Yoga: Beneficial or Artificial?

New York Times senior writer, William J. Broad, wrote a sensational article titled, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.” If you haven’t read it, it’s worthy of scrutiny. Broad is also the author of the book, The Science of Yoga, which takes you through an in-depth look at the history, beneficial qualities, and artificial health claims of yoga in America.

While we know any type of physical activity comes with risks, we must also understand that we can be responsible for our own actions. As for yoga, we need not take it lightly. It is important to practice with the intention of truly listening to our bodies instead of following the false claims that troll this ancient practice.

These four tips will help you keep your practice beneficial, rather than artificial.

Take the proper class

Yoga styles are like snowflakes; there are no two alike. Before you take a class, read the description or talk to the instructor to determine if it is a good fit. For someone who’s never attended a yoga class, yoga may conjure up an image of middle-aged women sitting on the floor stretching. But in reality, it can be a hard-core and extremely difficult workout. As a beginner, you definitely want to avoid a class that only serves advanced students.

Take the options when needed

It is tempting to just do what everyone else in class is doing, but options are given and modifications are shown for a reason. If your teacher has been made aware of your personal needs, whether they are due to injuries, or other conditions, it is likely the options are there to serve your specific needs. Do not ignore them, use them.

Be physically conservative, at first 

One of the mysteries of yoga is that while we might not feel like we worked very hard on the mat in last night’s class, we’re almost guaranteed to feel muscles we didn’t know we had by morning. Yoga asanas, or poses, can greatly impact the musculoskeletal system at a very deep level. The effects are not always felt immediately, so it is best to leave class feeling like you could have done a little bit more. Until you fully realize how far you can safely push your limits, tread lightly.

Practice the basics

Don’t forget that professional athletes all started with the basics when learning a new skill. Yoga is a multidimensional discipline with a lot to understand and put into practice. If the Sanskrit pose names aren’t confusing enough, the chakras, bandhas, and drishtis can make your head spin. Practice with a beginner’s mind and focus on the most important thing first: your safety. Turn your awareness to your own body; take care of it as best as you can, and vow to learn about the other aspects of yoga whenever you feel ready.

Let yoga be of benefit to your health, rather than an artificial and superficial quick fix that may cause harm to your body. It takes a lifetime to learn, which is why it is called a practice.

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