When Yoga Hurts: Misaligned Healing

When Yoga Hurts: Misaligned Healing As a healing therapy yoga has proven beneficial for a wide range of physical conditions, but when misaligned postures and hyper-extended stretches push the body beyond its limits the practice hurts more than it helps. It is important to note that when taught by an instructor with a sound understanding of anatomy and physiology asanas are considered to be some of the safest and most gentle of exercises. In the vast practice known as yoga, which includes many different styles both old and new, there is plenty of room for anatomical error.

Author Matthew Remski wants to know the exact details of those errors. Remski is compiling the untold stories and unexamined trends to sniff out movements in the practice which may be injurious. In what he is calling the WAWADIA project Remski poses the question “What are we actually doing in asana?” According to Remski, early practitioners of the art were less focused on healing therapy and more interested in alchemical self modification.

“The postural influence of Hatha yoga, once used for a kind of physical self-destruction to release an immortal, post-human self, remains embedded within a contemporary movement practice that promises opposite goals.”

As a believer himself in its value as a healing therapy, the goal of Remski’s project is not to expose yoga for the injuries it causes. The project aims to identify and examine positions from this practice, both archaic and newly popularized, which might not hold up to anatomical and physiological standards of beneficial movement.

When Yoga Hurts: Misaligned Healing A quick search of yoga in the National Center for Biotechnology Information comes up with 2,540 scientific and medical abstracts or citations, 3,562 full text journal articles, and 512 books and journals. These numbers represent the wealth of doctors and researches who have recognized the potential in yoga for various studies, which is why it is so important for teachers to have a standardized knowledge base in anatomy and physiology.

The positions they teach and the method in which they teach them does not need to be standardized when yoga instructors have adequate education in how a misaligned position hurts the body and hinders the healing process. Thankfully, a nonprofit organization takes responsibility for that task. As the international authority which sets standards and provides the credentials which have established professionalism in the industry, the Yoga Alliance provides the globally recognized symbols of standards-based knowledge for teachers in the industry.

To become a certified instructor with the Yoga Alliance they require a minimum of 200 hours Registered Yoga Teacher training (RYT 200). Of that 200 hours, 20 must be dedicated to anatomy and physiology. Teachers who go on to complete the 300 hour advanced training to become RYT 500, and are then able to provide continuing education to other yoga teachers, only receive an additional 15 hours of anatomy and physiology.

Despite this 20 to 35 hour requirement, a number of adverse events associated with yoga have appeared in medical case reports. Of the 76 cases included in a review of published reports headstand, shoulder stand, and lotus position were the most common culprits. The most common injuries reported were in the musculoskeletal system.

When Yoga Hurts: Misaligned Healing
Yogi in headstand with legs in lotus position.

Why those postures and what went wrong? Interestingly, several of the case studies reportedly occurred in yoga teachers. Had they forgotten their training? Researchers proposed that the instructors may have been more inclined to injury since their practice includes these more “advanced” or physically challenging poses and they practice them more often than the average weekly or bi-weekly enthusiast. If the roots of yoga were misaligned with healing and more for molding the body as Remski proposes, then when a movement hurts the question is not one of value as a healing therapy, but of risking injury in the pursuit to be molded.

By Mimi Mudd

Yoga Alliance