Kino’s Hip: Reflections on Extreme Practice and Injury in Asana
Heyam dukham anagatam.
(Pain that is yet to come can be avoided.)
Yoga Sutra II:16
On June 14th, Kino MacGregor posted a photo to her 782K Instagram and 264K Facebook followers. She’s in hero pose, her hands in prayer, eyes closed, on a beach. Fans would find it an uncharacteristic shot. There’s no floating movement implied, and her body is small against the wide-angled azure sky and placid sea. Her caption gives insight into the image, and why it seems to chafe her feed like an internal tear:
Yesterday while I was helping a student in Bakasana I heard a series of pops around my right hip. Then I couldn’t bear weight, walk or straighten my leg. After a visit to the doctor I still don’t have a complete diagnosis but it’s most likely a sprain of either the hamstring or the hip or both. Now the real yoga begins. I always say that pain and injury are the true teachers of the spiritual path and now it’s time for me to walk my own talk. There is a lesson is [sic] everything, especially the hard and difficult stuff. If this is a hip sprain and not a hamstring sprain then it will change my whole paradigm on what it takes to forward bend. If it’s the hamstring I’ll gain valuable knowledge on how to heal and rehab a hamstring sprain. Today’s #YogiAssignment is Wisdom. What is the wisdom that the biggest pain or obstacle in your life has to teach you? What wisdom have you gained from going through a difficult or challenging period in your life? Remaining equanimous with faith and patience through pain, injury and suffering is hard, but it is where the real inner work of yoga begins. Being strong in yoga isn’t about how long you can hold a handstand. It’s about how much grace you can contain when facing adversity.
MacGregor’s followers on Snapchat saw more of the backstory flash across their mobile screens that Saturday, and then disappear as if it had never happened.
“I put it all on Snapchat, because Snapchat doesn’t save anything,” she tells me via phone. Her enthusiasm is infectious. “I told everyone: ‘I’m at the Emergency Room. I feel like a drama queen!’
“But I knew I had to get it checked out. I had to teach the next day. I was really concerned about potential damage to the hip joint.”
The Emergency doctor in West Hartford, Connecticut, surmised a hamstring sprain and inflammation of the hip bursa, and suggested patience before proceeding to imaging. MacGregor went for acupuncture that evening at the studio she’d been teaching in for the weekend, did only restorative postures the following morning, taught another class while keeping her knee bent in forward folds, and then flew back to Miami on Sunday night.
On Monday, MacGregor saw a sports medicine doctor who took an x-ray that ruled out any hairline fracture, and suggested physiotherapy. On a walk that afternoon on Miami’s South Beach, she paused to take a photo of herself in Scorpion pose.
MacGregor’s physio is on staff at the Miami City Ballet. “She’s excellent,” MacGregor says. “She confirmed that my hamstring was pulled, but she didn’t think it was a serious tear. She said that my glutes were pulled. She checked my obturator and as much of the deep-six as she could, and she felt that they were all a little pulled.
“But then she checked my sacroiliac joint and found that the whole right plate of the sacrum had shifted and my right hip was raised, and there was a lot of compression. I thought, ‘That’s what all the popping was.’”
MacGregor has suffered yoga-related sacroiliac pain and injury in the past. It’s a common problem in the yoga world, and is widely believed to be exacerbated by seated and standing twisting postures.
“The therapist also said that there was probably inflammation around the joint capsule, and that maybe because of the impact, the head of the femur had jammed against the socket. She gave me a list of movements I should avoid, and a whole 20-minute therapeutic routine that I did with her that day. I’ve been doing it every day, before my practice. But I didn’t practice on Monday or Tuesday.”
On Tuesday, MacGregor saw her favourite massage therapist – “an energy healer who also does chiropractic adjustments” – who manipulated her sacrum back into what felt like alignment. “There were a whole series of clicks and pops around the sacroiliac joint, and these were really loud. Twenty-four hours later, there was a dramatic improvement in my whole hip area. The inflammation was down by 50%.”
By Thursday afternoon, MacGregor was back out on South Beach, having a photo taken of herself in Vasisthasana. Neither that post nor the Scorpion post make mention of the injury.
I remarked that in the Vasisthasana photo, she’s loading her injured hip.
“Yeah, but that’s a strengthening action,” MacGregor replied. “There was no strain on the hamstring. It felt good.”
I’ve interviewed more than a hundred yoga practitioners about pain and injury. The acute injuries are dramatic: a hamstring tears in the moment of a harsh adjustment, or a rotator cuff rips upon the impact of leaping into an arm-balance that uses the upper arm as a brace. But there are usually pre-existing weaknesses or stresses that forecast these events, which means that sports medicine doctors and orthopedic surgeons are typically conservative when it comes to pinpointing exact moments and causes.
Even harder to definitively source are the repetitive stress injuries that creep in below the radar. I’ve interviewed several women who have sustained labral tears, for example, which first present as niggling pinches in the groin and either slowly or quickly progress to shattering pain. Many of these subjects continued to practice as their pain increased, unaware that they may be deepening a tear. Some practiced with modification, some without, but most continued with a firm belief that whatever the pain was, practice would heal it.
Then there are injuries like MacGregor’s, which are yoga-related, but don’t literally occur on the mat. MacGregor was initially firm via email. “This isn’t a yoga injury that came from my practice. It came from the impact of a student falling into me while I was assisting her.”
But when a Facebook fan asked her during an online Q&A session: “What are your thoughts on how the intensity of the practice may have contributed to your injury?” MacGregor didn’t answer.
As we spoke, however, she opened up about borderline doubts, starting with her practice habits, and by the end, winding around to the value and impact of her YouTube channel.
I asked her about the public reaction to an Instagram she posted of herself in an “oversplits” position, with her front calf and bottom shin planted on opposing chairs, and her hips dipping into the space between them. The caption reads:
Got a new assignment today from Eugene: oversplits. He says that my hips have to eventually touch the floor. What do you think? How many month with [sic] that take? @beachyogagirl and I are snapping today–are you following our snap chat stories? Kerri caught more of the crazy things we did today. Snapchat: kinoyoga Leggings @aloyoga.
“People re-posted that picture and said, ‘That’s the reason for your hip injury.’ And I thought about it, and I thought gosh, well, I don’t know…
“I had to think about whether I was pushing myself too hard in my practice, and whether that had created instability in my hip joint.
“But when I started my practice, I was really unstable. I’m not a naturally strong person. Or naturally flexible. It’s more like ‘floppy’ is my natural state. And a little clumsy. So my main emphasis in practice is the avenue of strength. Even in a flexibility posture like oversplits, I’m approaching it from strength. So I’m training with this Russian circus guy – ”
“Is that ‘Eugene’?” I interject.
“That’s Eugene! I wanted technique for advanced stretches and arm-balances. And in the yoga world, there isn’t a lot of technique around. It’s more like, ‘Don’t do it’.
“But I know I’m gonna have to do it if I’m gonna keep practicing Ashtanga. I’m working on Kroukachasana, in the Fifth Series. So let me get some technique, the way to safely support my joints. So with that oversplits, Eugene had me engaging really intensely to support my body while I was there. He didn’t let me sit there and hang. He was focusing on how to build more strength around the joint.”
There’s no doubt MacGregor is strong. She floats between arm balances and planking variations with a post-human grace that seems aided by CGI. She seems – on film at least – to have achieved the perfect physical balance of firmness and ease described in the Yoga Sutras. But no one, including MacGregor, can know whether that alchemy is stable, and for how long.
Almost exactly a year ago, I reported on the right-hip-implosion of one of Canada’s first Ashtanga teachers, Diane Bruni. In 2008, Bruni tore the deep rotators off her bone in a seemingly-harmless wide-angled pose following a five-year-long regime of hip-opening, which was paradoxically recommended by her yoga mentors to treat her ongoing knee pain.
It took Bruni several years for her to come clean to herself and others about how she felt that a programme of extreme flexibility and spiritualized pain had dominated her practice and teaching ideology – and destabilized her hips by weakening her ligaments. “My livelihood depended on it”, she told me. “My studio was based on it.
“Before my injury, I used to say many of the things Kino says in the injury post and on YouTube,” Bruni writes. To illustrate, she sends me a link to “Yoga for Open Hips: Full Practice with Kino”. It’s on the Kinoyoga channel, which has 271K followers and almost 70 million views.
“I would say: ‘Notice the sensations. Notice if it hurts, it’s burning, or of it’s tight. Tell yourself it’s okay, practice surrender. Accept the pain, breathe into it. This will help you accept who you are.’
“Now I wonder – what does that even mean?”
At time cue 9:25 of the video, MacGregor sinks forward over her thighs in a deep butterfly posture, and pauses in a passive stretch. “Feel that burning sensation in the hip joints,” she intones. “Nice deep inhale. Nice deep exhale.”
Bruni sighs over email. “I said all the same things.” She’s since left Ashtanga behind to learn and teach what she feels to be more functional and sustainable movement.
“I practiced and taught all these poses, which are totally inaccessible to most people. I learned the hard way. I hope I can help save at least one person the agony of my injury.”
It’s unclear whether this setback will shift MacGregor’s practice in a permanent way, or be absorbed into her brand narrative, or both. Early indications suggest that the media juggernaut that projects her yoga may make it difficult for anything but business-as-usual.
Since the injury announcement, Kinoyoga instagram has been updated with over 50 photos and videos of MacGregor in advanced postures. The hip-opening clip that Bruni sent me was published on June 29th. Some critics have speculated that all of these visuals must have been shot before the injury, and have continued auto-uploading without disclaimer or warning – perhaps to fulfill endorsement contracts – as if from a virtual studio where injury is impossible.
But MacGregor says that only some photos date from prior to the injury, while most were shot on the day of posting. For instance, on July 1st, several Kinoyoga platforms unrolled a “Back to Backbends” public challenge as part of a beta-stage collaboration with @beachyogagirl Kerri Verna. Fans are encouraged to post yoga-selfies that mimic a pre-set sequence, and to click into sponsorship sites.
MacGregor tells me that all of the challenge’s backbending photos and films were shot prior to the campaign’s start – within the two-week window following the injury. “As long as I stayed away from hip rotations, I was fine,” MacGregor says. “Backbending felt really good. Arm balances were fine. Straight-line handstands – good.”
MacGregor says that she didn’t want her media platform to reflect upon her injury while she was unsure about its status. Therefore, the regular posts continued.
“I really just wanted to figure it out, to go through it, and wait until I was on the other side of it,” she says. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying ‘This is the physical therapy I’m using to heal’, because I wouldn’t be sure of it. Maybe after it heals I could talk about my experience and the step-by-step postures and be able to say ‘This worked’. I’d want empirical evidence that it worked, rather than just sharing it and having a whole bunch of people mimic my process.
“So I couldn’t share the physical part of the journey, but the #YogiAssignments I gave with every post that week took the flavour of exactly where I was emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.”
Iain Grysak is an advanced Ashtanga practitioner and teacher stationed in Bali who I interviewed about a year ago for my project, because he emphasizes safety and moderation in practice. He seems to be one of those exceedingly rare advanced practitioners who reports no significant injuries.
“I have respect for Kino and what she does,” Grysak writes. “She gets a bad rap from part of the Ashtanga community because of her massive marketing and commercialization process. I have always respected the fact that she does it with integrity, by attempting to live the truth of what the practice means to her, as well as remaining in line with the current ‘tradition’.”
But as to the physical toll of MacGregor’s stated job of providing “a link between the pop culture of yoga and the more traditional lineage based spiritual practice,” Grysak expresses concern.
His basic contention is that this fiery method can be healthy and even therapeutic when practiced with supervision in conservative amounts. But he warns that even the most robust practitioners will hurt themselves if practice turns into a full-time profession demanding endless jet-setting, teaching, and demonstration – whether for digital consumption or “weekend intensive” formats.
“It’s not what the practice is designed for. It’s not sustainable. The striving – for deeper opening in Bruni’s case, or to give “inspiration” in MacGregor’s case – might lead people to take the practice to a place that it is just not meant to be taken if it is to remain a healthy technique.”
Grysak also says that the same teacher to whom MacGregor dedicated her recent book – Sharath Jois, grandson of Ashtanga founder Pattabhi Jois – actively discourages both the professional zeal and the mega-posture workshop-culture now par-for-the-course in the yoga world.
“Sharath is very opposed to overworking and speaks out against it regularly in Mysore. He admonishes people who go home after practice and continue to work on tough postures. He says asana practice should be done once a day, in the morning. I agree with him: get on with your life and wait until the next morning to do more asana!”
I asked MacGregor for a response.
“I would definitely agree. When I’m in Mysore, I do my practice, and then I go home and go back to bed. My body has been through a spiritual, emotional, and physical battle on levels I’m not even aware of. I’m like a soldier, no joke. I try to avoid talking to other people afterwards, because I’m in this sensitive, other world.
“But in Mysore there’s really nothing else to do. So after I sleep, the rest of the day is like ‘Do you wanna drink coconuts, or do you wanna go get lunch?’”
“I have to admit” – I can hear a sly grin over the phone – “when I leave Mysore, I’m a bad Ashtangi. It’s not possible for me to keep up that kind of intense discipline. I practice six days a week, but I do not kill myself. I practice in a calm manner that gives space to my body and how I’m feeling that day. I’ll do the practice my teacher has given me, but I will not force. I’ll give myself little outs. That’s taken me a long time to get to that chilled-out place.
“So I totally agree. I wouldn’t be able to sustain traveling and teaching and making a few videos in the afternoon if I was practicing like in Mysore.”
MacGregor has periodically faced doctrinal and pragmatic critique from within her subculture head-on. But she also faces scientific pushback from the wider movement-studies field. Opposition to the assumed benefits of flexibility-focused and repetitive-motion exercise is growing – most loudly against the passive stretching that might not be part of the Ashtanga method per se, but which MacGregor and others promote as preparatory for the deeply contortionistic postures of its advanced series.
