Welcome to BLOGanga

How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body

January 15th, 2012

Don’t get too bent out of shape by all the recent who hah from the New York Times article about the dangers of Yoga. There may be some dangers in using Yoga to get yourself bent into shape, but that is no great revelation and nothing to fear. I’ve cautioned for many years, and wrote in YBB, asanas are tools, not goals, and they can cut both ways. Is a knife good or bad? Yes!

A couple months ago I had the good fortune of getting an advance copy of Science of Yoga from William Broad. The publication date is in February and the book is much more balanced than his NYT article. I think it’s a great book with valuable insights and contributions. It is not anti Yoga. Broad is and has been a practicing yogi for years. The book points out what he sees, and what he thinks science has shown, are dangers to be avoided. This doesn’t mean everything the book asserts is true but it initiates a much needed inquiry and debate. Broad’s book also validates many of Yoga’s benefits. Very often, when I’ve been interviewed, I am asked the question of where I think Yoga is heading in the future. I usually say that the caterpillar may have no idea of becoming a butterfly. We don’t know how our art and science will bloom as it grows and evolves. Then I add that one thing I can say for sure is that science and medicine will continue to discover benefits as well as problem areas and misapprehensions in Yoga practice and belief. Since Yoga has come west, and around the world, it has cross-pollinated with modern medicine, science, and many other disciplines. It has grown enormously in content and quality—it has evolved. This is welcome–a good thing. Understandably, traditionalists who erroneously believe Yoga was completely developed, elucidated, and perfected in the past are upset.

Yogis concerned with using the tools of Yoga to create a more refined practice will welcome new insights, information and debate. There are asanas known to be detrimental and they should be eliminated as should aggressive and rigid approaches to practice. This may be shocking to true believers, but it good news to those who want to move forward. Broad’s Science of Yoga this year, and Mark Singleton’s book Yoga Body from last year, contribute to Yoga’s apocalypse—in the root meaning of the word, the uncovering of truth. I have been and remain a proponent of an evolutionary approach to Yoga.

NYT Article:


As usual, well said and centered in reason:)

Ideally, you would think, if yoga really “works”, it would make us all more reasonable. It’s one of the things I love and appreciate about you!


Of course you have written the best thoughts on this. Many people sent me the article, which I had already read. When I read it I was so articulate all that came to my mind was DUH!

Right on point…as to be expected!

Thank you for such a forthright and sensible viewpoint. I have come to know that asanas are but one portion of yoga, the philosophy, the practice, a part of a whole. My yoga teachers points out that if it hurts don’t do it. I am learning to work towards the pose with patience, that in and of itself is learning. Continued blessings.

Dear Ganga,

Thank you for your response to the NYT article. Many of the injuries in the article seemed brought about by extreme practice. I remember you saying, “The difference between a medicine and a poison is dosage.”

I brought a copy of the article into my classes this week, and we have had some good discussion about principles of appropriate practice. It turned out to be a very mindful way to start the New Year. Next week I’ll bring in a copy of your response. I truly appreciate your describing yoga as evolutionary. Even after the Singleton book, too many teachers are still spouting myths. I will look forward to the book by William Broad.

I am 51 now, and in the last couple years I have noticed more aches and pains. My own practice has turned away from a vigorous vinyasa flow and strong stretches toward more pranayama and meditation and more study of yoga texts. I was diagnosed with severe degenerative disk disease in my neck, and dropped shoulder stand and headstand practice completely. I have begun having some lower back pain associated with forward bending, so have limited this practice. I have also been having hip pain post practice and now avoid certain hip stretches. Interestingly, I recently walked the Camino de Santiago–500 miles in 33 days carrying a 17-pound pack, and did no yogasana during that time. I experienced no back, hip, or neck pain. It was when I got home and resumed my Western lifestyle of driving everywhere, sitting a lot, getting in a walk if it wasn’t raining, and practicing and teaching yoga that my aches and pains returned. So I believe the context within which we do yogasana is extremely important. Walking and other forms of aerobics seem to be replacing yoga as my primary method of conditioning, and the body-mind connection stuff, the mindfulness training and destressing functions of yoga are becoming much more important. I find standing poses and balance poses extremely beneficial, but feel that stretching and forward and back bending can easily be too much unless practiced gently.

I remember what you said about how injuries happen whether or not we practice yoga, and I also tell my students that it can be enough, more than enough, simply to maintain the level of fitness they currently enjoy for the next 10-20 years. And so, with all this in mind, I am encouraging my students, who are in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and early 70s, to practice with mindfulness and ahimsa in order to avoid rigidity and self-aggression.

Ganga, I am so grateful that at White Lotus I was given the tools to be creative and adaptive with yoga. My best regards to you and Tracey and everyone at White Lotus.

Beth Wallace

Thank you Ganga once again for your calm wisdom and deep thoughtfulness. Indeed the NY Times article alarmed many yoga practitioners and skeptics alike, but the acknowledgment of what is valuable along with what is unnecessarily alarmist brings truthfulness and reasonableness to chaos. Love your teachings.

Thanks, Ganga, for bringing this to our attention. I have suffered myself from what I suspect are yoga-induced injuries, and only a smart practice is the answer.

Beautiful Ganga!
Thank you~

Aloha Ji!-
Great post! I loved Yoga Body — kind of a that nice splash of cold water that refreshes!
Yoga’s recent incarnation, I see as much like the rise of a rock/movie/political/guru – star – we feel the core of it’s truth, put it up on its pedestal -until- it doesn’t quite meet up to what we feel is the perfect answer (whatever that means) and then the finger pointing begins as we lose touch with our responsibility. This pattern is not only in yoga but in many facets of our everyday life. Let’s find that “something” outside of ourselves that is “the” answer to our pain and sorrow, that will ‘find’ the answers for us.
We are all artists in this game of life, hatha yoga, is just another beautiful color on the palette to help create our picture. Useless to blame the pigment when the picture doesn’t come out quite like we “thought” it should.

Thank you Ganga. In the age of smart phones, good to also cultivate smart yoga.
You say it well.


It’s yin yang. It’s everything in moderation. It’s this and that. It’s sometimes yes and sometimes no. I love yoga, but have also injured myself in yoga. I have up days and down days. That’s the essence of living…why would yoga be any different. I love ice cream, but I don’t eat it everyday. But, I might someday!

There is distinquation between the mechnisms of injury and the origins of injury. While mechnism of injury is relatively simple and easily intenvined, the origins of injury is much more complex…..
Yoga is union, there is no in and out, trust that Guru in you.

Ganga, I had a friend of mine send me that article the day after it was published asking me for my feedback. I told her that as a student of you and Tracy, I have learned that marvelous word called balance, awareness, and there is not a one-size-fits all in clothing so why should that apply to yoga?
I refer to your book YBB all the time and it is too bad that a few of your excerpts were not published in the NY paper as a side bar!


Thanks so much for this blog and your library resources on the WL web. We check in often and can’t wait to see you & for our now tradition of celebrating our wedding anniv with WL on MEm day wknd.

With Love

Kat & Bob (the dude as yo call him)

Thank you, peace to you both. This continues to be a wonderful journey.

much love,

Add new comment