The Truth About Yoga & This Week’s 1-page Health News

This article ran in the NY Times, and ended up all over the internet. We thought it was important to give you our thoughts, since a lot of people are still asking us about it (it is amazing how much power the popular press has).

Levitt D. How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. New York Times. Article adapted from “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards,” by William J. Broad, Published: January 5, 2012.

“According to Glen Black, a prominent yoga teacher of nearly 4 decades, a number of factors have converged to heighten the risk of practicing yoga. The biggest is the demographic shift in those who study it. Indian practitioners typically squatted & sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses, were an outgrowth of these postures. Now urbanites who sit in chairs all day, walk into a studio a couple of times a week & strain to twist themselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite their lack of flexibility & other physical problems. Many come to yoga as a gentle alternative to vigorous sports or for rehabilitation for injuries. But yoga’s popularity — ~ 20 million practitioners in 2011 — means that there’s an abundance of teachers who lack the deeper training necessary to recognize when students are headed toward injury.

Black has come to believe that the vast majority of people should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm. Black notes that not just students but celebrated teachers too, injure themselves in droves because most have underlying physical weaknesses or problems that make serious injury all but inevitable. “Today many schools of yoga are just about pushing people,” Black said. Normally, the neck can extend 75◦, flex 40◦, laterally bend 45◦, & rotate ~50◦. Yoga practitioners typically move the vertebrae much farther. An intermediate students can easily turn their necks 90◦— nearly twice the normal rotation. In the shoulder stand, hyperflexion of the neck is encouraged. Iyengar emphasized in the shoulder stand tt the trunk & head should form a right angle with neck neck maximally flexed. In cobra pose, the head should extend as far back as possible. Extreme motions of the head and neck, can injure vertebral arteries, resulting in vertebrobasilar artery strokes & brain damage. A growing body of medical evidence supports the contention that, for many people, a number of commonly taught yoga poses are inherently risky.

Reports of yoga injuries have been published in some of the world’s most respected journals —Neurology, British Medical Journal, & JAMA. In 2009, Columbia University published a worldwide survey of yoga teachers, therapists & doctors. The survey’s central question — What are the most serious yoga-related injuries seen? —The largest number of injuries (231) centered on the low back. Other sites, in declining prevalence: shoulder (219), knee (174) & neck (110). Then came stroke.

Among devotees, yoga is described as a nearly miraculous agent of renewal and healing. They celebrate its abilities to calm, cure, energize & strengthen. And much of this appears to be true: yoga can lower blood pressure, make chemicals that act as antidepressants, even improve one’s sex life. But the yoga community long remained silent about its potential to inflict pain. Timothy McCall, MD & medical editor of Yoga Journal, called the headstand too dangerous for general yoga classes. He notes that the inversion may contribute to thoracic outlet syndrome, degenerative arthritis of the cervical spine & retinal tears.”


Here’s our take (Dr. Hyman & Dr. Stripling): In our combined 17 years of seeing patients, we have seen maybe 5 injuries from yoga, with most of those being strains of muscles. We’ve seen far more injuries from sneezing, sleeping and gardening. The truth is there is far more benefit to yoga than risk, especially if you take out the headstands. It’s annoying when the popular press finds some extreme position and warns us all that a popular activity is bad for you. Most of the time it’s just Chicken Little screaming that the sky is falling.

Here is our regularly scheduled Weekly1-Page Health News

Mental Attitude: No Emails? Being cut off from work email significantly reduces stress and improves focus. Heart rate monitors were attached to computer users in an office setting, while software sensors detected how often they switched windows. People who read email changed screens twice as often and were in a steady “high alert” state. Those removed from email for five days reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time- wasting interruptions. UC Irvine and US Army, May 2012

Health Alert: Misusing Prescription Drugs At A Young Age! The peak risk for misusing prescription pain relievers occurs in mid-adolescence, specifically about 16 years old and earlier. Clinicians and public health professionals are prescribing more pain relievers, and research suggests an increased misuse of these drugs and increased rates of overdose deaths. Each year, 1 in 60 young people (between 12-21 years old) begin using prescription pain relievers outside the boundaries of what their doctor intended. Journal of the American Medical Association, May 2012

Diet: How Much Protein Do I Need? For healthy adults, an estimator used for MINIMUM daily protein intake is 0.36 grams per 1 pound of body weight. Formula = 0.36 grams/pound of body weight. For example, if you weigh 155 lbs, you should consume 56 grams of protein per day (155lbs x .36g/lbs = 56g). Institute of Medicine, 2002 (Note- those of you who train hard, plan on doubling that).

Exercise: Jogging For Life. Jogging 1-2.5 hr/week increases the life expectancy of men by 6.2 years and women by 5.6 years. Jogging improves oxygen uptake, increases insulin sensitivity, improves lipid profiles (raising HDL and lowering triglycerides), lowers blood pressure, reduces platelet aggregation, increases fibrinolytic activity, improves cardiac function, bone density, immune function, reduces inflammation markers, prevents obesity, and improves psychological function. EuroPRevent2012 Meeting, May 2012

Wellness/Prevention: Zinc About It! People regularly taking oral zinc may experience shorter common cold symptoms than those who do not. Higher doses appeared to have a better effect, but taking zinc for just 2-3 days seemed to have no impact at all. Common adverse events associated with zinc supplements are nausea and a bad taste.

Canadian Medical Association Journal, May 2012

Quote: “Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.” ~ Thomas A. Edison