Most of the biomechanics specialists, kinesiologists, neurologists and orthopedic surgeons I’ve consulted in my research are deeply skeptical of the borderline-mystical theories of stretching handed down through pre-modern yoga therapeutics. This new consensus is overturning popular notions of bodily alchemy that echo through sources ranging from medieval to New-Age to high-end-spa-speak.
Pattabhi Jois was fond of the adage, “With enough heat, even iron will bend”. But this new rationalist yoga discourse imposes clearer limits upon the aspirational body, insisting that muscles do not get “longer”, and pain is not an “opening” – except in a pathological sense. The primal dream of bodily transformation through “being worked into a noodle”, as Jois student Annie Pace described it, is being eclipsed by the simpler goal of enhancing a natural range of motion for functional movement.
Jules Mitchell, who works to incorporate the most recent data on the science of stretching into yoga studies, is unequivocal: “The yoga community has been dangerously obsessed with tissue distention,” she writes via email.
Interviewed for her blog by Ashtangi Tracey Mansell, Londoner Osteopath Jamie Andrews adds: “Prolonged exposure to progressive stretching can eventually lead to ligamentous laxity and joint hypermobility, increasing the risk of muscular injuries, ligamentous injuries, joint dislocation and reduced proprioception.”
But Pattabhi Jois wasn’t just referring to muscles and ligaments when he used the word “iron”, even though the body was his teaching instrument. For Jois, physical possibility on a gross level provided access to a subtler spiritual possibility. As almost all of his senior students recall, he was constantly speaking to the deeply conditioned wounds of the human psyche, clad in the iron of defensive self-concepts.
“Pain is good,” MacGregor quotes Jois as saying of the process that “releases” spiritual rigidity. If Jois’ terrifying postural adjustments are nauseating to the movement specialists of today, it’s in part because they don’t understand the premise that he was wrestling through stubborn tissues to get at his students’ souls.
With regard to the general meaning of the human body, Kino MacGregor is faithful to Jois’ path. In video and print, she speaks of using postures to “access” the hips, the interior space of the pelvis, the inner body, and the heart (not the cardiac muscle, but the emotional centre). For Jois and MacGregor, the body is a container to be opened and purified, and pain is a necessary sign of progress. “Practicing six days a week,” MacGregor writes, “accelerates the rate at which you experience the pains that purify weakness and stiffness, as well as the rate at which you experience the purified result of more strength and flexibility in the body and mind.”
I asked MacGregor how she and her students distinguish from the spiritually necessary pain that she seems to be describing in her book, and the pain that indicates injury. She affirmed the difference between acceptable delayed-onset muscular soreness and pain that is to avoided: joint pain, or pain within practice that makes the yogi wince.
But the longer part of her answer detoured back to the ideal spiritual attitude the yogi should have towards the injury that’s already happened.
“When you’re injured, you have to ask ‘Am I really going to do Marichyasana C, or am I going to let my hip joint heal?’ In my case, I’m going to let my hip joint heal. Does that annoy me? Sure. But it’s my ego that’s hurting. So then that is the tapas. That is the real teacher. That’s more yoga than just going in and hammering out the asanas.”
The circular argument that MacGregor transparently makes is so hard to understand, it seems to validate the adage that yoga cannot be conceptualized. Pain is described as a necessary spiritual tool in a practice that claims to heal the body and ego and free the person from all limitation. But if you have too much pain, or the wrong kind, you’re courting injury. No-one wants that.
Or do they? If too much pain does injure the yogi, the bright side is that renewed focus upon bodily healing may hurt the ego as it contemplates its new limitations. This is ultimately good news, because, as MacGregor says, “the real yoga is the burning up of the ego”.
The more rationalist approach, larded with biomedical jargon and devoid of MacGregor’s poetic paradox, may never capture the hearts of truly devotional practitioners. Kinesiology doesn’t turn the body into a vehicle for spiritual lessons best learned through fire. Jois may have called his Primary Series “Yoga Cikitsa” or “Healing for the Body”, but his esoteric paradigm for health, quite distinct from contemporary biomedical goals, includes the capacity to commune with pain and to embrace the inevitability of injury as proof of the omnipresent Divine.
Senior students I’ve interviewed have insisted that the late Jois didn’t invite them into his shala to help them avoid the fear of pain and death, but to encounter it fully, and face it down with the same steady gaze and even breath with which he performed his ritual fire offerings every morning.
Neither the Kinoyoga YouTube channel nor The Power of Ashtanga Yoga carry disclaimers, warnings, or contraindications for the postures MacGregor teaches. I asked her whether if in the shadow of this injury she might consider changing this, or altering her instructions to offer more protection against the growing trend of joint destabilization. She’s tiptoed around the question before.
“Well I’m not feeling that great about my YouTube channel, to be honest,” she replied. “It seems to have become a place where men come to talk about about my feet or my butt.
“So I’m currently renovating it. I’m changing the focus to shorter, more friendly practice routines, and then a weekly video blog about what I think it means to be a yogi in the world.
“I have to admit I’m not a perfect teacher. I’ve probably made numerous mistakes, and left out key information numerous times. I don’t have any plans for adding disclaimers or contraindications, but I’d definitely consider that in the future.”
I pivoted to the issue of a different kind of safety.
“Do you think the trolling on your channel makes it an unsafe space for your intended audience?”
(There have been 12 million viewers for her video of Supta Hasta Padangusthasana, most of whom seem drawn over by the thumbnail from fitsploitation channels that produce soft porn faux-yoga for ad revenue. The clip has earned over 1500 comments, most of which are sexually harassing.)
“Gosh, I hope not. When some guy says I have sexy feet, I think ‘Whatever.’ But the mean-spirited stuff – the misogynistic and racist stuff – that’s part of why I’m renovating the channel. In the new videos I’m wearing leggings, speaking slower, and the angles are PG-13, 100%. The intention is to keep it mild-mannered. My hope is that one of these videos will become my most popular. That will mean that people are coming back to the practice.
“Would you consider deleting abusive comments and banning users?” I asked. “It might be another full-time job, but….”
“I would consider it, but I’m also concerned about the boundaries of free speech in a public forum like YouTube. But anything racist and misogynistic – I’ll keep an eye out for it with these new videos, and I’ll definitely consider blocking users who cross a line.”
Amongst MacGregor’s non-troll fan base, a few commenters on the injury photo have offered her friendly but imaginative healing advice. They tell her she should take raw garlic to battle the parasite infection that will now invade her hip. They tell her to be mindful of the effects of Saturn, or to determine which chakra is causing her acute pain. One dreamy supporter suggested that MacGregor discover which past memories were tightening her hamstrings.
But by and large, MacGregor’s following has flooded her channels with less intrusive wishes for a full recovery.
So have her esteemed colleagues in the Ashtanga community. Eddie Stern, founder of the iconic Ashtanga Yoga New York, commented by email, “I think it was very brave of Kino to post about her injury, and share it with her following.
“I hope that she didn’t do anything too serious,” Stern continues. “And I hope that her recovery is quick. She will probably gain some insights that she can pass along to her students and social media fans that they will perhaps benefit from.”
Elsewhere, lesser-known yogis riding the media wave that MacGregor has churned are also coming clean about the painful faultline between practice and performance.
Twenty-three year-old Instagram yogi Irene Pappas (@fitqueenirene, 476K followers), is now practicing with one arm only to protect her arm-balance-aggravated necrotic wrist bones, which may never be able to bear weight again. Another Instagram yogi, @blue_yagoo (21.5K followers), reports on being removed from her home via stretcher after tearing her trapezius muscle, following a period of intense practice.
She posts: “I was ‘listening to my body’ intently the same way I had a thousand times before, and I STILL assessed the situation incorrectly.
“The paramedic asked me how I got into my predicament as I was lying on the stretcher. I tried explaining the asana verbally, which only rendered confusion. So I showed him the photo.
“His eyebrows shot up. ‘Yep. That’ll do it.’”
photo of Kino MacGregor by Tom Rosenthal
There always has to be a hero in these stories? In this case it’s Iain Grysak who is pronounced as “one of those exceedingly rare advanced practitioners who reports no significant injuries.” Okay: the male voice of reason and intelligence over the ungovernable, loopy and punctured female body. Unfortunately that’s what I got from this read of “Kino’s Hip.”
It’s a good concern. Grysak’s quote is substantial, but Diane Bruni is featured more prominently, and Jules Mitchell’s work on the science of stretching is referenced. The majority of resources for “reason and intelligence” in this emerging discussion are in fact those of women, including Michaelle Edwards, Jill Miller, Melanie Klein, Amy Champ, Amy Matthews, Roopa Singh, Anna Guest-Jelley, Carol Horton, Amara Miller, Jody Greene, Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, Theodora Wildcroft, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela (forthcoming), and many many others. Of my 150 interview subjects, roughly 70% are women, which mirrors the general demographic. The female body is at ground zero of yoga discourse, and women are definitely taking the lead in the rewriting of the patriarchal performative scripts that test the tissues against transcendent ideals.
One of the most prevalent myths of Ashtanga is that if you’re doing it wrong, you will get injured. “Doing it wrong” includes not listening to the guru, or not practicing in a 100% devotional way. I see what Tamara is saying — this part of the article does come across like “Iain is a good Ashtangi who has never been injured because he is following the rules of the guru, practicing only devotionally and once per day, and Kino is a bad Ashtangi (which she actually does say, though with tongue in cheek) who isn’t following her teacher’s rules to the letter, and that’s probably why she’s injured.” I know you have dealt with this question before in your writing, but it doesn’t help to reinforce this idea here, IMO. I don’t really understand the point of this section, otherwise.
Re the ashtanga myth: “if you’re doing it wrong, you will get injured” — what I meant to say here is that “if you’re injured, it’s because you’re doing it wrong.”
Another senior practitioner/teacher who wished to remain anonymous described Grysak as an exceedingly careful alchemist, and I imagine this — along with good genes that he’s copped to in various comments on other WAWADIA articles — is that the root of his sustainability. But I also get the sense that he’s an anomaly, which is why I used the word “rare”. I’m not intending a comment here on good and bad practitioners, but rather attempting some insight into the bridge between pop-culture yoga and “tradition” that MacGregor is committed to building. The larger point is that on the pop side, there’s a scientific view that may be missing; on the “tradition” side, there might be some advice that is short-changed. In portions of our communication I didn’t publish, Grysak is even more emphatic about the ambivalence of AY, suggesting a very fine line between AY as medicine and AY as poison. The fault is mine if this all came across as “Here’s the good guy.”
It’s not so much the good guy vs bad guy here that bothers me, personally. It’s the use of Iain as the authority on “the tradition,” and unquestionably linking this rule of Sharath’s to the health of the practitioners. Perhaps I’m cynical, but I believe Sharath admonishes self promotion for reasons beyond his students’ safety. Health and safety could certainly be part of it, but I feel that a large part of a guru’s work is in preserving lineage for its own sake. I imagine that he’s against superstar teachers not because their message is inaccurate, but because their message is not coming from the source directly, and thus watering down his leadership.
If practicing extra poses and taking photos on instagram is physically damaging to Kino, then saying “she’s doing it against the tradition!” does not convince me of this. If you’re trying to say she’s being hypocritical by promoting herself while claiming to follow tradition perfectly, then I don’t see why Iain’s perspective helps here.
Kino says in the EJ article you’ve linked to that Guruji *wanted* her to promote Ashtanga as much as possible. So, wich Guru should she have listened to, in order to not injure her hip?
I think your complaint is with Grysak, and not my reporting. It’s beyond me to assess what Sharath intends 3rd-hand. I thought it sufficient to highlight the tension within the subculture that is not about commercialization or clothing, but about straightforward sustainability. I would never say she’s hypocritical — that’s a charge for those with a stake in things like authenticity. I think the surface facts point to something much more complex than manipulation, calculation, etc: she’s navigating two worlds without a playbook in a technoscape inventing itself, and in the process, she’s creating a third world. Which guru she should follow is way above my pay grade. But I can’t help but wonder — could SKPJ possibly have envisioned YouTube and Instagram?
SKPJ was hoping to get the word out when Astanga wasn’t anywhere near as popular as it is today. Sharath is dealing with a whole mess of other issues, now that it has become hugely popular and muddled with commercialism. Their approaches on this issue are coming from two very different periods in time. My question wasn’t really about them, and was 100% rhetorical — there clearly is no answer. Or rather, the answer is that it is up to Kino to practice as intelligently and carefully as she can, taking advice from health care practitioners, which, from her response, it sounds like exactly what she is doing. But it seemed like the juxtaposition of ‘never-before injured, following tradition’ vs ‘bad Astangi’ here is supposed to have the reader side with Iain. As you say, you may not have intended this… but that is how it read to me, and like I said, seems to go against (my interpretation of) your main thesis.
Well, I can see there was room for improvement here. At 4K+ words, I would have been loath to add finesse. I could have cut it. Part of what I’m threading is the difference between article format and book format. Thanks for chipping in!
No matter what you write, there will always be those who are offended. This is especially true in America where most (yoga teachers/practitioners in particular) are easily offended.
Regarding the above and below subthread of comments by Tamara, Stephanie and Matthew – which reference my comments that were quoted by Matthew in the original article:
I’ve noted that my words (both here and in my own original writings) are often taken out of the context in which they were originally stated and reinterpreted within the framework of someone else’s ideological struggle. I think Matthew did a good job of objectively using my comments in the context that they were intended.
I don’t think Matthew consulted me with the particular intention of framing me as the “good Ashtangi”. Nor did he claim or imply in his article that I was an “authority” on “the tradition”. He simply stated that I was an advanced practitioner who reported no serious injuries. I imagine Matthew consulted me because he felt my perspective might be somewhat unique and would therefore provide another lens through which to view this story.
