves.
If we were there to have him fix us, we were in the wrong place. If we wanted a road map from someone has traveled the hard path toward becoming a more balanced, healthy person, then we were in the right place. Even with Manouso’s guidance, even as he relies on the guidance of B.K.S. Iyengar, we still had to find our own path.
Manouso himself and dozens of the students in those workshops were walking evidence: Yoga can unwreck your body.
Not doing yoga can wreck your body
A recent article in the New York Times Magazine came with the opposite headline. It cited two dramatic examples of injuries, both from the 1970s, but nothing more recent. The article cited a 2009 worldwide survey of yoga teachers, therapists and doctors about serious yoga injuries and came up with fewer than a thousand around the world.
Rather than be astounded at these numbers, I found myself comforted. A reader might have been better served if the author had included a survey of therapists and doctors of how many serious injuries have occurred from sitting at a desk job or driving a car.
As a yoga teacher who admittedly sees more than the average number of people with such injuries, I can say that across 15 years of teaching some 1,000 students, I have seen 50 serious injuries to the low back, 45 to the neck , 40 to knees, and 25 to shoulders: This is counting only those from sedentary work.
In 20 years at a desk job, I myself suffered two serious neck injuries and one serious low-back injury. Yoga reversed those injuries. In my thousands of hours of teaching and practicing yoga, I have suffered a few pulled muscles that hurt for a day or two. And, yes, the injuries happened when my thoughts strayed from my practice. The worst injury occured when I got stubborn trying to learn a pose many of my students could do.
Yoga is not exercise
A more appropriate headline for the magazine article might have been: “How faux yoga can wreck your body”. Much of the story focused on the increasing popularity of yoga as one of the sources of concern. In fact, the number of students of yoga is increasing, but at nowhere near the rate of those practicing exercise under the guise of yoga.
Yoga has become like the aerobics craze of the 1970s and '80s: the “in-thing” to do. To meet that increasing popularity, gyms and studios offer up exercise classes, what I think of as “faux yoga”. Minimally trained teachers stand in front of students who have no idea that yoga is a mental and spiritual endeavor, using the body as a laboratory in the case of Hatha yoga.
If you want to unwreck your body with yoga, take these three steps: 1) find a good teacher who is continuing to study with senior teachers, 2) associate with discerning students, and 3) beware of your own ego.
Read some insightful responses to the New York Times article: Certified Iyengar yoga teacher Roger Cole explains the difference between what B.K.S. Iyengar instructs and what the NY Times article's author understood. See Roger's Facebook page. This also includes an excellent letter by the former owner/publisher of the Yoga Journal, John Abbott.