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Yogis challenge William J. Broad on “yoga injuries”


why yoga shouldn't hurt
The panel (left to right): Kaitlin Quistgaard, William J. Broad, Ana Forrest, Gary Krafstow, David Swenson

At yesterday’s “Why Yoga Shouldn’t Hurt” panel at the Yoga Journal Conference, three master yoga instructors and the editor of Yoga Journal sat down to talk about the New York Times“How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” article (and the firestorm it set off) with its now infamous author.

“I do have my bullet-proof vest on,” William J. Broad joked as the panel—featuring Ana Forrest, Gary Kraftstow, David Swenson, and Yoga Journal editor-in-chief Kaitlin Quistgaard—kicked off. Turns out, he needed it.

Unlike the uncomfortably chummy talk Broad recently gave with Tara Stiles, Quistgaard immediately asked hard questions, identifying the flaws with the article that have been commonly cited, i.e the extremely small number of injuries that were presented without a basis for comparison, how old the case studies were, and the atypical nature of the examples.

Broad responded with explanations similar to the ones he gave us previously—namely that there is no funding for yoga research, so the breadth of the data is small, the quality of the studies is poor, and it’s hard to prove causation. But, he said, the injuries that do occur are serious enough that they shouldn’t be ignored. He read a letter he had gotten from a man who had a stroke after practicing yoga for emphasis.

why yoga shouldn't hurt
The Hilton ballroom where the talk was held was packed with passionate yogis.

Krafstow interjected and said that his team at the American Viniyoga Institute had gone through Broad’s book and come up with a four-page list of errors. In a cringe-worthy moment, he also corrected Broad’s pronunciation of asana. “The first A is long, Mr.Broad.”

David Swenson chimed in and joked that he would like to promote his new book, “Journalism: The Silent Killer,” and then read statistics of injuries caused by bike riding and sneezing (yes, sneezing), which he noted, blew the yoga injury stats out of the water. When he called Broad’s reporting “sensational,” an extremely heated exchange commenced.

In the end, the panel seemed to agree that while they thought the risk of yoga injuries was overblown in Broad’s article and book, the risk is real and should be addressed.

“I think it’s a great wake up call,” said Forrest. “Whatever type of yoga we’re doing, let’s use it to get wiser and wake up.”

Yoga, they concluded, is a tool, and injuries happen when teachers don’t teach students how to use the tool correctly, or when students use the tool in incorrect ways, pushing their bodies past what they can handle.

Students should “forget about  mastering the posture and learn how postures can serve you and transform your body,” said Krafstow, and “teachers shouldn’t teach postures, they should teach students.” —Lisa Elaine Held

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