Every event in this universe happens due to a cause. There are usually both macro (long term) and micro (immediate) level causes, some of which may be discernable, some of which may not be.
If I am asked for my opinion or thoughts on something, my instinct is to use the information I have to attempt to find the causes of that thing. If that thing is undesirable (such as an injury), I also attempt to postulate a way in which it could have been avoided, and/or could be prevented from recurring in the future – if possible.
My own experience is having learned and practiced to the end of the 4th Ashtanga series over 12 years, still maintaining a daily practice today, and teaching and observing hundreds of students in the same practice for much of that time. I have not been injured myself (though I have gone through varying degrees of pain and discomfort), and I have worked with many students who come to me with injuries (both yoga and non yoga induced). Based on that experience of both practice and teaching, I have developed my own interpretation and paradigm of how the Ashtanga system works, how it should be used, what constitutes “misuse” of the system, what the system is and is not compatible with, what is likely to lead to positive results, and what is likely to lead to unnecessary discomfort or injury.
This paradigm is fluid and I am constantly modifying and developing it based on the new experience and information I receive on a daily basis.
I am an authority on my own experience in practicing and teaching my own interpretation of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, nothing more than that.
So, when I am asked for my opinion or thoughts on something someone experiences in the Ashtanga practice, I interpret it though this paradigm of my own understanding.
For me, it is simply a matter of cause and effect. My “thoughts” focussed on my perception of the cause of Kino’s injury, given the information I had. I do not have enough information to know the micro (immediate physical) levels of the cause, but I am quite confident in my analysis of the macro levels of the cause (chronic overwork through teaching, demonstrating, filming, travel, and extra personal training outside of the context of her daily morning practice). The same goes for my opinion on Diane Bruni’s injury, though personal striving and excessive experimentation seem to be a little more prominent causes in this case as compared to Kino’s.
I honestly think that if I was given sufficient information in hindsight about anyone who was injured through an Ashtanga practice, in at least 90 percent of those cases I could say the injury was preventable if factors x, y and z were done differently. In foresight, if someone told me enough about the conditions of their practice and life, I could probably predict with about 80 percent accuracy whether they would eventually sustain an injury or not, and advise them what should be changed if they wished to avoid injury. This is simply due to the fact that I feel I understand the system fairly well, through the lens of my own experience and the experience of those I have taught or observed.
In both Kino’s and Diane’s cases, it seems to me that they took the Ashtanga practice and did things with it that goes against what I feel (based on the authority of my own personal experience) is healthy, and is generally courting trouble. Given what they were doing, it does not surprise me that they were injured. In fact, just two months or so ago, I was filming some instructional videos for a friend’s website. After experiencing the unhealthy level of strain this put on my own body, I commented to my girlfriend “how do people like Kino manage to sustain the level of filming and demonstrating that they do?” There are other Ashtanga teachers whom I also expect will eventually experience physical breakdown or injury – most of whom are men, for what it’s worth.
In that analysis, I don’t judge myself as good and them as bad. I don’t consciously think about the fact that I am male, they are female, etc.
I don’t know Diane, but I have a lot of respect for Kino as a person and as a practitioner. In fact, one of her blog posts which I happened to read a couple of years ago was instrumental in stimulating a big life change for me. I don’t think she is a bad yogi or a bad ashtangi or a bad person.
I simply point out what I see in terms of cause and effect, in the hopes that it might help someone else to avoid making the same actions that lead to undesirable results. It is an attempt to understand what they did with the Ashtanga practice that led to the given results.
As for tradition, I don’t claim to represent “the tradition” or to represent Sharath Jois. I only referenced Sharath Jois because I have immense respect for him and because his method of application of the physical practice seems very consistent with my own understanding.
He also has much more experience in both practice and teaching than I do. One commentator suggested that he is more concerned with upholding the hierarchy of the lineage than he is with the well being of the students. I would disagree.
There is little doubt that he inherited a lineage and feels responsible for keeping it alive. This certainly may involve some aspects of maintaining an authoritarian structure. However, my personal experience with him, and the reports of many others (especially those who have injuries or are vulnerable) is that he is very sensitive towards and interested in the personal well being and development of each and every person who comes to practice with him, and that most of his recommendations and statements come from this place of intention.
Thanks for your reply.
I had to reread the article to see if I was totally off the mark here. Here’s how I see it: There are 4 main voices quoted in this article, aside from Kino herself. One of them, Diane, comments on the language Kino uses to describe pain, and says she used to teach that way, too, but now disagrees with this sort of teaching. Two experts are from the health care and scientific communities, who basically say “too much stretching is bad.” There’s no direct mention of Kino’s hip injury here.
But in the section of the article where you are quoted, you are critiquing Kino directly. Here and in your comment above you say that she has probably injured herself due to too much “striving,” and you mention above that this is based on your own experience as a long-term practitioner and teacher. You are providing a reason for her injury, and claiming that the practice isn’t intended to be done outside of once per day, according to Sharath.
I am not saying you are wrong, but I do find it a bit arrogant to assess publicly what is going on with another person’s body at a distance. Even those with scientific backgrounds in the article refrained from doing so. Injury due to “striving” is a very subjective judgment call on an emotional state. Unless that person is a student of yours, who you see every day and know their practice well, how do you really KNOW what Kino is doing with her daily practice, or whether she is striving too much? As she says in her reply, she doesn’t do her daily practice with maximum effort or intensity. She has worked out a way to intelligently balance her daily routine so that she can include some extra poses. Perhaps you have experienced injury shooting videos because you are working harder than she is. Who knows?
I see this dialogue between you and Kino as a construction of Matthew’s, and I was questioning it because he seems to be pro-science and biomechanical insight kind of guy. Here he uses subjective experience and the rules of “tradition” to assess a very specific injury.
(BTW — I did not mean to imply that Sharath doesn’t care about his students’ health and safety! I apologize if my comment came off that way. I meant that his job is complicated. As you say, he has a lineage to protect, so some decisions or advice may be coloured by this. That is all I meant to say there.)
There is no dialogue between Grysak and MacGregor. I reported from a live interview and an email exchange. I’m in no way using “subjective experience and the rules of “tradition” to assess a very specific injury”. If anyone’s assessing anything from a “traditional” perspective, it’s Grysak in his comments, which, as he clarifies, are quite general.
My editorial/arrangement job here was to show that MacGregor is marking her path of practice between the rock of “tradition” and the hard place of those who use a biomedical epistemology. That’s the interesting story here to me — it runs much deeper than arguments over whose critique of her practice holds more merit.
I could have de-gendered this section by anonymizing Grysak’s input, but the article would have paid a price in credibility, and I know that Grysak is as well-respected by a large swath of his community as MacGregor is, but for different reasons, and lesser known.
You wouldn’t be the first to find my comments “a bit arrogant”. I do tend to value clarity over diplomacy, and I realize this offends people sometimes. It is something I can certainly work on.
If Matthew had not contacted me for my comments directly, I would not likely have publicly offered my opinion on the article, or on Kino’s hip injury.
I was not 100 percent comfortable in my analysis of Kino’s hip injury being made public in an article that I knew many people would read. At the same time I feel that the point I made (which is that taking the Ashtanga system and experimenting with it beyond the standard six day per week morning only practice is fraught with risks and vastly increases the likelihood of injury or negative results) is important and poorly recognized or understood in the media driven yoga pop culture. I therefore felt it appropriate for my comments to be included so that my general message could be made more visible.
I was not really critiquing Kino directly. As Matthew pointed out, my comments were more general, and Kino’s injury was an example of a general principle that I wish was more commonly understood or recognized.
Even if I was critiquing Kino directly, it was not her as a person, or her emotional state, as you implied. I was simply looking at what is actually known to me – which is the physical load that she puts on her body – and making statements about that. I don’t claim to know anything about her emotional state, or her reasons for taking on that physical load – I only know about the physical load. That is what I was referring to with my use of the term “striving”.
You suggested that I can’t know what she is doing in her practice. It is true, on many levels, I cannot. However, I do the exact same physical practice as her – which includes 3 days per week of 4th series, and one day per week of the other three series. She stated that “she still does the practice her teacher prescribed to her”, which means she is still practicing those series, 6 days per week. Whether she practices them “lightly” or not, does not really change the physical load on the body, in my experience based opinion.
I also moderate my practice every day, based on how I feel on that day. Even if I do all the postures and vinyasa of the 4th series “lightly”, to an outside observer it is still an absolutely extreme thing to do with the body. The body and nervous system then need to have the next 22 hours to absorb, integrate and recover from that. When you do Ashtanga practice 6 days per week for many years, it becomes a normal part of your day, and you can lose sight of the fact that it actually is a very extreme thing to do. I personally find it important to remind myself of this from time to time. It helps to moderate what I do and don’t do with the rest of my day.
Even teaching Mysore style for several hours after one’s morning practice (without demonstrating or anything else) is a big added strain, and increases the likelihood of problems. It is why many Ashtanga teachers get injured in teaching, not in practice. They don’t take proper rest and food between the end of their practice and the beginning of their teaching (because, of course, this would require getting up even earlier). I have learned that there are many lifestyle and dietary considerations that must be made here in order to do this sustainably. I intend to write an article about this point. Many (most?) Ashtanga teachers do not take proper care of themselves, given the seriousness of their job and the demands on their body that it entails.
Add on top of that what Kino and some other teachers are doing – jet setting, frequent demonstrations, frequent filming, and experimenting with extra training/stretching/strengthening – and I CAN state with confidence that injury or ill health is not even a question, it is an inevitability. If you look at all the physical factors, it is really just common sense.
I wonder whether what’s common sense for you is really common sense, in an absolute way, for everyone. Again, I’m not saying you are wrong. But in my many years of yoga practice, including many years of daily intense Astanga practice, I’ve learned that very little is universal. People’s bodies and inner worlds are *complex*.
I liken this comparison between your approach and Kino’s to introvert vs. extrovert personalities. For extroverts, it’s very energizing to be out in public, surrounded by strangers, being the centre of attention. For introverts, it’s draining to do the same. Neither is wrong. To the introvert it’s just common sense to not drain themselves by talking in front of large crowds for 12 hours a day, then travelling and performing and surrounding themselves with people 24-7. They can’t understand how anyone else could live this way. This is a simplistic example, but I imagine that even if you and Kino do the identical practice in terms of the list of poses, you might have differing needs for filling the rest of your 22 hours. Maybe Kino needs to feel engaged and ‘out there’ on some level. Maybe this gives her more energy to carry on with her practice the next day. Maybe for her, instagram attention is inspiring and motivates her to continue on her path. Maybe it doesn’t drain her at all, the way it would you. Basically, saying something is ‘common sense’ when it doesn’t seem to apply to everyone makes me think that it is not so common or universal. I would rather give Kino the benefit of the doubt, and think that she is self-aware enough to know when to take a break from travel and instagram. Her practice is a priority for her, as it is for you, so I don’t think she would knowingly jeopardize it.
This is all theoretical, since I don’t know Kino at all, and have never met her, or even seen her practice, outside of a few two minute clips on youtube. She may be in denial that she is injuring herself by her extracurricular activity, but I don’t know that for certain, and I’m fairly confident that no-one can.
Additionally, I’m not completely sure that your opinion isn’t biased by the religious and devotional aspects of Astanga. I wonder if the extra poses and self promotion translate as negative activities, as they’re superfluous to the time spent in daily practice — a sacred time that’s seen in a more altruistic and positive light. I don’t know what athletes’ lives are like first hand, but I imagine people who, let’s say, are performing in Cirque de Soleil, practice very physically intense routines for more than 2 hours a day, including intense backbends and nervous-system-altering poses, as well as jet setting around the world, and doing promotional photo shoots. Do you think they need to cut down on the travel and self promotion, too, at risk of injuring themselves? Or is there a difference in Kino’s case, because of the tradition, and Sharath not approving of it?
I know you’re aware of the tendency for dogma in yoga… it was actually because of one of your comments on this blog, way back when, that you mentioned what became a life-changing read for me: _The Guru Papers_ by Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer. So I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt here as well, but just wanted to raise this as a question.
Thanks for the conversation.
Your focus seems to be on the psychological (introvert vs. extrovert) and energetic aspects of the lifestyle in question. Undoubtedly, hatha yoga is all about the body-nervous system-energetic-mind connection and I fully agree that any change in one of these layers of the self will influence the other layers.
In my argument, I am referring the purely physical aspects of the lifestyle, not the energetic or psychological or social aspects.
I am referring to the effects of the physical practice itself on the state of the tissues and joints. I am then considering the effects of the added strain of demonstration, oversplits on chairs (for example), adjusting students in a Mysore class, jet lag from travel, etc. on the tissues and joints, when the tissues and joints have not had sufficient time to recover from the strain of the daily morning practice. This “recovery” is a physical state of the tissues themselves, not an energetic or psychological state of the person as a whole.
Most athletes who are into extreme training (and let’s face it, Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga is extreme training, if one is doing anything more than half of primary series on a daily basis) do not train as regularly as we do. Competitive athletes know that adequate muscle recovery time from a training session is an absolute necessity to have the peak performance in their next training session, and there is a whole science around this aspect of training.
Whether an athlete is an introvert or an extrovert, the athlete will still require time and technique for muscle recovery to occur. I have no doubt that the psychological and energetic state of the practitioner would affect that recovery time, but I think it would be negligible in the overall scheme of things.
My point is that if one does a daily full series morning practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, the tissues need ample recovery time, regardless of one’s psychological makeup or energetic state. If the tissues are strained further (by giving a demo, whipping out an advanced posture on the beach, doing heavy lifting in teaching duties, hopping on a flight and experiencing jetlag, etc.) before that recovery time has been optimal, it is going to weaken the tissues and joints. If this occurs again and again and again over time – then one day….pop, snap, etc. That is what I meant by common sense. It is just science and logic.
