"New York Times science journalist William Broad has scandalized the yoga world for much of the past year with his claim that yoga, while often beneficial to practitioners, can also seriously injure them. Many yogis have strongly disputed Broad's claim, including the injury statistics that Broad cites to support it. They even accuse Broad of engaging in "sensationalism" by exaggerating the injury threat merely to sell more copies of his controversial book, The Science of Yoga.
But Michaelle Edwards, a 40-year practicing yoga veteran with 25 years of yoga teaching and experience in massage therapy, biomechanics, and posture therapy, says that Broad's actually right. Author of YogAlign, Pain-free Yoga from Your Inner Core (2011), Edwards has been documenting - and treating -- yoga injuries for years. She says that many of the traditional yoga postures currently being taught - everything from shoulder stands and headstands to the ubiquitous downward-facing dog and triangle poses - simply aren't in synch with the way our bodies are "naturally" designed to move." Stewart Lawrence, Huffington Post, Feb 15, 2013
Lady Gaga cancelled a music tour with hip pain so severe, she can barely move. Diagnosis is synovitis (inflammation of the hip joint) and a labral tear. These conditions are mainly caused by lax ligaments in the hip and sacral joint. Gaga does a lot of seated forward and standing bends that stretch the sacroiliac joints. Many yoga teachers and students are needing hip surgeries. Beryl Bender and Judith Lasater are two of the famous ones. I work with clients every day suffering from hip and groin pain caused by over-stretching. It is important to focus on the value of yoga poses according to our natural biomechanics as opposed to any beliefs you have been taught such as plow pose is good for your thyroid. Well, what about the compression on your spine when you do it? We need to approach the practice of yoga asana from a global perspective. Our body is not made of parts. Doing compartmentalized stretching of our body makes no anatomical sense. We need to engage our body in poses that simulate real life function and movement.
Many people think yoga injuries are caused by people pushing too hard or from inexperienced teachers. These reasons are certainly true, but the biggest reason for yoga injuries is that the human body is not designed to be in the right angle poses that make up a huge percentage of modern yoga asana practice. Most yoga injuries are caused by putting the body in positions that are unnatural.
According to exercise physiology, the most compressive position for the human spine is sitting down with the trunk at a right angle to straight legs. I have a saying: "The world is round, and so are our bodies." Forcing our curving bodies into square linear positions can cause an over-stretching of the ligaments of the spine, in particular ones that attach your sacrum to your hips. The lumbar spine and sacrum form an important shock-absorbing curve needed to keep your hip socket and knee joint from compressing.The oxymoron is that many yoga poses require you to place your body in this dangerous right angle position with the idea that your body will learn to "open". This movement is not functional and has nothing to do with the way your body is designed to bend. We all need the lumbar curve and sacral platform to support our trunk and act as a shock absorber for the spine, hips, and knees. Poses like "Plow" are particularly dangerous because we create right angles between the neck and the trunk and the hips all at the same time. The weight of the lower body is dangerously positioned above a cervical spine that is not designed to hold more than about 15 pounds. People do use blankets and try not to compress the neck, but there are nerves getting tugged on passed the limit they can stretch, as well as cervical discs not designed to have that much pressure in extreme neck flexion for minutes at a time. Ligaments do not have a lot of sensory nerves, so we cannot feel when they are getting overstretched.
Mythbuster # 1
Yogis have been practicing yoga poses (in the same form we do them today) for thousands of years. Recent academic research shows that many yoga poses we do actually originated in the early 20th century, and are more European in origin. Mark Singleton's book Yoga Body, The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, shows how many modern yoga poses were created from a mix of Western Contortionism, military drills, and women's gymnastics, combined with ancient Yoga philosophy texts such as the Yoga Sutras and the Upanishads.
Fact: There is no evidence in the Indian tradition for modern asana practice. Yoga poses as practiced today need to be bio-mechanically tested to establish their true value. Modern Indian teachers were influenced by the British occupation of India, and they created new versions of more ancient postures as part of a global movement that combined religion and spirituality with physical culture. The YMCA, Spiritual Calisthenics, and Muscular Christianity all were established in Europe before the turn of the century. This was a reaction to the ease of life created by the invention of machines during the industrial revolution. Many people felt that man would fall into moral and physical decay and Yoga as now practiced today was simply a part of that movement.
Hard and tight abdominal muscles are necessary for good posture.
Millions of people tighten their abs in order to acquire a beautiful waist or an impressive six-pack that is void
of fat, while others routinely exercise themselves into a muscular vice-grip trying to strengthen their core.
But what really gives us a strong core? Many people erroneously believe that a strong core means having a
tight belly; however, it is a toned and relaxed belly that will keep us flexible, aligned, and powerful in the long
run. Fact: A tight belly creates a sore back.
