Concerns about yoga practice from medical professionals have surfaced in the recent past. These concerns are legitimate and deserve our attention. I would like to qualify that the BIM Yoga System is very different from the status quo yoga out there today in drop-in, follow-the-leader formats, and that the BIM Yoga System has been recognized by medical professionals as safe and effective exercise supplementing injury rehabilitation.
Nonetheless I feel the expressed concerns amongst the medical community should not be something hidden from public view, but instead the public deserves to make choices that are best suited for them with all the facts. Although some in the yoga world would suggest expressing any sort of negativity toward yoga is bad karma, I would counter this with a ‘cover-up’ being bad karma. So at the risk of undermining the industry I work in, I feel compelled to offer these quotes that may serve as a source of information for those seeking out a responsible approach to yoga.
In an article written by Fernando Pages Ruiz called, ‘Do No Harm,’ in Yoga Journal May/June 2002 edition Dr. Baxter Bell speaks about concerns from his perspective as both a doctor and yoga teacher. “Even though I am a medical doctor, my yoga students don’t generally expect me to, say, fix their carpal tunnel syndrome… I’ve seen too many teachers who think they know more than they actually do. Mainly, they don’t know enough to be cautious, careful, and a bit afraid of a medical condition.”
From a March 30, 2004 New York Times article called, ‘When Does Flexible Become Harmful? Hot Yoga Draws Fire,’ writer Lorraine Kreahling passes along Dr. Robert Gotlin concerns surrounding hot yoga. “’Heat increases one’s metabolic rate, and by warming you up, it allows you to stretch more,’ said Dr. Robert Gotlin, director of orthopedic and sports rehabilitation at the Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. ‘But once you stretch a muscle beyond 20 or 25 percent of its resting length, you begin to damage a muscle.’ Each week, Dr. Gotlin said, he sees as many as five yoga-related injuries to the knees or lower back. “
Canadian Living magazine published an article by Janet Doucet in the April 2007 edition called ‘Yoga Injury Prevention,’ where she relayed the concerns of physiotherapist Wendy Jardine who is a professor at Dalhousie University’s School of Physiotherapy in Halifax. “It turns out yoga is not the risk-free physical activity you might think it is. Although there are no known Canadian statistics tracking such mishaps, injuries are definitely on the rise as more and more people try out yoga, according to Wendy Jardine, a physiotherapist in private practice and a professor at Dalhousie University's School of Physiotherapy in Halifax. In the past five years, Jardine has treated an increasing number of patients with yoga-related injuries.”
In an August, 2007 article in Yoga Journal written by Sage Rountree called ‘Dealing with Medical Emergencies in Class,’ former nurse turned yoga teacher Leslie Bogart expressed concerns about the standard of care in yoga class in regards to managing medical conditions. “In teacher trainings she conducts with her husband, Erich Schiffmann, former nurse Leslie Bogart regularly tells the cautionary tale she calls ‘The Red Man.’ An older male student, new to yoga, appeared very red and was sweating profusely a few minutes into a class. When Bogart approached him, he reported feeling dizzy. They agreed he should discontinue the day’s class and talk to his doctor about his symptoms, which he did the next day. ‘The day after that he went in for a heart-valve replacement and coronary bypass surgery,’ Bogart remembers. ‘I was flabbergasted. You can imagine what could have happened had I been in a try it again mood.’”
The Globe & Mail produced a piece by Anna Sharratt called, ‘Trouble on the Om front,’ on Oct 10, 2009 that addresses chiropractor Darlene Buan-Basit’s concerns about safety in yoga and the ‘cover-up’ mentality prevalent in the yoga industry. “A self-confessed A-type, Darlene Buan-Basit went to a major yoga studio in Toronto to find inner peace. Instead, she dislocated her shoulder…The experience, which took place in 2000, hasn't soured Ms. Buan-Basit on yoga; she now teaches it. And she's sold on the strength and flexibility it can build. But it has made her aware of just how dangerous an overzealous student, a person with an undisclosed injury and an inexperienced instructor can be. Yet it's bad karma to talk about it.”
