Hooray for Hip Openers! (no matter what the NYT says)

Alright, I read the NYT article Women’s Flexibility is a Liability (in Yoga) and I’m not impressed. Or worried about women’s hips. It’s pretty blah-blah and boring, without a lot of supporting data. I’m no scientist or statistician, but it seems to me there isn’t a lot of overwhelming evidence that yoga is going to eventually lead you into the OR for hip surgery. Luckily, this only seems to be ringing the alarm bell for women’s hips, while it lists much more dramatic men’s yoga injuries – like “shattered backs”. All this proves to me is that if you dig enough, you will probably find some numbers to support your argument. We all know that we can potentially get hurt practicing yoga. But we can make that same argument for almost anything.

The article doesn’t explicitly say so (although it hints at it in the title), but it would seem that these yoginis ending up in hip surgery are a small percentage of hyper-flexible ladies, who probably push way beyond their own above-average limits. During a typical retreat season, I teach over 100 women from all over. 99% of these women need to work on opening their hips. One of my very first yoga teachers used to call the hips “the attic of the body” – we hold a lot of crap there that we need to clean out. And every time that we sit (as in, every damn day) we are accumulating more crap. It’s that sort of thing that I would be more worried about having adverse medical consequences.

In a society where we sit in chairs most of our lives, yoga helps us counter that life-long locking down of the hips. I talk about this on every retreat, where I lead women through lots of hip-opening yoga aimed at maximizing their comfort on horseback. My opinion is the ultimate counter pose for sitting in chairs is the yogic squat. Not a super sexy pose, and not one that people tend to push themselves into. And yes, I get it, yogis both male and female may be more inclined to push to get themselves into a more glamorous hip opener like bound pigeon, a fancy version of which I am pictured in above. But overall, I don’t see a lot of that going on in poses like the squat, baddha konasana, double pigeon (who the hell wants to PUSH in double pigeon??)

The last sentences of this insubstantial article are what sort of got me:

  • Let’s start with, Unfortunately, yoga teachers too often encourage students to “push through the pain.” Huh? After years and years of yoga classes/workshops/trainings, in a variety of locales, most of the time I received the opposite message: modify if you need to. Which is the message I base my teaching on. 
  • That’s not smart. Pain is nature’s warning system. It’s telling you that something has gone awry. No shit. This is NYT worthy?
  • Better to do yoga in moderation and listen carefully to your body. That temple, after all, is your best teacher. Well, duh.
Maybe the NYT is just over yoga as news, and decided to take a new tack on its trendiness – look out! Yoga is bad for you! Let’s not forget that this article was authored by the dude that wrote the book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards and the article How Yoga can Wreck Your Body, which caused quite a stir last year. Sorry, but I’m just not buying it. And I’m off to do some hip openers, which I will continue to teach to women.

P.S. A few years ago, I wrote an Athleta yoga tutorial on hip opening if you want to practice some.

Photo by Larry Stanley