Hybrid yoga: an exercise in injury

Americans are ‘feeling the burn’ all the way to the clinic

By Kelsie O’Keefe
MSUM Mass Comm. Major
Photos by Amita Manandhar

Sixteen million Americans are stretching out to an exercise medium that’s growing in style, variety, popularity and injury.

More injuries, less harmony

Yoga is meant to reconnect individuals with themselves and bring their outer life into perspective. But as the Eastern practice moves west, untrained instructors, at-home videos and yoga hybrids are losing that concept. The result is more inner injuries and less inner harmony.

According to the “Yoga Journal,” approximately 16 million people practice yoga in the United States. Because no agency keeps accurate records of the number of yoga-related injuries, it’s difficult to say how many people have been hurt, but it’s clear the numbers are rapidly rising across the United States, says Dr. Jeffrey Halbrecht, board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in arthroscopic surgery and sports medicine and former medical director for the Women’s World Pro Ski Tour.



Andrea Krejci, a yoga instructor at Soulista, demonstrates a difficult pose to her class.


 

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has the most recent published statistics on injuries. Doctors’ offices, clinics and emergency rooms saw more than 5,500 yoga-related injuries in 2007, incurring a total cost of approximately $108 million. Many doctors and yoga instructors say that these numbers have continued to rise.

Urgent Med in Moorhead and MeritCare, Innovis Health and the YMCA in Fargo were contacted for information about the number of yoga-related injuries but none had records.

Eastern concepts lost on at-home Americans

As Americans’ time and budgets drain, exercising at home is a growing trend. Workout DVDs may be fine for sit-ups but yoga should be left in the studio, say some instructors.

“I have clients who come in to me for massage therapy because they’ve injured themselves doing yoga videos at home,” says Juliet Trnka, a certified yoga instructor, massage therapist and owner of Five Element Yoga and Thai Massage in downtown Fargo. “People come in and say they are getting a much better quality experience by coming to class. They’re actually making the mind-body connection whereas watching a video does not do that.”


Krejci starts off her yoga class with a short meditation to help keep focused through the session.




Community lacks instructor certification standards

Part of the blame for the rise in yoga-related injuries falls on uncertified yoga instructors. No federal law regulates standards for yoga instructors.

“Would you go to a doctor if he didn’t have the proper education,” asks Darcy Neumann, certified yoga instructor and owner of Soulista Pilates and Yoga Studio in downtown Moorhead. “Why would you expect your yoga teacher, who is asking you to pay for those services, to not have the proper education?”

Trnka places some blame on lack of community standards. “There’s really no standard in our community,” she says. “Many people are teaching with little or no training or experience.”

Instructors look to students’ needs

Dawn Morgan, a certified yoga instructor and executive director of the Spirit Room, a non-profit educational studio in downtown Fargo, suggests that many untrained instructors don’t tweak routines for students. Morgan applies less straining poses for her senior citizen classes than she does for her younger, college-age classes.

“Instructors have to consider their students, look to their needs so they don’t get injured,” says Morgan.

Becoming certified through Yoga Alliance includes learning techniques, methodology, anatomy and physiology, yoga philosophy and ethics and a practicum. Instructors learn how to avoid injury and accommodate their student’s changing needs.




Krejci makes sure students are doing poses properly in a way that suits each individual’s abilities and needs.

 

Instructor: ‘You’re putting yourself at greater risk of injury’ 

What is ayurveda?
Ayurveda is the traditional medicine of India, which originated there more than 5,000 years ago.
Ayurveda emphasizes re-establishing balance in the body through diet, lifestyle, exercise and body cleansing, and focuses on the health of the mind, body and spirit.

—Cathy Wong, licensed naturopathic doctor and American College of Nutrition-certified nutrition specialist.

Seemingly more concerning than uncertified instructors and yoga at home, is the introduction of new yoga hybrid designed to get your heart rate up and burn calories.

Though Shape magazine has reported these new hybrids as “a way to wake up a stale (yoga) routine as well as your muscles,” those partaking may wake up to strained muscles.

For one such hybrid yoga called “hot” yoga, the room is heated to 95-100 degrees. The heat supposedly lets your muscles warm up to get deeper into the stretches.

“What they’re really doing,” says Trnka, also an ayurvedic practitioner, “is overriding the neurological mechanism in your body that tells you when you’ve gone too far. So you’re putting yourself at greater risk of injury by over stretching. When you put yourself in that hot environment it tends to aggravate heat-related conditions whether that’s anger, anxiety, insomnia. It doesn’t hold with anything in yoga that’s positive.”

Same physical practice, different mindset

So why are these types of strenuous activities being coupled with yoga?

Though it’s the same physical practice, the West has taken this Eastern practice and turned it into an exercise rather than a tool for meditation.

“There are big differences in how you view yoga,” says Morgan. “If you just see (yoga) as another exercise, then it really isn’t accomplishing what you’re setting out to do with the mind-body, mindfulness experience.”