I think part of Matthew’s work is to try to make this reality more known and addressed in the yoga community. The body is mortal and will be damaged if you put the wrong kind of pressure and strain on it too frequently, regardless of how open your chakras and nadis are or how balanced you are psychologically.
I guess it could be an interesting study to see if introverts vs. extroverts have a different capacity to withstand physical strain, if both types are in their comfort zone in terms of environment (ie. the introvert in his cave and the extrovert on her stage) when they experience that strain. I strongly suspect the answer would be “no”.
You also referenced the extreme training and lifestyle of cirque du soleil perfomers, for example, and asked whether they should moderate their routine as well.
I don’t know much about it – but I do imagine that the injury rate is high and the retirement age is young amongst such performers.
Getting on to your second point – that of the religious/devotional/authoritarian aspects of my thinking:
I’d invite you to read my latest blog post if you have the time and interest. I go into detail on my current views and relationship with tradition and authority here:
I believe you still think I am suggesting that “Kino got injured because she disobeyed Sharath’s instructions”.
I am suggesting no such thing. In the comment I made yesterday, I tried to clarify that I am speaking from my own authority, based on my own interpretation and paradigm of how the Ashtanga system works on the human body – drawn from my own experience and my observations and interactions with hundreds of students over many years.
I only brought Sharath into the picture because his views on how the system should be practiced are somewhat consistent with my own views – and I consider him to be an authority because he is the human being who has the most experience in both practice and teaching of this system on the planet today. I therefore would infer that he has developed some insight into how the system works on the human body. In fact, he has made many changes to the system, in the direction of moderation, over the years.
Still, if his views were not consistent with mine, I would take my own views as the ultimate authority, not his.
If you prefer to remove Sharath from my argument, you certainly can if it simplifies things. The fact that his instructions are consistent with my views is not necessary to hold my argument up to the light of logic and reason.
Thanks to you too, I’m always happy for the opportunity to clarify my views 🙂
I am well aware of the physical stresses of a daily Astanga practice. In reality I’m the last person who should be defending someone to continue on with the practice, as I’ve had to give it up after 16 years of practice, due to instability of my knee and SI joints. I’ve endured months of debilitating pain over those years, and still kept practicing. Despite the pain and sleepless nights, it has still been heartbreakingly difficult to give up.
Yesterday my knee popped out of alignment and it was painful to straighten my leg. My knee felt unstable all day. Almost every day I experience some level of back pain, after not having done my usual practice for six months. I’m 42, in great health, and can’t lift heavy objects. So trust me, I know the physical strain that can occur.
My main point here is that every body is different. There’s no way you can know what is going on for Kino from afar.
Let’s put it this way. I bet there are dozens of health care practitioners, trained in biomechanics, who would look at your weekly routine and say with total confidence that it is unsustainable and that one day you will suffer an injury that will force you to stop doing this routine. Like you, in your assessment of Kino, they may be 100% correct. They may have some very convincing arguments for you to stop your practice immediately. Would you listen to them? Or would you say, “I know my body, I know my path. I will continue to do my daily practice.”
There are plenty of people who think that it is absolutely against all common sense to do extreme backbends to the point where you can catch your heels, or knees, or thighs, from behind. Do you still think people should do this pose, or should we listen to the majority who believe it to be common sense to leave it out?
On your blog, you say:
“Our own inner experience, at the felt level of sensation, should be our ultimate guide and authority in life. If we base all of our decisions on how we actually feel inside, we’ll experience much less inner conflict and disparity and become more whole and balanced and confident in ourselves. This will directly reflect in our actions in the world and interactions with other beings.
“Yoga practice, or any authentic spiritual practice should increase our sensitivity and ability to feel the actual reality of our own bodies and minds in each and every moment. It should empower us and help us to trust ourselves by helping us to feel more accurately what the reality within actually is.”
My question is: why don’t you grant Kino the same level of agency and inner intelligence that you grant yourself?
We’ll probably have to agree to disagree on a few things, Stephanie.
I do acknowledge your point that every body is different, and that the combination of genetics, environmental influences, behaviour, and knowledge makes each person and their capacity to do certain things unique.
Nonetheless, even the strongest of us are mortal and will eventually suffer damage if we place too much strain on our bodies. All I am saying is that my experience and observation and interaction with many, many practitioners over the years is that regularly doing more yoga postures or stretches/openers or certain kinds of body work on top of a daily Ashtanga practice vastly increases the strain on the body and also complicates the way the body is attempting to integrate the regular inputs of the Ashtanga practice. This greatly increases the likelihood of injury or harm, even for the strongest and most resilient of us. Given Kino’s publicly stated and observable physical activities, I feel safe to conclude that Kino’s experience is yet another example of what I have already observed many times.
As for your reference to some of the extreme postures that I or others do, and that many experts would say that they will eventually cause damage:
Not everyone should do all the postures, even in primary series. There are people who might need 3 years of careful practice to even be able to do up to half of primary series, and should never go beyond that.
Here in Bali, I receive students from all over the world, coming from many different types of teachers. It always bothers me when I see students without the proper physical capacity who are attempting to practice all of primary series and beyond, because that is what they were taught. Many teachers around the world are teaching all of primary (and even intermediate) series in led group classes, instead of having students progress individually according to their own capacity.
I often have to take away half a series or even more from students that come to me, so that they are practicing at a level that I feel is going to be beneficial and healthy for them and stimulate the body to change slowly and sustainably.
The advanced series, as well as things like catching the legs in the backbend are not for the majority of the population, in my experience and opinion. Many cases of injury come from students “following the traditional practice”, but doing so in a way that they are performing postures that their bodies are not yet in a state to be able to perform and integrate in a healthy way.
I know you will make the point that if, hypothetically, some rare people CAN do advanced practice safely, then why is not also hypothetically possible that some rare people (like Kino) CAN do all that extra physical work on top of a daily practice.
I cannot prove or disprove this, but in my opinion they are two different categories of strain, and therefore not analogous to each other. One is in the context of a normal once a day practice, which the body can adapt to over time and recover from on a daily basis, the other is just putting too much load on the body, in an irregular way and would not allow for sufficient muscle recovery.
Nonetheless, I respect your right to disagree with me here.
As for your final point where you quote my words from my own blog in which I express my opinion that all practitioners should develop the sensitivity to feel the effects of the practice on their own bodies and beings, and to make their own choices based on this information – and you ask why I don’t give Kino the same freedom of agency:
I can address this on two levels:
1) It should be made clear that I am not trying to tell Kino what to do! She can and does make her own choices, based on what she feels.
As Matthew stated very well in a previous comment:
“she’s navigating two worlds without a playbook in a technoscape inventing itself, and in the process, she’s creating a third world”.
I applaud Kino for experimenting and trying to do what she feels her mission is with the Ashtanga practice. She is on a pathless journey and is bound to make mistakes. I’m not suggesting she should stop her mission or her journey; I am just trying to point out why she got injured. I am sure she could continue to do what she is doing in a way that strains the body less, and I have no doubt that over time she will make the appropriate decisions to do that.
As a crude analogy – when I was in my 20s, I spent a lot of time trekking in the Himalayas, usually alone. I often had to find my own way. One day I ended up having to pull off a 30 KM epic in order to reach a place where I could find food and shelter. As I sat in the evening, feeling grateful that I was safe and warm with food in my belly, an elderly shepherd engaged me in conversation and asked about my route. I expected him to be impressed at how far I had managed to walk that day, and without a guide. Instead of being impressed, he looked at me sternly and informed me that I would damage my knees if I continued such escapades. He advised me to never walk more than 20 KM in one day, if I hoped to retain a strong and healthy body for long. Interestingly, the next morning I woke up with aching knees and I thought “that guy knows what he is talking about. He’s spent his entire life carrying heavy loads over mountain passes”. His advice stuck with me and I made sure I never walked more than 20 KM in a day again after that.
He was not taking away my free agency to make decisions for myself. He was just giving me information based on his own lifetime of experience in what I was doing. He saw that I was doing something that would likely cause problems in the long run, and he took the time to warn me about it and gave me a recommendation. Based on the fact that his recommendation from the night before corroborated with my aching knees that morning, I decided to change my ways.
This is all I am doing here – based on my own experience and observations, I am issuing a warning and some information. It is up to Kino and everyone else to decide what they do with that warning and information.
2) My quote also emphasises the necessity of increasing one’s own sensitivity to the reality of what is happening inside one’s own body-nervous system-mind. One should be using the yoga practice to increase this ability, especially pertaining to the effects of the practice itself on one’s own body-nervous system-mind.
One should make important decisions based on that internally generated information, rather than making decisions based on an external idea or an ideology. This is very difficult to do. We are trained from birth to base our actions and decisions on someone else’s ideas and ideologies. It takes a lot of work to remove this conditioning, and even those of us who are trying to do that will fail sometimes.
Kino’s hip injury was stated to occur when she was assisting a student in Bakasana. I do this assist multiple times a day. It is not a difficult thing to do, for an experienced teacher. It is unclear whether the student fell into her or not, but I don’t think it matters. This would involve lifting some of all of the student’s body weight from above. If there was a slip and an impact, it would provide a bit of a jostle.
I am quite confident in saying that this in itself is not sufficient to cause a hip injury to the teacher. There must have been some pre-existing weakness in that region of the teacher’s body for the minor strain that occurred to cause an injury like that. And, that weakness must have been building up for quite some time, through repetitive strain.
So my question (and this is only a question) is – how sensitive or aware was that teacher being with her own body? If she was really using the yoga to feel more deeply into what was happening inside of herself, why did she not feel the repetitive strain occurring there? Or, if she did feel it, why did she not modify her routine to attempt to remove it?
To me this suggests there was actually a lack of sensitivity towards the self, and perhaps instead a mental (self created or otherwise) ideology guiding her overall actions – or in other words the opposite of what I am suggesting/asking for in my quote which you used.
Again, I am not critiquing Kino directly. I am using an example to illustrate more generalized concepts which I feel are of great importance in the healthy use of the Ashtanga system, and spirituality in general. Please do not think I am accusing anyone of anything, or assuming things that I cannot possibly know.
I don’t think you understood my question. And perhaps I used the wrong words — when I said “grant agency” I should have said “assume agency.” I do not think you’re telling Kino what to do here — but I think you are assuming that you know her body better than she knows it herself.
On the one hand you say that bodies are different and have different capabilities, and that each body should make its own judgment based on that personal experience. I never said that people practicing primary or starting out should jump ahead and go head on into practicing full primary, intermediate or advanced postures. But in the case of Matthew’s article, we are looking at two advanced Astanga teachers, both of whom have similar practices. One teacher is portrayed as knowing what is more “logical” and “scientific” and “common sense” for the other practitioner; judgments which, as you admit above, are based on your own experience. You have not been able to show me any differently here in your comments.
Again — I am in no way saying that everyone out there should go practice fourth series and take pictures of themselves on Instagram. But I am saying I believe it to be wrong to presume that you know Kino’s body better than she knows it herself.
I understand that this advanced yoga practices are uncharted territory, and I am starting to see a little bit what Matthew was attempting here. But if you’re aware of prejudice on a grander scale, where some people are assuming their own voices to be the “logical” and “reasonable” while those who disagree are just clearly and self-evidently irrational and wrong, then you are not really understanding the broader issues that come across with what you are saying here, and in the article.
Your clarification of your question does not change my answer, Stephanie.
I’m not claiming that I know Kino’s body better than she knows it herself.
What I am claiming is that I know how the Ashtanga system works on the human body quite well. And I know that there are certain things which daily Ashtanga practice is and isn’t compatible with, to varying degrees. While there are varying degrees of human capacity to withstand unhealthy levels of stress to the body – eventually all humans will suffer ill health if exposed to enough stress, for long enough a period of time.
I am making a general statement about Ashtanga practice, the human body, and the addition of the various factors/stressors which we have discussed into that equation (teaching, demonstrating, extra stretch/strength training, frequent travel, etc.).
I don’t know or claim to know Kino’s body or mind. I just know that she is human and therefore most likely subject to the general effect I have described. It is completely up to her to experiment with her body and make her own decisions. She has all the power to do that and she (and anyone else) can consider the information I have stated in their own evolving relationships with their own bodies, or they can discard it as they like.
Going back to the example of the Himalayan shepherd from my last comment – He was not claiming to know my own body better than I was when he advised me to never walk more than 20 KM in a day. He was an experiential expert on the effects of walking through the mountains with a load on one’s back and the effects that has on the human body in general. He was kind enough to explain to me his understanding of how excessive walking without sufficient recovery time affects the human knees.
It was up to me to then take that information and relate it to my own experience inside my own body. I quickly concluded that he was right and changed my actions based on that. He did not know my body better than I did, he just knew about the human body in general and how it fairs in traversing high mountain terrain. His knowledge helped me to change my own relationship with my body.
Let’s take another example: Someone I don’t know at all could tell me that they have developed lung cancer and also make it known that they have been a chain smoker their entire life. I could then state that long term smoking is well known to highly increase the risk of lung cancer.
By saying that, I would not be claiming to know that particular person’s body better than they do. But, by saying that, I could potentially stimulate a change in that person’s relationship with their own body.
Anti – authoritarian thinking should never be stretched to the extreme of anti – authority thinking. We can have authority without it being authoritarian. It is ridiculous to think that removing the concept of authority from the human race would be possible or desirable. Those who are experts in any particular field can and should share their knowledge and understanding with other people. This is how the human race has developed culture and everything that comes with it. We all need to learn from and share with each other.
What would be ideal would be to share that knowledge on in a way that actually empowers people to make more informed choices for themselves, rather than taking their power away.