A tight six-pack in the abdominal muscles can be dangerous to the health of the spine, nerves, organs, and
even emotions. One of the biggest blind spots in the yoga and fitness industry is that strong abs are a remedy
for back problems. Back pain is caused not just by weakness, but also by excessive tightness in the core; thus
over-contracting the core is not a panacea for back pain, but rather a trigger for it. Common flexion exercises,
like abdominal crunches, elbow to-knee type sit-ups, and straight-leg forward bends continually contract
the entire front of the body, leading to a shortening of the front fascia connections that run from head
to toe. With each crunch trunk muscles become used to a shortened and contracted state, which puts pressure
on the discs in the spinal column, and can compress the nerves exiting the spine. The result is an 'Ouch!'
right in the back. Tense abs pull the sternum or breastbone towards the pubic bone, creating shortness of
breath and restriction of movement all over the body. Individuals with a six-pack may appear to be athletic
and seem to be very fit, but they may run into back problems as they age.
MythBusters #3: Right-angle poses are beneficial to increase flexibility.
Where is the sense in going against nature's design and performing poses that have more to do with sitting
and less to do with our natural movement? It makes no anatomical sense to exercise or stretch with the body
in a right angle position. The design of the chair does not support the natural curves of our spine, and makes
our lower backs hurt, so why try and make our body into a right angle doing yoga or fitness poses?
Fact: Straight-legged forward bend compromises posture.
Trying to bend the body into a right angle creates huge pressure in the lower back and sacrum. Even if it
feels 'easy' for the flexible folks, doing right angle poses for years can stretch out the natural shock-absorbing
angle in the sacrum. This leads to what I call Sagging Sacrum Syndrome (SSS). With the sacrum sagging, the
breastbone goes down, the head goes forward, and the weight from the upper body compresses the hip and
knee joints, possibly leading to hip and knee pain and eventually replacements.
YogAlign Forward Bend
Common Forward Bend
Tucking the tailbone will align your hips and prevent lordosis. Many people speak of creating a flat back, tucking the tailbone, or pushing the lower back curve to the floor using pressure from the abdominals.
Fact: Tail–down posture distorts natural alignment. To create this action, we enlist our abdominals to contract and create flexion of the spine. Our spine is a flexible shock-absorbing rod, whose strength is found in the curves that define our spinal health. What is most important when engaging our body is to direct our abs and trunk muscles to stabilize the spine, not flex it. Tucking the tailbone pulls the sacrum down too and distorts natural alignment. Tail down between the legs is what a dog does when frightened, and does not reinforce good posture. YogAlign uses a breathing technique to draw the tip of the tailbone towards the pubic bone and it requires no external force of the abdominal muscles.
Mythbuster # 5
Touching your toes is both a measure of flexibility and a way to get flexible. We are not able to move if we keep both knees straight. It makes no anatomical sense to try and make the body flexible in positions that would inhibit natural movement patterning. In the effort to address back pain or tight hamstrings, many positions involve toe touching exercises, done in a seated or standing forward-bend with the legs held straight. Unfortunately, stretching out tight back muscles by sitting with straight legs and leaning forward is compartmentalized stretching based on the idea that our body is made of parts. Anytime we keep both legs straight and position our trunk at a right angle to our legs, we are jeopardizing the health of our spine, stretching our important stabilizing ligaments in the sacrum and hips.
Fact: Most people complain of tight hamstrings but the truth is that they are strained and tired, not tight. The tightest places in the human body are the groin pit and the arm pit but the tension shows up on the backside. In the YogAlign® method, we say touching your toes can harm your back, and not being able to touch your toes does not indicate you are inflexible. Because fascia pulley forces rule our body, if the front side pulley is shortened, the backside pulleys are straining which makes us feel tight in the legs or back. The key element to eliminate 'tight' hamstrings is to lengthen and stabilize the front body and groin area, not try and stretch out the sore area in the backs of the legs. Once postural forces are balanced, the hamstrings will not feel tight and the urge to stretch the hamstrings disappears.
Mythbuster # 6
Good posture means having a straight spine.
There are no straight lines in nature; all of creation is formed of round and spiraling shapes. The spine is no
different as it has natural curves that create its strength and fluidity. Posture that is functional is founded on
a spine with the natural curves aligned, and a body rooted in ease. In YogAlign®, natural posture and alignment
principles are what we create in every pose, using internal muscular forces of extension through breathing
practices that align our spine into optimal posture.
Fact: Healthy backs have curves.
Strong breathing muscles and aligning the spine serve as a warranty against
injury and lead to posture that is functional and fluid, without us having to
concentrate. Whether you are standing, sitting or reclining, poses that
straighten the spine and reverse the spine's natural curves jeopardize the
longevity and vitality of the body's structure.
Mythbuster # 7 Inexperienced teachers and improper practice are the only causes of yoga injuries. The biomechanics of so many 'traditional' yoga poses are actually positions that create forces that strain the bio-tensegrity design forces of the human body. We are designed to move and many yoga poses are focused on keeping the knees straight and the back flat, which puts a parking brake on moving, breathing, and being comfortable.
Fact: Many yoga poses make no biomechanical sense and there is no way to do them 'properly'. Taking the curve out of the sacral platform loosens the ligaments of the sacroiliac joint. Overtime, the loosed ligaments allow the sacral platform to fall and the natural 30-degree nutation angle needed for shock absorption disappears. After a period of years, many yoga practitioners began to feel SI joint and low back pain. In some it turns into hip compression, replacements and an undermining of the main support system in the body, the lumbar/sacral curve.
