The Dangers of Ego-driven Yoga

Yoga pose

The New York Times recently published a controversial piece on the injuries caused by yoga practice. This article attracted hundreds of comments and many yogis blamed the injuries on the fact that in the US, yoga has become a competitive gymnastic sport. Many yoga teachers and practitioners in the US seem blissfully unaware of the spiritual roots behind this ancient practice. When you over-stretch during the poses to boost your ego or look good in front of others, something has to go.

Blame the Yoga Teacher
The Times article cites yoga teachers who aver that yoga as taught in the US has become dangerous for many people. The article reveals that yoga injuries range from muscular-skeletal pulls and strains to serious incidences of strokes. It squarely lays the blame on poorly trained teachers and their over-zealous attitude. Many yoga teachers in the US lack anatomical knowledge, treat yoga like a competitive sport and sometimes literally push their students into impossible contortions.

Dangers of Mindless Yoga Practice
Traditional yoga teachers say that any form of exercise if performed mindlessly can lead to injuries and this applies to yoga too. They aver that in traditional yoga, performing poses is just one step on the path to enlightenment. The actual purpose of asana (poses) is to make the body strong and flexible enough to enable comfortable meditation practice. But in the West, yoga seems to have become just another fad to lose weight and get that trim butt. While yoga is supposed to inculcate mindfulness in the yogi, the uninitiated do not listen to their body while performing poses, and hence get into trouble.

Dangerous Poses
Some yoga inversions and contortions can indeed become dangerous if the student is a newbie or if they over-strain themselves. In their zeal to look good, many students stretch the envelope and invite trouble. Ideally, yoga should be a happy medium which combines curiosity with caution. New students should not rush into performing the more tricky poses. And, experienced yogis should not treat yoga practice as a means to boost their ego by trying to perform complicated contortions and twists in front of others.

Ideal Yoga Practice
Yoga teachers who acknowledge its spiritual roots confirm that yoga practice cultivates sensitivity and self-acceptance. It is different from other forms of physical exercise because it cultivates wisdom even as you work out. The key is to perform the poses mindfully and stop when your body protests. Mindful yoga practice not only boosts physical health, but can also heal psychological and emotional problems. Traditionally, yoga has been used to promote creativity, love and personal growth and healing.

Many yoga aficionados in the West feel uncomfortable to acknowledge the spiritual roots of yoga. But, treating yoga merely as a set of physical exercises is fraught with danger too as this article indicates. The happy medium therefore lies in listening to your body and performing the poses within your physical limitations. New students would do well to choose a yoga class that provides them special consideration and where the teacher does not push them into impossible poses. A happy middle ground can ensure you get to enjoy the much-touted benefits of yoga, while avoiding needless injuries.

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