It’s not that I’m saying you don’t know the human body, in a general sense. And yes, you certainly are claiming that you know Kino’s body better than she knows it herself! You said in a comment above that she is not practicing with enough sensitivity. How can you, or anyone else, know this with certainty? You have also told us with certainty that you know why she has injured herself, while she herself is uncertain. You are *not* her teacher — you are her peer!
All I am asking for here is a glimpse of humility. In every comment, you have responded with more and more arrogance.
Here’s a suggestion: when someone politely points out that your behaviour is arrogant, a more appropriate response would be to begin to examine your own assumptions, listen to the other person, and assess if they perhaps could be pointing out a blind spot in your thinking. Instead, your response was that you tend to be more direct in voicing your opinions than others would like! That statement alone pretty much sums up your attitude here for me. Your opinion was correct from the start, and you are only here to educate me on this fact. I am not asking you to be diplomatic in how you speak; I’m asking you to actively listen to what I am saying here.
We all need external conflicts in the world to point out areas where our own ideas have become too deeply ingrained. I.e. samskaras, I suppose, in yoga language. This particular conflict, in this thread, is intended to point out your arrogance. I am not trying to disprove your theories, or agree or disagree with you.
When someone disagrees with me, I really try to see things from their perspective. I have tried here to see yours. In all honesty, and as I have repeatedly said, I don’t believe that you are necessarily *wrong*, per se. But what I am arguing about here is that you seem to believe that you know for sure that you are *right*, and that Kino has injured herself because of Instagram and jet-setting and, now, a general lack of sensitivity in her practice. Meanwhile you believe that an authentic yogi is able to develop enough sensitivity to make their own correct and empowered and true judgments and act accordingly. Do you not see the inconsistency in holding these two beliefs simultaneously? From here I can deduce that you either a) don’t believe Kino to be practicing an authentic spiritual practice for some reason/s you will not admit here, or b) you believe you are more advanced along your path than she is, in order to make these judgments for her.
I find it sad that you can not even *imagine* a situation where Kino has the same amount self-awareness and body intelligence that you do.
Stephanie – I could continue to respond to your analysis and conclusions about my own process of perception, evaluation and expression, but I don’t see any benefit in doing that and I decline to comment further. This thread of comments has strayed quite a bit from the theme of the article and I doubt they are of much interest to anyone else.
My previous comments can stand as they are in terms of explaining my views and my intentions in expressing them. Anyone is welcome to agree, disagree, or reflect on them as they wish. We all interpret things through the filters of our particular worldviews.
yeah, i think that’s a valid concern, but i don’t agree that iain’s perspective comes across as the sole voice of reason. there are a lot of voices, opinions and perspectives in this article (and wawadia as a whole, i believe) – if the only people qualified to have an opinion on a woman’s injury or allowed to voice it are women, then i think we risk severely limiting the conversation(s) around injury in yoga. i do think it’s an area in which it’s necessary to tread very carefully – i personally have had my fill of male teachers, and thinkers, telling me how it is, and the assumption of male = authority that is so prevalent in yoga, but i also feel that dismissing all male voices simply on the basis of gender is overly simplistic.
Even the title “Kino’s hip” makes for an uncomfortable introduction to this article – breaking a woman down to her body parts seems base & more fitting for a tabloid piece.
Anatomical instruction on the Kinoyoga channel isolates body parts on a far grander scale. Go to the channel and use the search-word “hip”. The title is also a pun. As in: she seems hip to what she practices, and to how she’s seen.
How Kino titles the video she posts about a specific asana for example & how you frame the title of an article about her are not one in the same. While I do get the pun, for me, the attempt at wit is not a success in this case. The more important issue of a male writer aiming for a more respectful tone in the titular introduction is one I would have a preference for. It comes across as click bait, when you would have received the views in any event due to the subject matter.
I understand your point. Can you suggest a more appropriate title that points to the central event — a hip injury sustained by Kino MacGregor?
You should also post your complaint to Yoga International, as well. Their female chief editor actually suggested the title.
Sorry to reply out of sequence, there’s no button to reply on your last comment. I would suggest that merely changing it to Kino MacGregor: Reflections on Extreme Practice and Injury in Asana would be sufficient, as it brings the focus back to Kino as a full person in her own right. What she injured is not specifically important – whether it be a rotator cuff or a hip – it is the fact & cause of an injury to her body which is the discussion.
Thank you for your comments, I do appreciate the overall discussion.
From a quick glance at the Yoga International website: Fantastical acceptance: Be your unicorn self or your vampire self at Yogaquest; From Shopaholic to Yogaholic; Shelter Cats in the Studio? No, We’re Not Kitten you; I’m not sure on how much gravitas I give to their title editing skills, but I realise this might be more than a little harsh as I don’t subscribe to the actual magazine, which might be better in this regard.
I didn’t get a male hero from this article at all.
Everyone in the yoga world talking about Kino’s injury as if she were an olympic performer and her career/million dollar contract at risk.
I’m surprised its not on the local news. Sigh.
Of course – anyone who practices at such an intense level is bound to eventually suffer. She is … we are … only human. And I sense that there is an addictive/OCD quality to asana at such high levels that comes more about “ego” then it does about “liberation from suffering”; the ego is so gratified that “balance” (satva) is compromised. Less is more – basic is the new advanced.
Of course a prominent teacher like Kino has to potential to take this lesson and return to a simpler, more basic “message” – as Diane Bruni has.
But in the big picture why are we giving this issue so much attention?
I think our focus on the athletic injuries of yogalebrities tells a tall tale about what yoga has become – asana sport.
I understand your weariness with the focus on “the athletic injuries of yogalebrities,” but Matthew is spot on in seeing that this is about much more than “asana sport.” Sports have their own deeper psychological and cultural issues, of course . . . but I think that your insinuation was that they’re “simply” athletic. At any rate, what’s happening with contemporary yoga is complex and the WAWADIA project is attempting to tease some of that out, expose it to the light and get people talking and thinking. Sadly, this extreme physical pushing for impressive visual display (e.g., fancy poses on Instragram) has sucked huge numbers of people in – and it is disturbing and it does need to be examined. It’s discouraging that this is what magnetically draws the big numbers – i feel like it’s got nothing to do with the sort of practice I know and love, or teaching trauma-sensitive yoga in a non-studio setting. But there’s no denying it’s the new center of gravity in (Western) yoga culture. (Side note: Indian yoga culture clearly has its own, more traditionally political issues, as the coverage over the recent “International Yoga Day” attests.) Those links that Matthew posted to the Instagram sensations who injured themselves so badly in their asana practice are horrifying. Kino is a public figure and so while dissecting her injury publicly feels intrusive, it’s legitimately fair game and an effective way to get people to pay attention in our celebrity-obsessed culture. I certainly share your feeling of discouragement and frustration with the overall scene, though.
Because she is hugely influential. I think the author is trying to diplomatically illustrate that even the most celebrated of athletes/yogis/teachers may be unaware of the consequences of their movement patterns. They then inspire and teach others to do the same. It’s worrying.
I am constantly surprised by the lack of empirical evidence in any yoga-related article – from Yoga Journal to individual blogs, it seems everyone is suddenly an expert on yoga and the mind-body connection because they have access to Google or a few yoga books or they took a workshop led by “so and so.” Suddenly, every yoga teacher is an expert on healing. They know the answers, they know the way to personal and spiritual growth if you’ll just take a second to read or listen to what they have to say. The field is dominated by the blind leading the blind, but what do we expect when training is open to anyone and completed within a few short weeks? An overwhelming amount of yoga teachers project themselves as “enlightened” after a few weeks of teacher training – they suddenly know how to assess their body’s response to a particular stretch, how to asses emotional responses, and apparently how to overcome anything. Typically, their Facebook pages and Instagram accounts are littered with inspirational quotes and advice on how to overcome depression/anxiety/adversity/you-name-it, but “likes” and a few positive comments from mom and close friends that reaffirm this new “enlightened” mentally are only damaging the yogi and the field. Have they not noticed that medical doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, neuroscientists, etc rarely chime in and join the rest of the dumbasses? Its not because they dont see your posts – oh they see them, they just roll their eyes, criticize you to their colleagues, and wait for you to come see them when you’re injured. Or maybe you dont see these licensed, medical professionals chiming in because yoga teachers seem to scoff at anyone that isn’t a yoga “expert” and don’t typically surround themselves with people that contradict/challenge the field, chalking them up to not understanding the roots of the practice. If you’re willing to pay the money, there are no restrictions to enrolling in a teacher training program. Every other advanced and terminal degree has a long, arduous and discriminating selection process – but not yoga. Studios everywhere “train” yoga teachers by the truckloads. And the result is a bunch of uninformed, improperly trained people quoting other uninformed, improperly trained people and creating a practice that is based on misinformation and curated images. To all the yoga teachers out there: please stop wasting your time and energy trying to be THE expert in the field. Stop writing inspirational blog posts about how yoga changed your life and you are overcoming everything in life because of yoga. No one with any introspection and intelligence is listening, but everyone that is vulnerable and malleable and gullible is. Choose your platform wisely and stop wasting your hard-earned money on pointless workshops that claim to have the answer. Practice yoga or any other form of self-love for YOU and not an audience…
“creating a practice that is based on misinformation and curated images” – nice summary!
Cheers to you!!! I happen to be one of those folks with an actual degree (couple of them, actually), and I’ve been chased off more than one Instagram post and FB forum for offering commentary that may not be in line with the poster’s message. It doesn’t matter that I have 200 peer reviewed scientific studies backing me up; I’m not handstanding on an exotic beach, so what the hell could I possibly know!
From the foreword of Asana Why & How: “By effort and stability Maharshi Patanjali means the minimum use of force. Let the Asanas happen, doing should be minimum. Whenever the question of “doing” arises, instantly, voluntary force comes into action. But when we talk of happening, we ourselves become the observer in order to see what happens and this feeling forms a positive attitude in us.”
Thanks for an article well written -although I already knew you can write 😉
But yeah, is interesting, gives some perspective, and is also a bit scary for home practitioners like myself… More importantly, it makes me think and reflect on my own practice and injuries.
Now, regarding the whole (post-modern?) ashtanga community culture… pff, I think this conversation is important, needed and timely happening!
I hope long-time and senior practitioners know that we learn, from the good, the bad and the ugly. We are all together on this, communally waving this brave new yoga as we go.
And ego aside, is all learning! We’re dispelling ignorance together.
4 of 196 sutras are dedicated to asana, only 4 – and in my opinion those four sutras make it clear that asana is not intended to be an homage to hypermobility, or intended to be used as gymnatstic pursuit, but rather summed up in II:46&47: to find steadiness, an agreeable form, and a relaxation of effort so one can contemplate the infinite (स्थिरसुखमासनम् ॥४६॥).
This artile is wonderfully written, but it is unclear if Kino was aware of the undertone or purpose of the article when she was interviewed, so it has left me a little uneasy. I am not familiar with most of the rock stars of yoga (I had never heard of Kino), but as a fellow Yoga teacher, I will not judge her, she is a Yoga sister and she is bringing people to the path of yoga. Hopefully all rock star “kick-your-ass Yoga followers” will eventually seek the deeper teachings before they wreak havoc on their bodies. Fact is, some people require a more intense practice to “feel” their bodies…why do you think rock stars have so many followers? It is this ability to feel that helps control a raging mind- and it is a beginning. It is our work as teachers to help students find a practice that nurtures the body as well as the mind & spirit, AND that the student can feel so they can hold their attention on sensation. Working with people who have complex trauma histories, I have found that helping the practitioner find a safe challenge for their body in order to reintroduce them to sensation (if they are ready for that) is the most accessible way to help them quiet their mind…this is why the mental health world is clamouring to the Yoga Therapy world…we work on brain stem functioning-somatosensory engagement, vagal tone, initiating the relaxation response, etc.
Many people who come to Yoga are completely divorced from their bodies – sitting still is damned near impossible for most people and potentially retraumatizing for some; the assumption that what a person with chronic anxiety and/or a trauma history “needs” is restorative yoga is far from the reality of working with this population – I would agree that ulitmately we all “need” restorative yoga, but we are all different and have our own path/journey. That being said there are many, many “safe” ways to challenge the body without causing bodily harm or pushing the limitations of the beautiful human form (where is the Ahimsa in that?). Using balance, longer holds or other strength challenges (within normal ROM poses), synchrony of body and breath and mindfulness cuing, we can lead our students to feel their bodies (and offer back doors if they are uncomfortable with feeling them at the time); this helps students burn off those layers of mind stuff, and slowly evolve into a more contemplative, customized personal practice that culminates in the ability to sit still – to me, the sign of an advanced practitioner.
I hope Kino heals quickly and finds some peace and contentment in her practice so that exploring the limitations of her body are no longer required. In the meantime I recognize that this is my own perception of what Yoga is all about, and not hers – it is her practice, and I am only responsible for my own. Metta to all!
For the record, MacGregor and I were in regular contact after the interview. I sent her a full draft for approval. She sent 3 minor corrections, which I made. Readers might be interested in her email comment: “Overall it’s an interesting article worthy of reflection and hopefully will spark a good dialogue.”
I thought it was a great articles and there seems to be many zealots trying to “defend” someone or something that needs none.
This understanding resonates with my own need to get into my body to get out of my head, my personal history has made this my practice need though with time and ageing this is changing and stillness is becoming easier.
Also (from a personal perspective) it is easy when not fully in touch with the body and lacking self love or the ability to speak out for your own needs to become injured through physical practices, putting the body at risk.
Currently living with and learning from injury!
I’ve been looking forward to reading your article, and as usual, you didn’t disappoint. Thanks for initiating this very important conversation. I am glad that Kino felt compelled to share her injury with her followers. I think sharing this information is the only conscientious response for a yoga teacher in the case of an injury. Students need to know that injuries happen, especially in the case of teachers whose bodies can seemingly do anything. Our students often project superpowers onto teachers who can perform “advanced” asanas. It’s the job of a teacher to remind students that we are all human.
