Gert on yoga II


Is yoga unhealthy?

In his book The Science of Yoga Bill Broad states that practising yoga isn’t always healthy. He believes that several exercises are dangerous, such as headstand, shoulderstand and the plough. Also See Annie Murphy Paul’s article ‘Going to the mats’ on

In an article written by Ilse van Heusden in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad of 12 June 2012 Inge Turan, president of the Dutch association of yoga teachers (Vereniging van Yogadocenten Nederland) reacts to Broads statement by saying that during yoga practise you shouldn’t cross your boundaries. In my opinion both points of view are problematic, because neither one offers an alternative. Broad apparently believes that many people have crossed their boundaries and have thus incurred injuries; Turan says not to cross those boundaries – but what does that really mean?

The actual problem of the discussion lies in the fact that nobody indicates precisely where those boundaries are. In order to determine them, the teacher has to have a thorough insight in the proper technique: how is the yoga movement set up and above all, when should I stop before I can injure myself. Therefore two things are crucial: knowledge of the technique and knowledge of the abilities of one’s body. This calls for permanent investigation of the basis of yoga, both of teachers and of practitioners. Very few yoga teachers or guru’s have expressed explicit views in this regard.

On the contrary: in the last few decades yoga has mainly been considered as something that stems from a tradition that is thousands of years old. Broad rightly indicates that this is not the case: yes, yoga is old, but no one knows how it was practised in the old days. We are actually speaking of a dead tradition. Yet half way through the last century a number of teachers have claimed to be the representatives of this ancient tradition: BKS Iyengar (Iyengar Yoga) and Patthabi Jois (Ashtanga Yoga and many derived forms such as Power Yoga etc.). This has been a disaster for the development of modern yoga: if you claim to be part of a tradition, while the tradition is actually not there, you are talking about faith, and tradition within faith can only be imitated. And that is what happened abundantly: students imitated their teachers etcetera. Apart from the fact that the above mentioned persons have done wonderful things for the development of modern yoga [for instance they started the precise set up of yoga movements and took yoga out of its mystical context] they have also slowed down its development tremendously by claiming, as its ‘unique’ representatives, to know the truth about yoga. They didn’t appreciate personal research and personal input as is often the case within any religion.

All in all this has led to a situation where there are no rules based on logic for the performance of yoga positions. Until now we only have the personal interpretation of a few people of traces of a tradition. The way yoga is being taught is unfortunately not always very healthy: the corrections given are often thoughtless and the series practised in for example the Mysore tradition are demanding, lacking logical order and competitive. Bikram Yoga even organizes yoga championships. This is why many people keep getting injured.

Yoga should be about solving tension in your body. Through exercises students can neutralise structural stress in their bodies which is the result of (unconscious) ambitions and motivations; they should not increase this stress. Yoga confronts us with tension in our body, thus giving us the possibility to evaluate our behaviour and to correct it in moments where we become aware of such resistance. Yoga teachers have to recognise these moments to give conscious and positive directions, but unfortunately this rarely happens, if at all.

I have tried to break through this status quo, where the development of yoga is only reserved for a few ‘guru’s’, by writing my book Critical Alignment Yoga. In this book I present a new method, based on my own experience, research and modern (scientific) insights from medicine and psychology. A method based on logic, and although I came from a tradition which I respect very much I also felt the freedom to change concepts. My book describes precisely how you can cross your boundaries (because if you don’t, nothing happens), but in a way that doesn’t lead to injuries. Headstand, shoulderstand and the plough are perfectly safe exercises, as long as you know where your boundaries are!

Gert van Leeuwen