The Book of Yoga Contraindications: Good? Bad?

There is a new e-book on the yoga scene called, The Contraindication Index for Yoga Asanas.  The synopsis goes like this:

The Contraindication Index for Yoga Asanas is an essential reference guide to injuries, ailments, and medical conditions that can be exacerbated by certain yoga postures.

It’s organized according to the medical condition, rather than the posture and provides guidance as to whether a position should be avoided altogether, or can be modified and practiced with increased safety. It cross-references extensive research on 35 common medical conditions, injuries and ailments and 112 fundamental yoga poses, explaining which ones should be avoided, which ones can be modified and how.

Clearly this a well-intentioned book!  This yoga teacher wants to create safe practices and with the ever-increasing concern for safety surrounding mainstream yoga (asana) it seems like it couldn’t have come too soon.  But we are more likely to lean towards what Amy Matthews, movement educator and general anatomy genius says, “There is nothing inherently negative or beneficial to a shape we make with our bodies in the context of yoga.”  This may be anathema to what many of us yoga teachers have learned from teachers, books, workshops and teacher trainings.  We’ve all been told, “forward bends are calming,” “don’t invert when menstruating,” “do shoulder stand to help your headache.”  There are many reasons as to why this kind of formulaic reasoning should no longer be the foundation for the choices we make as yoga teachers.

There are many people that the above edicts apply to, but more importantly there are many more people to whom their experience is contrary to what we have previously learned as truths across the board.  “There are always exceptions to the rules,” Amy assures us when we worriedly bring up how to approach a student that presents complications (as most of us have in some form or another).  As teachers, our goal should be to approach a movement practice so that an individual can connect to their bodies, what makes them unique and how to experience integration and freedom within their bodies and within their practice.  Limiting someone or making them afraid of something may not be the best way to allow for that kind of experience.  That being said, common sense should not be ignored.  If someone has a neck injury then until that gets resolved full-on shoulder stands are probably not a good idea.  BUT that does not mean that the essence of that particular posture should be denied to that person.  In fact,  exploring how we would approach that particular posture might hold a clue as to how a neck injury occurred in the first place.

Basically, a practice based on limitations also limits experiences that may be beneficial.  Yes, sometimes it is necessary to proceed with caution, but proceed you must. Pain, particularly chronic pain, is a neurological issue.  Telling a client to avoid something can put them in a state of fear/anxiety, which can actually trigger that particular feedback loop and he/she may experience pain by just thinking about the movement to be avoided.  It is our job as movement educators to help our clients face their limitations and work with them.  If you aren’t comfortable with that process than you need to get better educated.  This is exactly why there needs to be a more indepth study into the science behind yoga and how it relates to the body, every body.  We are not saying telling you not to buy this book.  BUY THIS BOOK, but use it for what it is:  a starting point to a necessary dialogue that contributes to an informed movement practice that focuses on what to do as opposed to what not to do.

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