As you state, many injuries happen over time, under the radar, as is the case with my own hip joints and SI joint. My observation after decades of practice and teaching is that chronic injuries such as degraded hip joints and SI joint dysfunction are more common in flexible bodies. If a teacher is encouraging students to “feel the pain” or “feel the burn” a flexible student will have to push well past healthy limits in order to feel those sensations.
I practiced this way too when I was younger, and I have a dysfunctional SI joint and titanium hip joint to show for it. I’m grateful for my teachers, especially Donna Farhi and Judith Hanson Lasater, who promote reasonable, internally focused—not Olympic-style—practice.
Thank you, Charlotte. And thanks for that interview that I didn’t use here, but will.
Hi Matthew. I read your original piece on Diane Bruni and watched a video of her talk about it – but its been a year ago…? At the time, I was struck by the fact that she didn’t also acknowledge her role in the likely injuries of potentially thousands (?) of students that she taught over the years. I found that same accountability lacking, not only from the her, but from other teachers who have publicly come out with major yoga injuries. If she did, and I missed it or misremembered, please correct me. I have not kept up with all of your WAWADIA posts, so perhaps they are littered with these confessions – again, please correct me if I misspeak. Thank you for your essential writings. Michele
Hi Michele. I know of no teacher who has formally addressed the possibility of having directly injured students through good intentions but questionable biomechanics/practice psychology. I think this is highly charged and very messy territory.
Thanks Matthew. Analogous to teacher accountability, there is a movement in medicine, where if a physician makes a potentially litigious error and subsequently owns that mistake and apologizes directly to the patient in a genuinely contrite manner, the evidence shows that she is less likely to be sued for malpractice than if she heeds legal advice and does not admit fault. Its the goodwill that an open apology engenders that provides a buffer against litigation. I have no idea how much suing happens in yoga related injuries, but its an interesting model.
I think it would definitely be the right approach in yoga culture. I can think of ten stories immediately in which all the practitioner wanted was acknowledgement. (Which speaks to an entirely different set of psychodynamics.)
Hi Michele, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have been dealing with accountability issues for years.
I applaud Kino for making a public statement. it took me a couple of years before I could speak in public about happened to me.
Facebook was not really in vogue at the time, so only my closest family and yoga friends and students who attended my classes in the weeks post injury when I taught the entire class sitting on the floor, unable to bear weight. I couldn’t hide it from them.
After my injury I began to speak to other yoga teachers, many of them who had been practicing for as long as myself or longer. What I discovered was that yoga teachers who i spoke to had been injured mostly through an adjustment in Mysore India or a traditional Mysore class in North America.
At that time, 2008, there was little known about repetitive strain injuries
and yoga. I was one of the first women in Canada to
begin an Ashtanga practice, i was also one of the first to be injured, makes sense these injuries happen over a long period of time.
It was a difficult period for me, I went from being a total believer to someone who had a lot of questions. First came the knee injury, which then led to the hip injury. I was devastated, confused and felt very alone.
You were wondering if I had confessed my sins about teaching people
incorrectly. I consider myself to be innocent based on ignorance. I was teaching what i believed in. I had my blinders on, looking back, I feel like I was part of a cult. The fact it took me so long to figure out I was addicted to a practice that was injuring me is unfortunate. I believe that some of us have a tendency towards addiction, I was that person.
As I learned more about my injury, I began to see the signs all around me.
My daughter who had been doing yoga as a tween was in constant SI pain.
My yoga friends were constantly going to see their therapists for aches and pains. My yoga students began to report back to me about their diagnosis from their health professionals.
I became friends with one of my yoga students who was also a sports medicine doctor, Dr. Raza Awan. He was known in our community, and many injured yogis began to see him. It was through long discussions with him that I began to have the confidence to speak openly about injuries. We co-taught workshops together called the 6 Most Common Yoga Related Injures. It was a first in our community, although the same story was unfolding in New York and other yoga epicenters.
From that time on I was very open with all my students about injuries and how to prevent them. Even if this meant breaking away from traditional yoga.
Some people liked the new direction I was heading in, others found it strange.
Now that no longer own a yoga studio I am in an important position to speak truthfully about the realities of practice over a long period of time. Sadly, there are many yoga studio owners who no longer practice what they teach, but the yoga consumer expects a certain thing, these studio owners face the same dilemma I faced, I sympathize with them. Change will come slowly, it already has begun, studio owners I know are hiring personal trainers to lead fitness classes installing chin up bars and bringing in the weights and resistance bands.
My explorations with the Body Braid has reignited my love for yoga. Since my injuries I tried to teach my students about containment and finding the work in the poses, the Body Braid adds resistance to the whole body making all the postures feel more stable.
I’m excited about going back into the yoga world to share what I’ve learned.
It’s been a long and lonely road to get to this point. I’m grateful for Matthews continued research into the dark side of yoga. It’s reassuring to know I’m not alone.
I called Ashtanga “The Cult” even when I was first seriously in it (2005, 2006) and planning / doing my first trip to Mysore! The funny thing is, I considered myself to have one foot firmly planted outside the door and in reality the entire time of my involvement, even for the first 8 or so infatuated years. In reality, I was up to my eyeballs. I can see that now!
Lucky for me though I always continued to recognize the value of strength training & other forms of yoga.
hi diane, good to hear your perspective here. i’m interested that you say “the yoga consumer expects a certain thing”. this reminds me of a comment that bothered me in j brown’s latest blog (http://www.jbrownyoga.com/blog), about teacher training. he says:
Yoga teachers don’t really make a living off teaching yoga classes anymore. Many rely upon conducting yoga teacher training. But contrary to popular belief, this trend may have less to do with the business or marketing inclinations of yoga teachers and more to do with the purchasing and study habits of the yoga-going public.
both these comments seem to me to place the responsibility for what is taught firmly on the students’ shoulders. they seem to imply that the lack of knowledge and experience so prevalent among teachers is part and parcel of what we believe students want. (this seems like free market thinking – demand drives supply – which may be another way that capitalism has its claws firmly in mpy, but anyway…) so i’m wondering, what are your thoughts on this? who created this situation in which high-profile teachers are almost forced into a position in which the potential for injury is so high? (who do you consider responsible for your injuries?)
can we disentangle ourselves from the myths of neoliberalism, and our cultural naivete regarding eastern/yoga traditions, to have the difficult conversations that will enable us as teachers and students to know what is our responsibility, and what isn’t? is it possible to do this within a lineage such as ashtanga, which is guru- and parampara-orientated?
You are wonderful person, you make feel better with my situation that i m not lonely. Thanks again for your shairing.
the links to the instagram yogis are interesting in themselves. i’m sure irene pappas has something to offer as a teacher, but this, from her website, sort of fills me with horror:
“Irene’s love for yoga is contagious. She began practicing in 2012 and immediately knew she had found her path. When she did her first 200 hour teacher training she did not intend to teach right away, but she soon realized that sharing yoga with others was her purpose.”
she has a maximum of 3.5 years of practice experience, and 476k instagram followers. massive disjunct.
Thank you Matthew for yet another deep and resonant piece. The caliber of the comments here, as befits your writing, is so good I’m hesitant to contribute, but I did want to offer a few minor thoughts.
I’ve spent enough time immersed in the Ashtanga (and, to a lesser degree) Anusara worlds in Boulder to see first-hand how the spiritual overlay on MPY asana practice is both seductive and the root cause of the kind of damage you describe. In asana as Patanjali or the Buddha envisioned it one literally takes a comfortable seat and that’s the end of it, physically: the striving, the breaking through limitations, happens in the mental and emotional realms.
I feel very fortunate that my training in Astanga was under Richard Freeman and a bunch of his senior students rather than Pattabhi Jois for many reasons, not the least of which is Richard’s ability to see yoga philosophy and practice in their full historical context. What we have in Jois and for that matter Iyengar is a unique and very idiosyncratic hybrid of Brahmin-cast Vaishnaivism and European gymnastics that represent only one thin sliver of Krishnamacharya’s total teachings. It’s a sliver, on the asana side, of routines designed for (and only appropriate for!) men (and specifically Indian men, raised since birth to squat and sit on the floor, meaning baseline flexibility is way different than that of Westerners) in the 16-25 age range. Viniyoga – practice appropriate for one’s age and constitution – embodies the mature phase of Krishnamacharya’s thought and is nowhere near as well-known, the valiant efforts of Mssrs. Desikachar, Srivasta Ratnaswami, Mohan and Kraftsow nothwithstanding.
Jois and Iyengar themselves gave meditation practice – real yoga in the Patanjali sense – short shrift, so one could argue that Western students whose practice is 90% intensive asana with maybe a nod to pranayama and dhyana are just being true to tradition, but that’s far removed from Krishnamacharya’s own emphasis on moving ever-deeper into pranayama and dhyana with age, the importance of devotional practice, purification through Vedic chant and so much else.
With Boulder, Colorado being pretty much the epicenter of Type A athleticism in the U.S., the teacher trainings at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop have tended over many years to attract extremely gung-ho Asthangis, many of whom are “recovering” triathletes, ultra runners and the like. As part of the TT’s Freeman has long required students to do a single daylong devoted to practicing seated and walking meditation, Theravada-style, and it should come as no surprise that that day is far more of a challenge to most students than primary series. Stopping, just being, just looking – “yogas chitta vritti nirodhah” – is the exact opposite of the yoga they have otherwise been practicing.
Last not least, Kino’s story and so many of the others you’ve told lately Matthew show how terribly lacking so many of us are in having our practice grounded in lovingkindness and tenderness. In Buddhist terms (Tara Brach has done an especially wonderful job with this) our practice is either one of self-discovery grounded in metta or one of ambitious striving rooted in what Brach hauntingly characterizes as “the trance of unworthiness.”
Thank you, Kevin.
I love AV but i can’t take the one size fits all rationale beneath it, i feel that extreme standarization is really at the base of a lot of things like competition and the cult of the advanced that unfortunately characterizes the scene
Hello Matthew. Thank you for continuing this important conversation. Firstly, I feel a pang of sadness for Kino here as I do think this article uses her, an individual, as the archetypal ‘all that’s wrong with yoga these days’ scapegoat. And I don’t really think that’s fair.
From my own experience, I have been practising Astanga for almost 20 years. I was pretty young when I started (20) and have never injured myself . Being injured by an adjustment – well, that’s another story. Considering I lived for the first half of my life in chronic pain, my Astanga practice has saved me. Literally. My approach has never been aggressive. Saraswati is my teacher. She is diligent but kind. And about five years ago, I decided just to go back to primary series because I needed to do that. And that’s what I’ve been doing the past five years. I have no desire to go deeper – although I have been told I could and I should. But who for? Why? I know how to manage my pain (chronic) and how to approach Astanga restoratively. I’ve always known that. Others know that. They taught me that. So this discourse has been the root of my practice for over 20 years. I don’t know how it got lost but its always been in the discourse and part of my practice.
When we lose sight of the subtle body – then the practice becomes dangerous. I think a major issue is teachers don’t know how to communicate this aspect through asana. Maybe because they have not accessed that part in the practice themselves.
As mentioned by others, this practice needs to done in contained and manageable amounts based on the capacity of the individual.
Thanks for the report, Cal. I think it’s important for practitioners like you to continue to tell the stories of redemption and healing. The collateral damage of an article like this is the inevitable perceived ad hominem. It doesn’t matter that MacGregor was enthusiastic in the interview, that she approved the draft, etc: it will very hard for many readers to see that there’s an entire media mechanism, spirituality, and pedagogy that’s at issue here, and together these are larger than any one person. Maybe in MacGregor’s willingness to air these issues she recognizes that this story isn’t about her. I don’t know.
Kino is an amazing teacher and has much to offer us. She always speaks to strength, before flexibility. She has put in the time for her own practice and gives us insight into possibly training to access postures a bit differently. She is a consistent constant student who dialogues from that place.
When speaking to her injury, it is upsetting that people want to criticize her daily practice. Her daily practice is solid. That is very clear by her pictures and videos.
When helping students in their practice assisting, showing and nurturing, without care of herself during that time, makes her more prone to physical injury. Kino travels quite a bit, deals with jet lag, fields questions and information to others daily. She handles quite a bit and is always generous with her guidance. Even for those who cannot make it to her workshops.
Her daily yoga Asana has not harmed her.
Her teaching has.
As a yoga instructor myself, I see clearly how too much teaching hinders your ability to take proper Savasana, after all the physical work of teaching, and the demonstration of some Asana. Without the proper rest from helping others, there is risk of super ting the physical body and nervous system, enough for it to come out as an injury that others may perceive as her physical practice. The injury could have been much worse and taken much longer to heal had she not had such a strong foundational practice.
Just my two cents.
so glad to see this, a good read for sure… @cbquality here from IG, a fellow yoga teacher and personal trainer… and I have long had an issue with the “pain is ok” and “work thru the pain” comments in yoga… as it is not yoga in my opinion. I also dislike the notion that yoga is just achieving the most complicated or “likes” driven poses….I tell my students yoga is process oriented, not goal oriented. and a journey, trying to be at a level you’re not early will only injury you in the long run. I have found many injuries come when we become obsessive or competitive in our practices. I’m much more laid back. As a trainer, I push a more active strength based practice but with so much work in what some call basic poses, with props and other assisting pieces, and you can have just as robust a practice as the hours on hours excessive practices. (i come from an ashtanga inspired practice.) … Thanks for the thoughts. it’s necessary to hear.
Matthew, what would you have done if Kino hadn’t approved the article?
The necessary approval was for the accuracy of the quotes.
“A Mayo Clinic study recently found that bone abnormalities were present in greater than 85% of patients with labral tears, emphasizing the close association between labral tears and Femoroacetabular Impingment (FAI).”
