Yoga is good (and sometimes bad) for you
- By Whitney Fetterhoff, Published: February 21
Careful with that plow pose (but don’t stop doing yoga)
From Bikram to Vinyasa, it seems like yoga has become the exercise experience of choice these days.
In “The Science of Yoga,” New York Times science writer William J. Broad examines the growing popularity of yoga and some of his findings are surprising. According to Broad, while yoga’s “low-impact nature puts less strain on the body than traditional sports, increasing its appeal for younger people as well as aging boomers,” some yoga positions, such as head and shoulder stands and the plow position, raise real injury concerns. “The idea of damage runs counter to yoga’s reputation for healing. Few practitioners anticipate strokes and dislocations, dead nerves and ruptured lungs,” writes Broad, a longtime yoga practitioner who injured his back doing an advanced yoga pose.
To pursue his theme of risks and rewards, Broad cites psychiatrist Carl Jung, who posited that yoga can either improve your mood, or “let loose a flood of sufferings of which no sane person ever dreamed.” Among yoga’s well-known positives supported by actual studies: relaxation, mental calmness, flexibility, reductions in blood pressure and, Broad says, a better sex life. Among the negatives: possible weight gain, because all that yoga-induced relaxation can lead to a reduction in your metabolic rate; joint instability; even brain damage or stroke from positions that demand extreme bending of your neck. Another claim for which Broad says there’s no scientific evidence: Yoga gets more oxygen into your blood.
Broad isn’t saying don’t do yoga. On the contrary, he makes the argument that yoga will — and should — remain a good source of exercise and relaxation, but he says practitioners and teachers alike need to be more attuned to potential downsides.