This pose prevents yoga injuries
This pose puts you at high risk for yoga injuries
Notice the lack of spinal curves and neck
Same picture rotated
Putting your body in a right angle position with your legs straight, feet flexed and your trunk at a right angle forces your sacrum to flatten leading to lower back pain and spine and disc destabilization. In order for a yoga pose to be functional, the spine must be in its natural curves as a flexible rod. Michaelle Edwards, yoga practitioner since 1972, body worker, and yoga teacher since 1992, has invented a pain-free style of yoga incorporating the natural curves of the spine with unique muscle recoding exercises and self massage. It is called YogAlign, the pain-free yoga from your core.
Learn more about YogAlign and protec:t yourself from the epidemic of yoga injuries. Back, shoulder, neck and knee pain can all be caused by a shortening and/or weakening of the psoas muscle group. Sitting in chairs or in straight leg positions tightens and weakens the psoas muscles.
YogAlign Pain-Free Yoga from Your Inner Core DVD Trailer
Do you know where your psoas muscles are?
Diaphragm muscle showing psoas attachment
Activating the psoas in its natural functions is crucial to a pain-free body and the longevity of our joints. Most people have no idea where the psoas is located and what it does. The psoas connects directly to the diaphragm muscle and can be activated to assist with breathing. Psoas muscles then connect your spine to your legs and psoas contractions initiate all of our movements to walk and run.
Other functions of the psoas is to provide spine stabilization and a shelf for the internal organs. The psoas muscles respond to stress by shortening and it is important to avoid sitting for long periods as this shortens the psoas balance as well. A toned but flexible psoas adds length to the spine, making your waist longer and provides more room and support for the internal organs. The psoas is the only muscle that connects directly to the discs of the lower back so a tight or weak psoas can lead to disc compression and nerve impingement. The YogAlign method of yoga has poses that activate the psoas/diaphragm connection with core breathing and functional body positions that simulate how the body moves. Activating the psoas in its natural functions is crucial to a pain-free body and the longevity of our joints.
One of the reasons people are drawn to yoga is to find peace in the mind and body. Unfortunately many of these people are finding that some ways of practicing yoga can cause yoga injuries. Many feel tension and frustration from attempting postures that are taught and performed in an externalized, competitive, goal-oriented manner. Many give up, deciding that they just cannot do yoga. I have found some of the popular sequences being taught in many yoga classes to be harmful to the natural alignment of the hips, spine, neck and shoulder girdle.
YogAlign does not hurt and will keep your
body feeling like a kid.
Michaelle's Book "YogAlign: Pain-Free Yoga from Your Core" Available NOW!
384 pages of both theory and practice
Over 200 illustrations and photos
New YogAlign practice DVD included
This book is a true labor of love, taking me over 5 years to write and self publish. With this book and DVD you will be able to practice YogAlign on your own, establishing self care as your best health insurance.
After reading this book you will have the tools to practice any style of yoga more safely following the YogAlign principals of natural alignment. I have included dramatic case histories of people who attained graceful natural posture, relief from chronic pain and a deep sense of inner peace practicing Yogalign.
It is my hope that this book will help people learn to do yoga and stretching safely, achieving maximum benefits with no pain or injuries.
Yogalign Pain-Free Yoga from Your Core Reviews:
"The blending of spinal muscle kinesiology, traditional yogic breathing and joint protection with focused positional and movement awareness advocated in the YogAlign system places it at the forefront of the evolution of yoga practices. Michaelle Edwards diligence brings us leading-edge practices that can be used by health and fitness professionals to teach dynamic movement control while essentially
eliminating the possibility of injury." Doug McGregor, physical therapist
"Since Victorians walked around with books on their heads, good 'carriage' or good posture has fallen out of favor. But that does not mean it has fallen out of importance: it is the place from which we move. 'Acture' (a better word for it - posture in action) needs to be reinterpreted anew for an electronic generation. Michaelle Edwards bases her YogAlign system on sound principles, with practical and useful exercises and awarenesses. This book is a useful tool for yoga teachers, as well as a good adjunct book for bodyworkers."
Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains and Fascial Release for Structural Balance
"Michaelle Edwards aims for nothing less than a revolution in the way yoga is understood and practiced. YogAlign is packed with well described anatomy and well researched principles of body structure. The author's dedication and spirit will inspire you with her vision of a pain-free yoga path to a naturally aligned body."
Mary Bond, author of
The New Rules of Posture: How to Sit, Stand and Move in the Modern World.
"Michaelle Edwards raises a red flag on the prevalence of injuries experienced by people practicing yoga today. Not only does she detail common poses and practices that are at odds with the natural human design, she provides safe, rehabilitative alternatives throughout this richly-illustrated, well-researched guide. An important paradigm-shifting contribution to the world of yoga!" Kathleen Porter - Natural Posture Solutions
Edwards for information on
drop-in public classes and private yoga
classes for individuals or groups.