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Is Yoga Actually Harmful?

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These days it seems there’s a yoga studio on every street corner, and millions of enthusiasts tout the benefits of the exercise. But could it actually be bad for your body?

In a New York Times article, science writer William J. Broad quotes yoga veteran Glenn Black, who “has come to believe that ‘the vast majority of people’ should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.”

Black said differences in the way yoga was done by Indian practitioners and the manner in which it’s done now could be to blame, describing typically non-active urbanites who sit in chairs all day injuring themselves by “strain[ing] to twist themselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite their lack of flexibility and other physical problems.”

“Today many schools of yoga are just about pushing people,” Black said. “You can’t believe what’s going on — teachers jumping on people, pushing and pulling and saying, ‘You should be able to do this by now.’ It has to do with their egos.”

Some respected medical journals — like Neurology, The British Medical Journal and The Journal of the American Medical Association — agree, reporting problems ranging from relatively mild injuries to permanent disabilities.

In addition, surveys by the Consumer Product Safety Commission have shown the number of emergency-room admissions related to yoga has quickly risen, going from 13 in 2000 to 20 in 2001, and then more than doubling to 46 in 2002 — but experts think even that’s an artificially-low number, since many of those suffering from less serious yoga injuries go to family doctors, chiropractors and various kinds of therapists instead of an ER.

But despite all this, yoga-lovers would be hard-pressed to give up their mats. USAToday writer Holly Corbett Bristol said, “People like me, who spend more than eight hours a day sitting plugged into a computer but disconnected from their bodies, can benefit greatly from spending an hour stretching tight muscles and alleviating stress.”

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