Sisterhood Blog

So What If Yoga Is Just Another Exercise?

By Elissa Strauss

  • Print
  • Share Share
Creative Commons

Put down those mats everyone. Now yoga is bad.

Well, not bad, but maybe not the magic cure it has long been touted as either — at least according to two new articles.

A recent piece in the New York Times magazine outlines the health risks associated with yoga. While completely hyperbolic — one guy’s “yoga” injury comes from sitting on his knees for hours a day — we still learn that yoga can cause some serious problems and should not be the exercise of choice for everybody.

And over at New York Magazine an interview with yoga reformer David Regelin reveals that we have been doing things all wrong. We rush through poses while listening to Bjork, as the strong parts of our bodies get stronger and the weak ones get weaker. Meanwhile, teachers “have had, you know, hip replacements and knee surgery,” he says. “But they’re not going to put that out there. If you’re the fast-food industry, you don’t say, ‘I’m obese, eat my food.’”

In short, the combination of sloppy teaching and the fact that most of us can’t help but push too hard on the mat — you can take the yogi out of the competition, but can’t take the competition out of the yogi — has led to a fair share of damaged muscles and joints. This backlash is hardly surprising in a news culture obsessed with the all that is counterintuitive and shocking. (How broccoli can kill you, tonight at 8!) Honestly, I am surprised it took this long.

But these pieces got me thinking.

As a long-time yogi who has the seen the physical and mental benefits of yoga, I am reluctant to panic about its potential harm, as presented in these pieces. I was, however, prompted to consider yoga’s proposed spiritual, ego-reforming effects and whether the exercise is really so exceptional after all.

I have been doing yoga for six years and the benefits are clear. My “core” is stronger, and if I catch a good teacher on a good day then I leave the studio with a clearer and calmer mind. But it never goes deeper than that. I have heard many, many ruminations on the perils of the ego and how through yoga we can gain access to some source of higher truth or meaning, but I can’t say I have ever really gone there. Sure, it relaxes me, but so does a long run in the park on a nice day.

Yoga is presented to us as part of a system that nurtures understanding and growth. We are supposed to “listen” to and “respect” our bodies, and through this we learn greater truths about tolerance and acceptance. But inside how many of us are really approaching our bodies or other beings in this manner? I’m much more likely to be thinking, “Man, I wish I could stick this handstand for longer than a few seconds.” Or, “Eww, that guy’s B.O. is horrible.” Or, “Ugh, I’m so bloated.”

It’s possible that I am the worst yoga student ever, but a quick glance around the room reveals that not everyone seems to be getting in touch with a universal truth either. Most of them just look like they are working out. And if these articles about the rising number of injuries due to yoga are true, then it seems as though there are more out there who have yet to sufficiently strip themselves of ego on the mat.

Slate recently ran a piece about the similarities between yoga and objectivism, after yoga-wear purveyor Lululemon began quoting Ayn Rand on their shopping bags.

Molly Worthen writes:

Patchouli and oneness with the universe are passé. Yoga is now hyper-modern and individualist, a lifestyle devoted to realizing one’s own potential in the tightest, most space-age fabric possible. To reduce Rand’s philosophy to a mere endorsement of this sort of striving and self-improvement is to totally misunderstand her. But it’s not hard to see that if we take some of her pithy statements out of context, she transforms into a slightly edgier version of your local yoga instructor.

I think Worthen is right, and that that might just be okay. We can let go of this idea that yoga is some magical temple of healing and transformation, and stick with it because it is a good form of exercise with some potential calming side effects. And we can search elsewhere for moral and personal insights. I hear that the Jewish tradition, for one, has a few ideas about these matters.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Exercise, Yoga

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Selma. Nearly 50 years ago it was violent Selma, impossibly racist Selma, site of Bloody Sunday, when peaceful civil rights marchers made their first attempt to cross the Pettus Street Bridge on the way to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama." http://jd.fo/r50mf With the 50th anniversary approaching next spring, a new coalition is bringing together blacks, Jews and others for progressive change.
  • Kosovo's centuries-old Jewish community is down to a few dozen. In a nation where the population is 90% Muslim, they are proud their past — and wonder why Israel won't recognize their state. http://jd.fo/h4wK0
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.