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Yoga, Injury Source and Sink

December 23, 2012

I just read another cautionary article about yoga “Wounded Warrior Pose” by William J. Broad, author of “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards“. As someone who has been practicing yoga for over 20 years, and who despite being very mellow in my yogic expectations (I seek restoration from yoga, not a workout) I have still occasionally tweaked something by being a tad overzealous. And, as someone who has introduced many athletes to yoga I take a particular note of caution, as I have always emphasized and believed in the power of yoga at best to prevent injury, and a least compliment an athletes more competitive endeavors.

This most recent article mentioned something that really caught my eye, and frightened me:

I also received a surprising number of moving replies from injured yogis — male and female — including stroke victims.

As a very healthy person with excellent cholesterol and no history of cardiovascular disease, I suffered a stroke at age 42. At the time I was cycling 8-10 hours per week, and was in the best condition of my adult life. While my yoga practice at the time of my stroke was sporadic at best, I still received this sentence with the sense of despair of anyone who comes to believe that their redeemer was their doom!

Upon further inspection, however, it seems that my yoga practice played no role in causing my stroke. References from the aforementioned article and a little bit of google scholaring did indeed lead me to accounts of yoga causing stroke (see links below). However, these were not simply accounts of the practice of yoga coinciding with an expanded risk of stroke. Rather, it appears to invariably be the result of stroke during or immediately after yoga which involved the contortion of the neck into extreme postures for extreme lengths of time – something that I have not ever had even the slightest taste for. I even stumbled across an article where a woman suffered a stroke while swimming freestyle, and snapping her neck to the side to avoid an in-lane collision! Alas, unglamorously, my stroke occurred in bed, weeks after I had last done so much as a sun salutation. And for me, yoga was part of my rapid recovery, both in its therapeutic use to combat the extreme muscle spasms that result from a reawakening right side, and I believe, via what I was told by my physician were an unusually high number of collateral pathways in my brain that enabled my rapid remastery of lost motor skills.

But the message in this article is worth taking note of nonetheless: strange things can happen when we push ourselves to extreme limits. And those limits which involve kinking arteries, stressing the vertebrae and forced stretching of the muscle tissue may have dire consequences when tested. For my own practice, focusing on the breath, avoiding things that contort my spine and working to achieve balance, body awareness, relaxation and coordination are the simple goals. Yoga is not a competitive sport. Oh, and I ordered the book – because knowledge is power.


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