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Is Yoga Actually Dangerous for Men?


"Guy hazards"

(Image: Shutterstock.com)

The same New York Times writer who wrote the controversial "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body" last year to the chagrin of many yogis (yes, that's what they're called), has stirred the pot again, recently writing a post that alleges yoga is dangerous for men to practice in general (or at least in its current state).

William Broad, a science reporter for the Times and author of "The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards,"  wrote based on his research that men report more frequent and serious injuries from the stretches and contortions performed in yoga. Don't believe that? Broad says that as a male practicing yoga himself since the 1970s, he has experienced some of the "guy hazards" personally.

While doing research for his book and finding that many would support the idea of the unisex nature of yoga poses, he found "a world of poorly known information on gender disparity."

Broad began looking into the prevalence and types of injuries men reported for yoga-related injuries at hospitals:

To deepen my analysis, I focused on specific injuries, especially ones inside the body. Guys, it turned out, accounted for 20 percent of the torn muscles and damaged ligaments, which result in swollen joints. Dislocations of the knee, shoulder and other joints came in at 24 percent.

The figure for broken bones and fractures was 30 percent. The injury sites ranged from the toe to the tibia, the bigger of the two bones in the lower leg.

For nerve damage, which can result in pain and lost muscle control, the male figure jumped to more than 70 percent. The cases included sciatica, where compression of a spinal nerve in the lower back can result in pains that race down the back, hip and leg.

I found the trend in women’s admissions to be just the opposite. The major injuries were few proportionately, and the minor traumas quite abundant. Women, for instance, accounted for a vast majority of the fainting episodes.

With these observations, Broad believes there is an opportunity to make yoga safer. He wrote that he's not a yoga "basher" -- he practices daily himself -- but he believes the "myth of perfection" needs to be given up to "give way to the reality of better yoga."

As Broad anticipated in his article, there are those unconvinced that this means yoga is dangerous for men.

Melissa Gutierrez wrote on the website Smarter Bodies that she finds some of Broad's observations regarding yoga and men ironic given that yoga when it originated seemed to be dominated largely by men (not females like it is today). Here's one of the problems Gutierrez sees with Broad's thoughts on yoga for men:

Current physiology tells us that the only sensory feedback that our brain receives from our muscles come from the spindles, which primarily sense stretch and the rate of stretch. If men do have “tighter” muscles, their spindles would send a signal to their brain much faster than someone more elastic when they enter into a pose that is beyond their current range of motion. The choice to ignore such a loud and screaming signal, in that case, would require a lot of willpower. And we do see this in class! People grimacing in poses, losing awareness of their breath and pushing themselves beyond what their body is telling them to do. Once these signals are ignored, it is easy to see why one might end up in the emergency room with an acute injury! However… it takes a certain kind of person to ignore these loud signals! My guess would be that the kind of person who would ignore these signals in yoga, would ignore the signals in ANY physical activity he or she chose to do and would most likely wind up with an acute injury later on down the line from that activity.

So do we blame yoga? Or is there something else we should be looking at?

A yoga instructor on another blog held a similar sentiment as Gutierrez, writing that at the beginning of class the students are told to "listen to their bodies."

"If it even feels like it might start 'thinking' about hurting, they need to stop and not do it or pull way back to try it safely," the blog post author wrote.

Read more details of Broad's "Perils of Yoga for Men" here.


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