Let me preface this post by saying that I do lots of yoga, probably an average of four or five times a week. It’s been a great benefit to me. But that’s not what I want to write about. No, the masses don’t hound me and clamour for more of my feelgood stories — what the masses crave is blood, and blood they shall have.
First, I hate how people obliquely recommend yoga — any yoga — to remedy any problem. I’ve had back problems for eight years now and you can’t imagine how many people have said, “you should try yoga.” Even my dumbass family doctor made this dumbass, generalized recommendation. But my GP and everyone else failed to mention what style of yoga to try (because there are countless variations), which specific poses would help with my issues, and how they would do so. In hindsight, that really bugs me because my problem was recurring low back strains and disc bulging and herniation, and I now know that not all yoga is focused on strengthening and stretching the low back; far from it, actually.
But being at my wit’s end with sorting my back issues out and not knowing the first thing about yoga at the time, I tried. I tried it along with videos on youtube, and that was perfectly useless (more on that later). I went to a few different classes, and some were useless and in others I wound up injuring myself further (more on that later too). After hurting myself doing something that a bunch of people had said would help me, I gave up on yoga for a while. It was only by dumb luck that I met a yoga instructor who completely sympathized with my yoga injury plight, who taught me a yoga routine that acknowledged and worked within my physical limitations. But I don’t want to get all cheerful yet, there’s still a lot of bitching to be done — my first point is that saying, “yoga will help with your fucked up back,” is as grossly generalized as saying, “it’s important to eat things when you are low on sodium and potassium.” What kind of things should you eat though, you know? So I find that kind of generalized statement fucking stupid, and coming from a medical professional, it’s especially egregious. I still hold this grudge against my dipshit doc.
Second, learning to do yoga from a youtube video is useless. Without someone there to watch you while you’re learning and to correct your poses and transitions, I think most people are going to do them wrong or poorly, see virtually zero benefit, and possibly even injure themselves. That’s terrible.
That leads me to my third point. Most yoga classes I’ve been to haven’t been much better than the youtube videos — there’s someone at the front of the group who we’re all trying to copy, and that’s about it. They rarely come around and correct people who are having trouble, whether they are straining, doing poses poorly, or just plain lost. So wtf are beginners paying $10-$15 a session for? If I’m not going to receive any one-on-one instruction, I may as well stay at home and injure myself for free.
I found that most yoga instructors would make a ‘cover my ass’ statement at the start of each class, like “listen to your body, only you know what feels good” — as if that’s all people need to hear in order to do good yoga with solid, safe technique for the next 60-90 minutes. Bullshit. That’s not enough. Especially when people are learning, they need constant and clear reminders, like, “don’t worry about getting your heals on the floor just yet, just straighten your legs until you feel a light stretch in your hamstrings, and then stay there.” Beginners need this kind of instruction for every pose. I believe anything less is insufficient and neglectful.
Do you want to know what I recommend to people like myself who want to try yoga as a therapy for rehabilitating an injury? Here it is: find a yoga instructor who isn’t some hippie dippy idiot, someone with some legit medical training or background like physiotherapy or massage therapy, someone who understands anatomy and physiology. That way, they will actually have an idea of what muscles are involved in your problem, and be able to come up with routines that focus on you and your needs. See this person one on one for a while so that they can watch you as you work through the routines they give you and make sure you’re doing them correctly. Continue doing this until you see substantial improvement. Talk to your instructor about when both you and they feel you are ready to try a group yoga class to start stretching and strengthening the rest of your body as well, and see if they can recommend an instructor who is more focused on watching the class instead of being wrapped up in their own poses. That’s what I recommend.
When done right, I think yoga is fantastic. My problem with it is that too many people are doing it wrong, and teaching others to do it wrong too.