For all Yoga Practitioners and Teachers the article below is very very important and useful. Couple of weeks back the entire Yoga Community was rattled by an article in New York Times by William Broad titled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” and while there was a big debate for and against the article, I found the following letter by Shmuel Tatz to New York Times best explains how we need to go about addressing the issue of injuries in yoga without getting overtly emotional about the original article.
The positive effects of yoga are widely accepted. Modern science can, in fact, quantify these benefits, such as increased flexibility, improved strength, better posture, positive mood, reduced stress levels, and –the widely desired – weight loss.
Recently, however, there has been an increase in the dialogue about the other side of the coin: injuries that may be incurred while practicing yoga. But before you allow yourself to be scared away and miss out on all the benefits, here are some ways to determine your personal level of risk before stepping onto the mat.
Practicing the asana (posture) aspect of yoga is a physical activity that requires the same level of awareness regarding the body’s capability as when engaging in any other type of athletic endeavor, such as running or soccer. Just as you should not attempt a marathon when first starting to run, pushing the body into the full, or advanced stages of a pose can be detrimental. To be safe, adhere to your body’s natural limits and avoid overstretching, which means moving past the point of first resistance when performing a pose. If you heed your body’s signals, your risk factor for injury is far less than many regular daily activities such as driving a car!
Dear Ms Glaser,
I am the Shmuel Tatz mentioned in William Broad’s excellent article: How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. Glenn Black studied with me for 5 years in my ‘body tuning’ studio, and is an example to others of how a yoga teacher with knowledge of body mechanics can minimize the damage yoga can do.
Mr. Broad states that I “devised a method of massage and alignment for actors and dancers” which is not correct. What I have done is to create what I call ‘body tuning’ which is designed to tune every part of the body, just as a musician tunes his instrument. I have worked with actors and dancers, musicians and politicians, but my practice is devoted to anyone and everyone who has pain and discomfort in the body and seeks relief.
What I wish for yoga professionals to understand is that they must know the biomechanics of the human body. Also, they need to work with someone, as Glen Black did with me, for at least 5 years to learn about body pathology, mechanics, disease and injuries. Yoga teachers should be aware of all facets of the human body so that they do not themselves nor recommend to their students other than what is health giving and safe. I studied yoga after I learned physical therapy. If yoga teachers have a basic education in physical therapy they will never do hyper-extensions of the spine because they will know the great damage it can cause the discs.
As for yoga students, in my opinion it is best to learn yoga first in private lessons just as a piano student begins with private lessons. In group classes teachers do not have the time to pay attention to each student’s specific problems. After you become adept at learning the basics of yoga practice you can take group lessons. Unfortunately whether you take private lessons or group lessons, most teachers have no training in biomechanics and there is, then, always the danger of injury to themselves and to their students.
Again, I think Mr. Broad’s article was an important one in alerting the many yoga practitioners that along with the good that yoga can do, there is also a downside which can bring pain and limit mobility.
Body Tuning is the yogi’s best friend. It is like holding on to a hand of someone who can see you better than you can see your self. This is the gift of any relationship. In yoga you can make a shape with your body but you might not be able to address the habitual patterns that are held in the body with it alone.
Body Tuning is based on pain free range of motion for the joint and the surrounding myofacial structure. It’s first objective is to make the body feel safe again and establishes the feeling of health alignment and support. This is done before any intervention is applied. It seems to remind the body of what feeling good is like. Then as small pressure and slowly increasing the demand of movement on the body occurs through the technique the body feels safe enough to let go because of setting up this prior pattern of pain free rang of motion being established. It remembers and let go even more deeply.
This tuning is like a mantra that the body can hold on to and come back to it original state of freedom and health. It moves out of its compensation and reactiveness into ease and grace.
– Lisa Matkin
Stepping Stones Yoga Studio
Many yoga teachers come to me to help them with the body discomfort and pain they experience as they advance their practices. As one of them said to me: “Yoga is supposed to be good for the body but I’m finding that yoga injuries are far more frequent than I think they should be…both for myself and my students.”
To this I say: Yes, yoga can be very good for the body, and to derive satisfaction from our yoga practice we need to do some things for the body to make it ready. First of all, we need to watch how our bodies react to what we are doing. But this is not always easy for us to do by ourselves. That is why we need to have a private lesson with a good yoga practitioner who will see if we are moving correctly. And then, even more importantly, we need to have a body tuner who can check our bodies at a deeper level, that is, someone who can go deeper in the body to see what kinds of changes are taking place. And if the body tuner finds something wrong, it may be necessary to slow down the yoga practice.
Legendary body-worker Shmuel Tatz explains why keeping your body in tune can help you avoid long-term injuries
Because active people often have problems with their knees, ankles, or lower back, it is essential to get regular therapeutic sessions with a qualified professional. He believes his body-tuning technique is the best tool for helping very physically active people stay injury-free (and I would have to agree), but if you don’t live in the New York area, here are some of his suggestions to help keep you in a perfect rhythm.
- If you experience pain, stop doing yoga and get daily treatments from a physical therapist until the pain I gone.
- Make sure the physical therapist has at least 10-15 years of experience. The therapist should spend a minimum of 40 minutes treating you, and a large percentage of that time should include “hands-on” treatment of your body. At every visit, the therapist should be trying different techniques.
- In addition to working on the affected joint, the therapist should work on other body parts that have been thrown out of alignment because of the injury.
Generally speaking, we yogis are a healthy bunch. We practice our asana regularly, are mindful of what we eat, and often meditate to release any and all negative energies. Sometimes though, we come up against obstacles, the most annoying of which are physical.
But we deal. We steam our strained muscles, haul our sore bodies to massage sessions, and sometimes even enjoy a day at the spa. We start to feel better, so we go back to the mat, and in a few weeks or months, a new obstacle inevitably pops up. As this cycle repeats over and over, many of us face chronic injuries. In the long run, our bodies and our practices suffer.
So it was that I recently found myself sun-saluting my way through this wheel of physical suffering. Then, one afternoon, as I rested on my mat waiting for class to start, I heard the quiet whispering of nearby yogis, speaking about a man with a magic touch.
A few days later, I am in an office located deep in the belly of Carnegie Hall. It feels like I stepped into a time warp. The office is worn, with an air of another era but somehow comforting, and there are strange-looking devices here and there (was that a flux capacitor?). classical music is playing, and there are pictures of dancers, actors, and musicians on the wall—all reveal loving and grateful inscriptions dedicated to the man with the magical hands—Shmuel Tatz.
Shmuel is a thin, distinguished-looking man, with playful eyes and a thick eastern European accent. He orders me to walk across the room, and I hear him muttering as I obey. On my return stroll, I can see him shaking his head and stroking his chin. Shit.
“What you are doing to yourself?” He seems really annoyed with me. My voice is meek as I tell him about the tightness in my thoracic spine, a strained shoulder, and an injured hamstring. “You do too much yoga!” he exclaims, as he leads me to a smaller room, and I lay my submissive self down on a table.
He began to whisper to me to relax and breathe as he went to work on my neck, my psoas, my hips, and my feet. Things were cracking and popping like an Orville Redenbacher Fourth of July, and I was alternatively sweating and feeling relieved. I felt gooey afterward, but I also felt as though my breath was traveling on a freeway around my body. Best of all, I swear I walked out of there taller!