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January 10, 2012



Dear HL,

I'm so glad you posted this. I, too, took my first yoga class in 1972. I was a college student and took yoga for phys ed credit. I've practiced off and on since then, but really regularly since about 1999. I started with Iyengar--and I really recommend that everyone start with Iyengar to build a strong practice foundation. An experienced Iyengar teacher can help you work with your physical limitations (we all have them), and once you know yourself as a yoga practitioner, it's safer to try other types of classes.

I've done every type of yoga imaginable with every kind of teacher. I seek out yoga classes when I travel, and I've had some wonderful (and terrible) experiences. I do yoga for exercise (a good vinyasa or ashtanga class is very aerobic. Emphasis on good.), for grounding, for peace, for serenity, for relaxation, for energizing. It's my first choice of activity in almost any circumstance. It's my love.

I've always had some restrictions in my right hip (probably from a bad fall I took as a child), and about 5 years ago, I found that I was losing considerable range of motion. There are those who would say that that's when I really began to practice yoga--when you come up against not being able to do the things you used to do, it's very confronting.

But I got to a point where I had to stop--I hurt worse when I practiced than when I didn't. The diagnosis was arthritis, and the treatment is a hip replacement. Which, since I'm only 57, I'm trying to put off for as long as possible.

So now I'm back in yoga. I started with gentle beginner classes, and I make sure I do the stretches I was taught in physical therapy every day. I now take an Anusara class with a teacher who works with me, and a vinyasa class with a wonderful woman who pays attention and advises me on how to modify my poses.

But I also had a teacher tell me (privately, thankfully), that since we store so much emotion in our hips, and there's generally a sexual connection, is it possible that I was sexually abused? I had an Ashtanga teacher yell at me in class when I did a hip stretch out of sequence (Ashtanga has a proscribed set of poses that you do in a specific order.) I've had teachers try to muscle me into positions (My left side is very open so I can do a lot more on one side than the other.) and berate me for not trying certain poses.

I would add a couple of things to your excellent advice:

1. Start with beginner or Level 1 classes and stay with them until you really know your body. There is no shame in being a beginner. "All levels" classes are really "no levels."

2. When you find a teacher you connect with, stay with him/her. You want to be known so that you can be encouraged gently and not pushed. You need to practice safely.

3. At the same time, be open to trying new classes and teachers; just know yourself. Don't let anyone adjust you if you're not comfortable with them.

4. Practice regularly, but accept that every practice is different. Today you might do a headstand; tomorrow downward dog might be challenging. Listen to your body and respect what it needs. Don't ignore pain.

As for the article, I thought it was interesting, and that it clarifies that yoga, done improperly, can be as risky as other physical activities done improperly. Mindfulness is key. And that's the point of yoga, isn't it?


Gael in Vermont

I agree with Barbara's well-said comments above...especially her last point about mindfulness being key in any yoga practice. Those of us that practice yoga with physical/movement limitations from either previous injuries or, in my case, osteoporosis, have to be very careful with certain positions. Politely declining, as your wonderful yoga teacher mentioned, is taking care of yourself. I've said before, yoga is not a competitive sport..."I can outstretch the person next to me or hold the pose longer" way! Everyone's practice is different and, for me, every time I go to the mat can be a different experience as well. My best advice: it's worth it to have a private lesson or two or three with a certified teacher who can closely monitor your body as it goes into positions...being sure you are not over-doing or twisting the wrong way. It was the best yoga money I've spent and I intend to do it again as I add new poses to my practice.


I committed to yoga classes 2-3 times weekly seven years ago. I
could barely bend over, I was so stiff. I was lucky that a studio specializing in Anusura was in my town, and I have a couple of instructors who really know my body and the physical limitations I have. They make a point of asking students if they have any injuries or issues, and are very attentive to offering modifications. Our classes are described as Levels 1, 2 and 3, and I never attend one that isn't geared to include the Level 1 practitioner. I look at this journey as a very personal one. I am so much stronger and flexible than I was seven years ago, yet someone who doesn't know me could easily label me a very new student. I don't care! I am in it for me and not to prove anything to anyone else. I steer clear of teachers who seem to have a one-class-fits-all mentality or try to coax me past my limits. Whether they are teaching a Level 1 class or a 2-3 class, they only have one routine and one speed. We students must do our homework before we commit to a class.
This is not the first time the New York Times has taken something out of context. They are desperately trying to sell papers, with slanted, sensational articles such as this and TPP's hatchet job on dieting. Thank goodness for our HHL who really does her homework!

The Healthy Librarian

@ Barbara. Fantastic, thoughtful addition to the discussion. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your valuable experience. Anusara certainly looks like one of the yoga stars. Don't know of any one who teaches it in my neck of the woods. Wishing you good luck with that hip.

@Gael, great additions--good suggestion about taking a few private lessons to make sure you're doing things correctly. Received a b-day present last year of a private lesson & it refined a lot of asanas for me--and the correct way to do chataranga (sp?)

@babs. Thanks so much for your comment. A real advertisement for the power & value of yoga taught in a small studio, where the teachers get to know you personally--and can gently help you to progress. I LOVE your studio--and the teachers I've met. I had no idea that they were practicing Anusara style--one of Dr. Fishman's recommended styles--along with Iyengar. I do envy you for having a such an excellent studio--so near by, too. And thank you for the compliment!!!

Sue in Denver

Hi HL,
This is off-topic, but I'm kind of in a quandry and have not been able to find an answer, even after googling for an hour. My question concerns supplements. I just found out that my D3 drops have a coconut oil carrier. The dose (2 tiny drops a day) is very small, but Esselstyn does advocate "no oil--not even a drop!" So I ordered some tablets that did not contain oil. I am considering taking something else that contains glycerol. I read here, on your blog, that glycerin is fat. I'm confused. I don't know if I should be concerned about these tiny amounts. Any thoughts you have on the subject would be greatly, greatly appreciated.
And I will say (since I know everyone else is thinking it), we are still looking forward to the seitan brisket recipe! :-)
Thank you so much for your blog! You are appreciated!

The Healthy Librarian

Hi Sue,

Most capsules of vitamin D have some kind of oil suspension---I really like my Rainbow Light Vitamin D3 Sunny Gummies-Sour Lemon. Yeah, there's a little sugar in them, but they taste so good, I never forget to take them. Found a good price on Amazon. Not cheap--but, it's about the only supplement I don't every skip.
Not sure if this helps. There are plain tablets--w/o any sort of oil, but I never took them regularly.

Cynthia Bailey MD

I love my yoga class and credit it with seriously rehabbing my fragile back. BUT I study Tri-yoga, a type of yoga where pose/flow complexity progresses very slowly and only as a student is ready. I study in a studio with small class size and a highly qualified teacher. Progressing to advanced poses prematurely and unsupervised in large classes is an accident waiting to happen for even the fit. Many of today's yoga classes do exactly that sadly. Your cautionary admonitions are well worth noting for all of us.

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