From Mayo Clinic website.
As yogis we need more education,understanding and acceptance of what our individual anatomies may or may not allow for in our asana practice.
Thank you, Matthew Remski, for writing this engaging post. I wish the best to you, to Kino and Carla, and everyone else that engages the difficult issues of Yoga.
Regarding inanna’s comments about the gender predominance issue/s.
Thinking about communication around yoga injuries, and about the realities of — yoga injuries. These yoga injuries go well beyond the one individual body, the body of the injured one. Many of the injuries lead to sustained painful intercourse, and difficult reproduction scenarios… and let’s not forget: Frank Disability. When sitting, lifting, bending, moving and etc. are painful and difficult, who suffers?
Both sexes –and the families — to include extended families of all types — all are suffering from the harm that comes from repeated repetitive over-use in yoga asana, To include the basic seated postures used for doing meditation that involve less than cheerful ‘positions’.
From my yoga tradition the student is taught to teach in street clothes, looking rather dweebish, and not actually doing the postures at all while teaching them. So that the teacher can actually be in relationship with what is going on. To be present with what is going on. So that students aren’t twisting their necks to ‘see’ the teacher, and ‘do’ like the teacher.
allise, in no way did i mean to minimise the prevalence of injured female practitioners, or to downplay the patriarchal narratives that are stitched into almost all yoga traditions. sorry if i gave that impression. i actually specialise in yoga for women, and work in the fertility/birth world; as such i am perhaps more aware than most yoga teachers of the horrendous suffering that so many women are unknowingly inflicting upon themselves and their families through practicing asana in good faith that it is therapeutic, or at least healthy. but at the same time, i know that there are many insightful, sensitive male teachers who are quite capable of listening intently and intelligently to the female experience, and are not threatened by it. it was this certainty that lay behind my comment.
Excellent work. (Looking forward to the book!)
And an excellent conversation. Thank you to Mathew, Kino, and everyone who’s commenting on this. Thanks for sharing, and arguing for, your perspectives. We found it really valuable and have been discussing all morning.
I agree. Lain didn’t seem like the sole voice of reason. Because of my own biases toward certain practices, I believe I understood why he was described as one of the “exceedingly rare advanced practitioners” w/o report of injury. Jules and Diane were feature just as notably. The difference of perspectives (for me) was more of background relevance (and/or area of expertise) rather than gender.
Excellent article Matthew!
As a long-time yoga practitioner, but also an athlete in a number of different disciplines, I often find these discussions look almost absurd from an outside perspective. So a popular yoga teacher who also admittedly engages in acrobatic training received what was by all accounts a relatively minor hamstring pull — no biggie in most people’s minds who push their bodies, whether with a spiritual intent or not. Why is it cause for such heightened drama?
I find that language such as that stating Kino was “brave” to come forward feels completely out of proportion, and extreme in its own right. What grave consequences did she face? What kind of spiritual (or any) community places such a damning taboo on normal human vulnerability that it requires actual courage (a serious word given its normal usage) to simply say “I pulled my hammy while teaching — it’ll heal in a few weeks”?
In general, the yoga community might benefit both from more honesty and more acceptance on the topic of injuries. I myself received a long-term injury (2 years to pain-free) from an adjustment that the teacher laughed off when I told her I felt something pop. So that’s the other side of things — the rejection that anyone could possibly be injured in a yoga class. It happens and it will happen, no matter the style of asana or the devotion of the teacher. I don’t blame the teacher for doing an adjustment she believed was appropriate, and I perhaps I should have stepped away from the edge before I got to it, but I was disappointed that she wouldn’t openly talk about it.
There’s no one way to define asana practice. Extreme ascetic and physical practices (albeit of a different nature) were always part of the tradition. Like many other paths, yoga pings between the poles of pain and healing, and some people are drawn more to one pole at certain times in the search of balance. That seems natural. It’s only a problem when you don’t talk about it. Good to spark more discussion!
Just like your teacher laughed it off when she injured you, most yoga teachers have very hard time admitting they have either injured themselves or others. Admitting injury is admitting that the very practice that you believe to be the ultimate healing practice, has the potential to cause harm. It would be like going to your massage therapist and she pops your rib because she was massaging in the wrong place and with too much force, but she was only doing what they taught her in massage school. So she takes no responsibility. This is absurd! As far I know there has never been yoga teacher in Canada who has been sued. Why is that? There have been hundreds of serious injures that were caused by adjustments. Why is it that yoga teachers are above the law? In order for change to take place on a grand scale, people who are injured are going to have to speak up, and when we hear of the first law suit, possibly a class action suit, then the media might pick up the story, wide spread coverage of the story will bring teachers back to earth. I remember when I injured someone in supta kurmasana, the standard adjustment, helping someone to take both their legs behind her head. She had long legs and very flexible, she was almost in the pose, my adjustment was very gentle. We heard a big pop, the next day she contacted to say her rib was out of the socket, she was in a lot of pain. My heart was broken, I was devastated. I would never do that adjustment again, ever. no matter what. I would not take a chance. The fact that some teachers can laugh it off disturbs me. At the same time, I do understand.They are the teachers who believe in the primary series as if it were the bible, and if someone is injured doing it, it has more to do with the the student than the system, for example, too much ego, preexisting psychological or physical imbalances that were brought to the surface and purified so that enlightenment may be attained. I find it hard to write these words, I used to believe what they believe. Scary stuff.
thanks for providing this vignette re the student in supta kurmasana, diane. it’s instructive to hear how it is on the other side of the equation – anyone else with stories of how it was to have been accused of actually causing injury? no one i know has ever confronted a teacher with their injury – and i know plenty of injured yogis as i’m sure we all do – and i know plenty of teachers who i consider to be in denial about their responsibilities towards their students. it’s one thing to be brave enough to admit to being injured, another level entirely to admit that you’re responsible for that. i am of course just a random bod on the internet, but i really commend your honesty. this kind of response gives me hope that we might be getting somewhere with these enquiries.
The woman I injured did not confront me, I phoned her to see how she was doing. I agree with you most people never say anything to their teachers about injuries. I think the reasons for this are very complex with many layers,
I know when I was adjusted inappropriately by a senior Ashtanga teacher, who will remain nameless right now, I was too freaked out in the moment to say anything. I did send him an email the next day, he pretended to know what I was talking about, I dropped it. I think we go into a state of shock when we’re injured or abused. It’s an ancient survival technique.
Thank you for sharing Matthew. I am a physical therapist and therapeutic yoga specialist who has been modifying traditional Hatha yoga and the Primary series of Ashtanga for over 20 years to make it accessible to the majority of individuals who come to asana practice at mid-life in San Antonio, Texas. You have identified points of interest that many of us who are interested in sustaining life -long yoga lifestyle (including asana) practices will benefit from being aware of. Keep on sharing. I look forward to your continued work and am sending Kino positive energy and love for healing to occur on all levels.
“I told everyone: ‘I’m at the Emergency Room. I feel like a drama queen!”
Because you are a drama queen. But seriously, a 4,300 word article about a a woman who posts daily selfies of herself doing extreme poses pulling a muscle with a touch of bursitis? Really? Well, at least she had a doctor diagnose her problem.
I’d be curious how many of the people you’ve interviewed for your project diagnosed themselves (or were diagnosed by you, Mr. Remski) and how many had actual medical professionals diagnose their problem. You know, people who have actually undertaken years of training to learn how to properly diagnose injuries.
There’s a saying, “he or she who diagnoses themselves has a fool for a patient”. I see this as a major flaw in your wawadia project. Have you considered that many of the diagnoses you are promoting may actually be incorrect? You acknowledge that trained professionals are cautious about attributing injuries to yoga specifically. Could that be because they know a bit more about injuries and underlying conditions and approach things scientifically?
Granted, this article identifies a pulled muscle from yoga in an ashtangi who does extreme poses that she got from doing the poses. Not exactly catastrophic. Many gymnasts or dancers have had similar injuries, if not worse. Few get a blog about it and fewer still would find a blog like that interesting. But, if that’s all you can come up with, I’d say the practice is pretty safe for the rest of us.
But did you really need to write a 4,300 word article about it?
This all makes for good copy, but it does seem that you are hyping the injury a bit, don’t you think? To get views, perhaps? In advance of selling your webinar, maybe?
I apologize for wasting your time — to the extent that you had to copy and paste the whole article into another app to find the word count!
Before diagnosing a “major flaw” in this project, it might be good to do some basic reading. I have never diagnosed any condition presented to me by interview subjects. On the contrary, I’ve interviewed the doctors of several subjects to confirm diagnoses I’m not qualified to make. One subject will be in labral repair surgery this Friday, and I’ve arranged to review the film from that surgery with the subject the following week.
I’ve never claimed that asana is not generally safe. I’m researching how its general marketing as a therapeutic falls short, and how it often is used as a mode of expression for the very anxieties it claims to soothe.
The webinar was planned and booked weeks before I saw MacGregor’s post. It’s serendipitous timing for the broader conversation I hope to encourage.
No need to apologize; it took less than 30 seconds to get the word count. You haven’t actually responded to my critique of your study, however, and your “response” leaves me wondering how many of the injuries you are collating were the result of self diagnosis. You say you’ve interviewed numerous individuals but have only spoken with “several” of their doctors. Of those, how many concluded that the injury was caused by yoga?
Which diagnoses are you qualified to make and what are those qualifications? Don’t you think it’s a bit presumptuous to assume that
you can make any diagnoses without actually learning how? PT’s and other medical professionals spend years learning how to diagnose and treat medical problems. Aside from your work with Ayurveda, I don’t see that you’ve done the same (please correct if I’m wrong).
For example, what will you be looking for when you review the film of the
surgery from your subjects labral tear? Are you hoping to link that to their
asana practice? I would like to hear how you will do that, given the complexity of that problem and the frequency that it occurs in people. I would say that the most you could ever opine was that maybe yoga contributed
and maybe something else caused it (like the surgeon could do as well). Have you studied labral tears? That’s pretty specialized, even in orthopedics.
I’ve seen you make statements to the effect that yoga should be therapeutic and thus not cause injury. However, something potentially being therapeutic and also potentially causing injury is not a mutually exclusive concept. I’m quite sure the surgeon who is operating on your subject this week will have gone over in detail the risks and complications of the surgery, for example.
You haven’t actually criticized my study, but someone else’s, it seems. There are something like 30 articles in the series that address all of your concerns.
I don’t diagnose. I report on what subjects say, and what some of their doctors say. This very article makes it clear that establishing causation for injury is almost impossible. I’m not trying to prove that certain poses cause certain injuries, nor argue that yoga should be injury-free. I’m exploring the contexts of yoga injuries and how stories about them are told, what meanings we give them, and how those meanings influence practice. Check out the account of Nancy Cochren for more on how I handle these issues.
Jill, I believe a flaw in your argument is comparing this yoga-related injury to a dance or gymnastic related injury. Neither of those practices are marketed/promoted as “practices of healing” or necessarily therapeutic in the same way yoga is often touted. This is my takeaway from the article (likely because of my own concerns w how this marketing falls short) and the types of conversations I believe Matthew is trying to initiate or stoke. Where he insinuated the practice as not being safe for most…I’m not sure where you got that…
Allie, comparing someone performing an extreme type of stretch in yoga with a similar extreme movement performed in dance or gymnastics is actually quite relevant. Injuries in gymnastics and dance, for one thing, have been investigated to a much greater degree than yoga. For example, to say that doing the splits in yoga is so very different from that of dance or gymnastics is to ignore vital data that is available from reliable sources, and that can be valuable in addressing some of the concerns facing yoga practitioners.
Are you saying that yoga does not have healing potential? I would disagree wholeheartedly with that. So why shouldn’t it be promoted as a healing practice? Does it have the capacity to injure as well? Of course. By looking at overlap of similar disciplines that work with the body, one can benefit from the wealth of studies that exist in those fields. How is that flawed?
You say, “Where he insinuated the practice as not being safe for most…I’m not sure where you got that…”
Where the hell did I say anything like that? Anywhere? Did you actually read my post or do you simply feel the need to chime in?
Jill, I apologize. I did indeed read your comment and misunderstood this context. “But, if that’s all you can come up with, I’d say the practice is pretty safe for the rest of us.” It does not seem like further conversation would be productive, as it appears we are not on same page. No where did I claim to believe yoga does not have healing qualities. In fact, I believe strongly it does. Also, I agree w you: “By looking at overlap of similar disciplines that work with the body, one can benefit from the wealth of studies that exist in those fields.” Again I must have misunderstood your original context. I thought your comparison was about Kino’s non “catastrophic” yoga related injury getting such attention (a whole blog) being absurd when dancers and the like sustain similar injuries. I don’t want to engage w you in a negative way. Please take care.
Our ability to manipulate our nervous systems, essentially expanding and lengthening it, triggers a parasympathetic response and this is where our greatest healing abilities lie. The overall long term health benefits of this effect outweigh the risks of soft tissue injury in the short term.
Thanks Bill. Citation(s)?
Kino wasn’t injured in asana but in ADJUSTING a student’s asana. That’s an important distinction. Not only that, but adjusting Bakasana, a pose that is full weight supporting and precarious.
Senior teachers I study with – Iyengar – all say that teaching is what wears the body down. Only demonstrating poses on one side, supporting body weight in adjustments, getting kicked, fallen on, not resting properly, etc. It’s one of the reasons props exist. It becomes too physically strenuous to give all those adjustments.
Hopefully the distinction is clear in the article, as well as the general context for the injury.
Hi Matthew, many thanks for the interesting article and for all the other work from your research project. I have found some of the stories you have shared resonated with my experiences of daily ashtanga practice – having sustained a repetitive strain injury, after which I stopped practicing. Just wanted to let you know that your research has encouraged me to belatedly share my experiences of injury and practice with my former teacher. Something that I didn’t do at the time I was injured for various reasons. Also I have found your articles helpful in reflecting upon and understanding my experiences of yoga practice, and placing these experiences within a broader socio-cultural context. I’d be happy to be interviewed for the research if that would be helpful at this stage of the project.