In the same article a comparison is drawn between the opinions of Moksha Yoga studio owner Todd Canning and physiotherapist Alan Horowitz. “’The industry is safe,’ says Todd Canning, co-owner of the Richmond Hill Moksha Yoga studio. (Moksha Yoga has six locations in the Toronto area.) But health practitioners are alarmed over the spike in injuries over the past five years. ’Definitely, I have noticed an increase in yoga-related injuries,’ says Alan Horowitz, a Richmond Hill-based physiotherapist. ‘I see many back and neck injuries from yoga, mostly from hyperflexing or hyperextending,’ as well as knee and groin injuries from twisting and overstretching.”
Dr. Stephen Cheung spoke out in a June 20, 2011 Globe & Mail article called, ‘MD’s cool to hot yoga,’ that was republished August 24, 2012 as ‘Thinking of trying hot yoga? Read this first.’ “’As a scientist, I wouldn’t say there’s a huge stock in sweating out your toxins,’ says Stephen Cheung, the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Ergonomics, whose area of expertise is heat stress.”
The article goes on to include the opinion of Dr. Nieca Goldberg. “The extreme temperature and humidity in Bikram yoga and its less regimented spinoff Moksha yoga can be risky for those with heart conditions, as well as for those with low or high blood pressure in the normal range, says Nieca Goldberg, medical director of New York University's Women’s Heart Program."
Later in the article Bikram Yoga Studio owner Dana Moore’s statement is contrasted with Dr. Stephen Cheung’s opinion. “When a student faints, ‘we always recommend staying in the room and that is really more for the safety of the student,’ she says. ‘[Outside the room] no one’s there to keep an eye on them.’ But Dr. Cheung says, ‘That sounds completely counterintuitive to the whole point of fainting.’… In the case of fainting, Dr. Cheung says, ‘I would get them in a cooler room and … have cold towels to really cool their skin down.’”
Dr. Cheung goes on to say , “Instructors say the body can tolerate the extreme heat of Bikram and Moksha yoga because sweating is its ‘natural air conditioner.’ It’s not sweat itself, but evaporation of moisture off the skin, that cools the body down, Dr. Cheung explains. ‘If you’re in a hot and humid environment, your ability to lose heat from sweating is hugely decreased because the air is already saturated,’ he says.”
On May 29, 2012 the Toronto Star article, ‘Yoga has healing, hurting powers,’ was written by Paola Loriggio describing physiotherapist Angela Growse’s thoughts on the subject. “Many forget that yoga is, first and foremost, a form of exercise, one with the same dangers as any other sport, says Angela Growse, a Toronto physiotherapist who has experienced firsthand the unfortunate consequences of a misstep. ‘People completely underestimate the potential for injury,’ she says. ‘It’s easy to move beyond the physiological range of the body’ while performing postures, which can aggravate muscle imbalances and other weaknesses, she adds. Torqued knees, snapped ligaments and pinched spinal discs are some of the agonizing results of a yoga class gone wrong, leading to months of misery and rehabilitation, possibly even surgery, she says.”
These expressions of concern by medical professionals mirror the research in the 2012 book, ‘The Science of Yoga,’ by William Broad. Broad exposes the alarming prevalence of injuries occurring in yoga classes and dedicates an entire chapter on the subject called ‘Risk of Injury.’ Although some in the yoga world have claimed the book exaggerates and inflates the incidence of injury in yoga, I would mention here that there are 48 pages of footnotes and the studies sited were compared fairly with competing studies so readers can make informed decisions. Besides statistics, mention is made in Broad's book; the idea yoga is promoted wrongly as a cure-all and inherently safe activity, but in reality there are only a handful of yoga instructors who teach yoga with the ethical standards required for safety.
Collectively, the above excerpts from a wide variety of publications make a strong argument for yoga instructors to be more vigilant in their approach to teaching. Safety and a high standard of care have always been the prime focus in my classes. I believe this puts yoga into its original context. From a historical perspective, the true essence of yoga practice has been exercise that acts as a prescription for improved health, and I will always treat it as such.