Krejci leads her students into a meditative pose.



High intensity appeals to Americans

“People want what they want, not what they need,” says Neumann. “We’re a fast-paced, high pressure, materialistic society that doesn’t always step back and think about the consequences of those actions and things that we bring into our lives.”

So, according to Neumann, high-intensity exercises like hot and power yoga appeal to Americans.

Appealing as high intensity yoga may be, “more strenuous types of yoga, like ‘power’ yoga, don’t lend itself to the original meanings of what yoga is about,” says Morgan.

Hybrids not the only yoga to be wary of

Yoga hybrids originate from more traditional styles. Hot yoga was developed from the original bikram yoga, in which a room is heated to induce sweating and muscle relaxation, mimicking the Indian climate. Most power yoga is modeled on the ashtanga style yoga, a more vigorous yoga practice, says Morgan.

Though Morgan says it’s natural for instructors to take a yoga practice and tweak it, she’s also aware of the injuries these intense original and hybrid styles produce.

“Instructors do and should tweak those styles of yoga, I know I have,” says Morgan. “Those people who don’t want to get hurt will start teaching it another way.”

 


A student sinks deep into her yoga pose.

 

Injuries cause threat of federal regulation

According to an article on New York State Sen. Eric T. Schneiderman’s Web site, due to the bad name and injuries hybrid yoga is producing, states are beginning to look into regulation of yoga teacher-training schools. Instructors would need certification before teaching yoga, and the safety and certification of yoga teacher-training programs would be supervised.

Some states are already regulating yoga schools.

According to Schneiderman’s Web site article, many states are using educational laws meant for vocational schools to examine yoga teacher-training schools. New York state attempted to suspend 80 yoga schools through educational laws last year, and Michigan gave yoga schools a week to become state certified or close operations.

There are nearly 1,000 yoga schools nationwide.

Local instructors oppose regulation

Neumann believes yoga isn’t meant to be federally regulated.

“I believe if people knew the true yoga that well-trained instructors know, the topic of regulation would never have to come up,” says Neumann.

Trnka can identify with both sides of the issue.

“I see the result of poor or inadequate training,” says Trnka, “but at the same time some of the most amazing teachers I’ve had were not certified. They had just been practicing for many, many years—it was a part of who they were. So should they not be able to teach? It’s tough.”

Public demands hybrid yoga

Soulista has hot yoga on its upcoming schedule in hopes that it can suggest introductory courses first with proper instruction to avoid injury, while meeting public demands.

Five Element has chosen not to include hybrid yoga on its schedule and has no plans for doing so in the future.

“No, I won’t offer any (hybrid) yoga,” says Trnka. “I won’t even consider it. I feel like I need to be really clear about what I offer and what people are going to experience rather than just trying to observe the outward tide of popularity.”

Trnka has seen even advanced clients come in with injuries from hybrid yoga workouts.


This pose was one of the hardest for Krejci’s class. Many students kept falling off balance. Using blocks helps beginners stay balanced.



Intense styles of yoga short lived in Spirit Room

Intense styles of yoga haven’t lasted long at the Spirit Room.

“Though we get a few calls for it every month, we’re not looking for it, and we’ve had it,” says Morgan.

Morgan’s watched instructors begin with power yoga and years later seen the same instructors doing just the simple poses and doing them right.

The Sprit Room had bikram yoga for three months before the instructor moved to a new location. Since then, says Morgan, the instructor has changed his practice and is working with softer positions that use muscles instead of joints.

 


Even seemingly simple yoga poses can work and strengthen core muscles.

 

“Even the people who are teaching a power yoga become more gentle as they spend time with it and they begin to see that the benefit is not from that extreme exercise but from the mindfulness in doing the postures correctly,” says Morgan.

As far as public demand Mogan says “they can get it somewhere else and that’s fine with us because we like what we’re doing.”

Morgan believes that if people begin with strenuous hybrid yoga and start to understand what yoga is really about, they will probably switch to a different, more mindful yoga class.

Hybrid yoga not a daily practice

All three instructors agree that yoga hybrids should never be practiced more than once or twice a week and never without proper instruction.

Neumann suggests first coming to at least a few introductory classes to find the proper depth of stretches and alignment of movements before practicing any yoga hybrids or doing yoga at home.

Morgan agrees with Neumann. “Before people go into a power yoga class they should definitely have spent quite a bit of time working through the individual asanas (body positions) so they know how to do them properly.”

 


Krejci takes students through a series of stretching poses as the class gets warm.

 

According to Morgan, students don’t get the postures right during strenuous yoga classes because they move through the positions so fast they are always trying to catch up and can’t focus on the individual positions.

“If you want to use the physical postures to get fit and get flexible,” says Trnka, “it will do that for you, but you’re really missing out on a huge opportunity.”

Trnka suggests regularly practicing yoga six or seven days a week because it’s nourishing, bringing mind, body and breath into harmony.

 

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