Monday, January 30, 2012

21) The importance of BioMechanics for Yoga Practitioners and Teachers

 For all Yoga Practitioners and Teachers the article below is very very important and useful . Couple of weeks back the entire Yoga Community was rattled by an article in New  York Times by William Broad titled "How Yoga Can Wreck your body " and while there was a big debate for and against the article ,I found the following letter by Shmuel Tatz  to New York Times best explains how we need to go about addressing the issue of injuries in yoga without getting overtly emotional about the original article .
The reason why I am posting this article here is that I found Shmuel Tatz speaking exactly what I have been silently attempting to do as a yoga teacher and yoga practitioner in the last 1 year  i.e learning the biomechanics of the human body  so that I become a better yoga teacher and yoga practitioner . Previously I was taking pride in calling myself a Certified Sivananda Yoga Teacher but now I do not want to be under any label i.e Sivananda , Ashtanga , Iyengar etc etc .I have respect for all the Traditions i.e Sivananda ,Iyengar , Ashtanga and found that each has its own merits and at the same time each has its own drawbacks if not done intelligently . So it all boils to developing body intelligence and for that one needs to have knowledge of bio mechanics of the human body . So instead of jumping from one style to another or being fanatic with regard to one style I found that the wiser way would be to first learn the biomechanics of the human body and develop my own person practice with regard to Ashtanga Vinyasa . I have been doing lot of research on this subject for the past 1.5 years and found most of the Yoga people were very uni- dimensional in their approach i.e strictly ashtanga , strictly sivananda or strictly Iyengar and had the opinion either 'my way or high way ' without learning to respect the bio mechanics of each human body and learning to adapt the practice accordingly while teaching to others or while practicing on oneself . I found no Yoga institution training its teachers on this topic of bio mechanics and that is one of the reasons why you find lot of injuries in yoga practice . The problem is not in yoga but in teachers / practitioners who are not informed of the Biomechanics of the human body and they take pride  in the saying : 'practice leads to perfection' or 'no pain no gain '. Practice leads to perfection only when the practice is mindful or intelligent and not just mechanical practice and there is no need for pain or injury if you do it mindfully or intelligently .Out of the vast yoga practitioners only few are competent  enough to do a mindful and intelligent  practice and rest keep on doing the same mistakes again and again and keep on hopping from one teacher to another or one work shop to another to understand where they are going wrong or why they are not improving . Some get fed up and leave one style to switch another or switch to other fitness forms ( like Tai Chi , Pilates etc ) but their frustration will still continue . Out of my research in to body movements  I found few extraordinary people who were looking at the body not from a uni-dimensional view but  from a multi-dimensional view and they were :
1) Moshe feldenkrais who founded the Feldenkrais Method 
 2) Emilie Conrad who founded the Continuum Movement 
3)Vanda Scaravelli ( a former student of BKS Iyengar and Desikachar ) who quit the Iyengar Method after 10 years of practice to start her own method of doing yoga postures based on natural body movements and not on the strict Iyengar method .
4)  Shmuel Tatz who was a student of Moshe Feldenkrais and has integrated all the best with regard to understanding the biomechanics of body  in his own teachings called Body Tuning .

 I very much resonate with Shmuel Tatz and hope to assimilate as much as I can about body mechanics so that I can become a better Yoga Practitioner and Yoga Teacher . Since I do not have the luxury to study personally with Shmuel Tatz in New York ,I have devised a plan of self study on this subject through books and DVDs  to enrich myself on this subject of Biomechanics . This is a long journey and there is no short cut in this and  I do not mind investing my time , energy and resources in this pursuit .I need to give the best to myself and my students and I am prepared to make any sacrifices for the same .
For others interested on this topic kindly go through the letter given below by Shmuel Tatz to New York Times as a rejoinder to the original Yoga article to understand the importance of Bio Mechanics for Yoga Practitioners and Teachers .
For more details about Shmuel Tatz ,kindly go through his site : 

This is the  letter to the editor of the New York Times article by William Broad: How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. 
Dear Ms Glaser,

I am the Shmuel Tatz mentioned in William Broad’s excellent article: How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. Glenn Black studied with me for 5 years in my ‘body tuning’ studio, and is an example to others of how a yoga teacher with knowledge of body mechanics can minimize the damage yoga can do.

Mr. Broad states that I “devised a method of massage and alignment for actors and dancers” which is not correct. What I have done is to create what I call ‘body tuning’ which is designed to tune every part of the body, just as a musician tunes his instrument. I have worked with actors and dancers, musicians and politicians, but my practice is devoted to anyone and everyone who has pain and discomfort in the body and seeks relief.

What I wish for yoga professionals to understand is that they must know the biomechanics of the human body. Also, they need to work with someone, as Glen Black did with me, for at least 5 years to learn about body pathology, mechanics, disease and injuries. Yoga teachers should be aware of all facets of the human body so that they do not themselves nor recommend to their students other than what is health giving and safe.  I studied yoga after I learned physical therapy. If yoga teachers have a basic education in physical therapy they will never do hyper-extensions of the spine because they will know the great damage it can cause the discs.

As for yoga students, in my opinion it is best to learn yoga first in private lessons just as a piano student begins with private lessons. In group classes teachers do not have the time to pay attention to each student’s specific problems. After you become adept at learning the basics of yoga practice you can take group lessons. Unfortunately whether you take private lessons or group lessons, most teachers have no training in biomechanics and there is, then, always the danger of injury to themselves and to their students.

Again, I think Mr. Broad’s article was an important one in alerting the many yoga practitioners that along with the good that yoga can do, there is also a downside which can bring pain and limit mobility.


Shmuel Tatz