So I found this extremely interesting that I wrote a response. The question one of my friends had to this was what was the teachers ethical responsibility? It’s clear to some extent that her range of motion practice, the one she advertises to use via Instagram, is what hurt her over time. Check out my response. Thank you for writing this piece. http://Www.angelahubbs.me
As a yoga learner, practitioner and teacher over 35 years, an integrative medicine practitioner trained in Ayrurvedic medicine, and physiatrist, the “yoga” that most understand in the U.S. is not yoga, but gymnastics destining many to injury. The roots and history of Yoga escape far too many. A “yoga” teacher should never prescribe asana or “treat” anything – “hip-opening, which was paradoxically recommended by her yoga mentors to treat her ongoing knee pain.” Yoga is not ego = totally missed the boat … Your article clearly shows all these distortions.
However, two points i want to highlight:
1. Empirical studies get taken far more seriously than they deserve to. People see some numbers and then they think “wow science!”. Very few understand probability, let alone causality.
2. I must also say that the so called “licensed” medical professionals get unnecessarily treated almost like gods. A bit of humility about what they dont know would be useful. Most people tend to think these people are the experts, given they go through an arduous selection process. That means zilch about the quality of the medical science or what we know about human body.
I would suggest its quite simple in my limited perspective. I don’t think its good karma at all to be demonstrating all these asanas on Instagram and youtube where many hundreds and perhaps thousands of envious neophytes who don’t really have a clue what yoga is but are seduced by the exotic nature, angle and contortion of ashtanga then try it themselves with great excitement and energy and then injure themselves. I imagine many have injured themselves after tracking this stuff thru pop media and ultimately it all comes back around. Its why in the Zen tradition for example they don’t sell koans off on the cheap or openly discuss the depths of practice. In the wrong hands it becomes a very toxic poison.
forgot to mention in the above rambling that there is something quite strange and self-obsessed about posting constant daily selfies – always smiling, always happy, always made up and dressed to attract, to sell, to market by any means. Its just cheap and narcissistic and tiresome imo and it’s an energy that carries with it its own kind of karma. And this woman must be crowding 40. Isn’t it time to grow up and go a bit deeper, maybe cultivate some silence, some stillness, a touch of humility?
I see your points and can understand how yoga “selfies” can come across the way you describe. However, having interacted with Kino in person numerous times, I have met very few people as humble, centrally stilled (especially when in the midst of a lot of outer busy-ness), insightful, down-to-earth, and caring as Kino MacGregor. She posts daily to inspire others. She certainly has and does inspire me.
As for cosmetics and pretty clothes, Kino has spoken at length and alludes when appropriate to her journey which, years ago, included asceticism and shaving her head. She came to realize that beauty is a principle she values. She enjoys beauty. This is why she embodies it daily — she enjoys it! For Kino, beauty is a genuine expression of soul.
Kino has spent every single day for over 16 years going deeper than most of us humans ever will, in total silence (other than her own breath) and stillness (she meditates and has done extensive periods of meditation).
We see glimpses of the rest of her life. Even now with everything Kino generously shares, including via live video, her morning meditation practices are unseen.
In person, she embodies stillness no matter how much external activity is occurring, and she is beautifully humble.
I think it can be difficult sometimes to remember that social media posts do not and cannot convey the full extent of any person. There is a real person behind the pictures and words, and until we interact with the author of the post in person, we do not even begin to know him or her.
From what I have learned of the ashtanga system, its method is in a way the opposite of the ‘obsession with tissue extension’ and ‘muscle lengthening’ that Matthew references – and that do seem connected to injury. Instead, ashtanga gives us a protective internal structure, via the bandhas, that is there to give us stability and keep us from over-reaching. I see the bandhas as a kind of ‘hold-your-horses’ mechanism that keeps us grounded within our own bodies and stops us reaching too far beyond our bodily capacity.
Western ballet embodies the ‘over-reaching’ kind of stretching as it is all about desire, yearning, loss….it’s steeped in Romantic mythology and reflects that.in movement: the dancer reaches out as far as they can for the impossible object of desire.
Western students can be quite influenced by that movement-tradition, even without being aware of it (it’s part of our cultural repertoire) because of its grace – all big sweeps and arches, dramatic expression and so on But yoga works in the opposite direction – to hold us where we are and counteract the force of desire. Ashtanga does provide the tools to explore that and does provide effective safety mechanisms and ‘brakes’, even though injury risks can’t be completely eliminated, of course. Wishing Kino a quick recovery and thanks to Matthew for his thoughts and research.
While it does not speak to your argument here in its entirety it is always important to be able to read actual research that are related to the topic at hand. I thought many of you might find this review relevant and helpful to the discussion.
thanks for the thoughtful article; it was a good read.
spot on article. I was a 5 x a week vinyasa practitioner for two years before I made the horrible mistake of going to Miami life center (kino’s studio) for a primary series class, which culminated with one of the teachers laying on my back to push me deeper into my forward folds (I have very flexible hamstrings; my entire upper body and chin was already on top of my thighs and shins.) this severe and completely unnecessary elongation of ligaments, combined with the evil marichyasana series, sent my si joint into a tailspin I cannot seem to recover from. I can’t express how pissed off and betrayed I feel. I’ve thought about writing the studio, but I’m sure they’d wipe their ass with my concerns. what is the point, really? trying to attain the ‘full’ expression of a pose with zero regard to individual bodies. this Miami life center instructor, Julie, had never ever had me in Class before and knew nothing about me or what my body could or should handle. why did she feel the right to splay out across my back and push and push and push til my chin almost reached my ankles? it’s ego, pure and simple, and it’s total B.S. I’ve had 4 months of pain and may never be able to do yoga again. cannot stress enough the amazingness of this article for calling out these ridiculous ashtangis who push push and push some more for no good reason!
You and I have been in contact in regards to your pain in your SI/hip area and I have consulted the teacher about the encounter. You turned down my offer to meet, talk and asses your pain&strain and potentially discuss solutions to your healing. You mentioned to me that your SI joint was already unstable from your vinyasa yoga practice prior to your single visit to MLC. I acknowledge your disbelief and disregard for the teacher, MLC and the Ashtanga yoga method as a whole and regret to have been part of kindling this taut stance. I wish you a successful healing process of your choice.
Yes, there is anger in that post, but I cannot take it back. it’s how I felt after months of unbearable pain. I regret that I was unable to keep my cool. I have no health insurance, so I was self – diagnosing with the help of Dr. Google, like so many uninsured are forced to do (I am adjunct faculty at a local university and they do not provide me with benefits). I had gone to my holistic chiropractor and acupuncturist and found no relief. I finally caved and paid for an MRI this last week, the results: I have two posterior bulging discs, one at L5-S1 (with an annular tear) and the other at L4-L5. A tear on a disc is impossible without excessive force. Upon seeing my MRI results, a physical therapist asked ‘did you have a car accident?!’ No, I did not. I had a high intensity seated forward fold yoga assist accident. My chiropractor further confirmed my SI joint is now actually locked. With disbelief at my bulging discs, I Googled ‘seated forward fold and bulging/torn discs, ‘ and read in amazement how this confirmed what was done to me at your studio. As far as my ‘taut stance’ on ashtanga, I’m a social scientist, I earned my PhD by being able to sift through research and make sensible conclusions based on the literature. When enough evidence points to a certain conclusion, I take notice. When I become a statistic, I speak up. Regarding your invitation to meet and assess my medical situation: are you a doctor or chiropractor? I couldn’t come to meet you because I was flat on my back with two bulging discs. I still have never received an apology, but I guess that won’t happen since you are mostly concerned with not admitting any fault.
Ah, injury and ashtanga. I just completed an extremely modified primary series practice due to a terrible injury I recently sustained- throwing a vase in the trash. I have a hand laceration that required reconstructive surgery. So, even if you practice perfectly, it’s still possible to confront the frailty of these meat suits we wear 😉
I always wonder about that when I hear the considerable spin that the “functional movement” folks are flooding the movement space with (currently. Another few years will bring another paradigm that “has the answers”, no doubt). Is it the case that the people doing monkey-bars and dragging tires around aren’t gritting injuries? Or are the injuries sustained doing “functional” movements and cultivating stability “healthier” injuries?
The fact of the matter is, having a human body=sustaining injuries and experienceing pain. If you do some form of intense exercise, you’ll probably injure your muscles, ligaments and tendons. If you are very “safely” sedentary, you’ll injury your vascular and respiratory system. And if you somehow strike the perfect balance, and never over- or under-work your body, then maybe you’ll year your hand apart on a chunk of broken glass.
We’re all gonna hurt, folks, and we’re all gonna die. If yoga helps you breathe into that reality, then godspeed. It sure is helping me.
Thanks for writing. These are points that speak to the existential honesty with which I’ve heard many AVY practitioners describe their practice: pain and injury are inevitable, and the series provide a kind of spiritual exposure therapy.
But those who know that the Sanskrit title of the Primary Series translates as “Therapy for the Body” might expect that its teachers/therapists are as educated as they can be in terms of biomechanics and kinesiology. Whether on not that’s so for AVY brings up the problem of what sources of authority to follow and believe. By all reports, SKPJ had very little interest in biomedicine. But what about his students and grandstudents?
I’m sure the functional movement science will misstep in its development for a long time. But one clear difference it brings to the yoga table is that it begins to distinguish evidence from revelation.
This is a horrible article and it way too long.
I think this is a brilliant article and addresses a lot of the problems caused by the yoga community just blindly following some traditional logic without applying very simple common sense.
I am practicing yogi/ashtangi but I am also an engineer by profession so logic is always going to take priority in my mind. I studied yoga in Japan where an awful lot of teachers (and my initial Iyengar) teacher applied a huge amount of scientific and anatomic logic to the practice.
There is no right or wrong alignment. However, the functions of the human body is the same in everyone. Of course while there are varying degrees of strength and flexibility in everyone, there is only one answer in terms of anatomy.
(I will mention that I think when medical experts talk about the detrimental effects of stretching they are referring to passive stretching, i.e. stretching which relies on gravity or momentum, similar to how a rhythmic gymnast trains. Techniques such as PNF stretching, when applied to yoga asanas that require flexibility and far more effective at deepending a pose and minimize the risk of injury.) Safely, they are rarely used.
I had my first experience studying with a western ashtanga yoga teacher this year in Bali and was very disappointed. During my practice, I stopped at the posture in second series where I had been told to by my teacher in Japan, and began the closing postures, upon which said teacher then encouraged me to try the next posture. The adjustment was so strong that I sustained a bone bruise to my sternum which has only just healed. I sustained the injury in December 2016.
Now despite the intense pain of the injury, (as many key muscles including your pectoralis major and sternocleidomastoideus attach onto the sternum, a lot of movements are extremely painful), the teacher’s response was simply “Guruji always says to expect some pain” and then proceeded me to enlighten me about his long history of injuries and how this deepened the true meaning of ashtanga.
While yes, it is safe to agree that injuries may and will occur as part of a regular and intense practice from time to time, injuries are not in any way favorable and should be avoided at all costs. Serious injuries including hernias, embolisms, fractures (in my case, bone bruises!) ACL tears are all very real possibilities and may render someone incapable of completing the most day-to-day of activities, let alone a rigorous ashtanga routine.
I think it is so irresponsible of certain yoga teachers to cover up this aspect of yoga, or act as though it is something to expect – even something that will eventually make your practice better.
Mindfulness is key in yoga and so is proper alignment. I am glad I began my yoga journey in Japan, because there is just a level of detail and just pure common sense that Japanese teachers are capable of applying to yoga practice that Westerners (for the most part) seem to be incapable of.
Japanese culture, much like Indian culture, is a hierarchal culture where there is very much a student/mentor mentality. This also derives from martial arts etc. Although frustrating in many aspects, it forces you to be exactly where you are, in that position, and not to be greedy for more. This is absolutely essential to the practice and this greed and recklessness towards the practice as part of its tacky commercialization will injury you, your students. Learn your body, and listen to it. Properly.
Jean, I love what you wrote and the thoughts it provoked in me and I wanted to raise an alternative approach to one aspect of it. You wrote:
There is no right or wrong alignment. However, the functions of the human body is the same in everyone. Of course while there are varying degrees of strength and flexibility in everyone, there is only one answer in terms of anatomy.- Jean C
Is not the opposite true, there are variations of alignment based on individual anatomy. Would you recommend the same alignment/movement for someone with Lordosis as you would for someone with Kyphosis of the spine?
There is ideal function or desigend use, as in the knee is designed to bend this way, but the design and the application in modern life are two different things. Just because the knee can be made to bend a certain way and in many people with ease, is it beneficial for functional aspects of life as well as sustained yoga practice?
Instead of seeing Right and Wrong alignment, what if we saw alignment that is more or less likely to cause pain, or more or less likely to induce comfort? If a person is too comfortable the body gets lazy and relaxes and imbalance is the result, if a person is too aligned they become fixed and rigid and risk overstressing the system.
Advanced yoga practioners are the perfect models of what not to do because they have experimented deeply on their bodies. Beginners will always feel pain and soreness in the body that is normal, but if advanced practioners are still feeling pain then their pain should be used to guide them through the body to understand what structural imbalances are persisting despite tradtional ideas. Yoga is not a religion and the way we practice it today is a rather new invention, it needs to continue to grow as we learn more about body. I think it is perfectly possible to change our asana practice while still maintaining and pursuing our core yogic beliefs.
Excellent, well written, and informative article that discusses Kino in a well-balanced way. Thank you so much for this work.
Good article. And great that it gets a lot of comments.