In a recent blog centered around the current “risks of yoga” controversy, New York Times science editor and author of The Science of Yoga, William J. Broad is keeping our attention on an important issue—the possibility that hip troubles are affecting women with an active yoga practice. I agree with Broad on this issue. I think that many of our favorite poses may be contributing to inflammation in the joints, especially: hips–think forward folds; shoulders–think up & down dogs; and SI joints–think triangle pose. But these same poses can be a corrective for the very conditions they may exacerbate, if practiced mindfully, which means slow entry, mindful sustaining with attention to sensation and adjusting alignment until there is comfort. Unfortunately, this kind of care is not consistent with a fast-paced vinyasa flow style of practice.
Another consideration is that many women with body types prone to arthritis are drawn to regular yoga practice. In my own case, there is a family history of arthritis. I began feeling stiff & achy in my hips a few years ago, but the main culprit was triangle pose, which was throwing my SI joint out and causing pain. For years, I had been practicing a flow of poses without taking sufficient time to enter slowly. I gave up triangle and certain other poses for nearly a year and stopped taking anyone else’s yoga class. I did my own flow with modifications and completely eliminated triangle pose. When I began practicing triangle and other one-sided poses again, I took more time to enter, assess, back off and adjust. The same poses that irritated and inflamed my joints when practiced as a vinyasa flow are keeping me flexible and strong as I practice them slowly.
My experience and that of countless other women speaks to the importance of finding the practice and the teacher who is right for you. We know that yoga practice continues to change us for the better. We need to change our yoga practice for the better as we age. Don’t get stuck in somebody else’s practice—on or off the mat.