Yoga Injuries and the Blame Game

Is Kino’s Hip Any of My Business? As a yoga teacher who is also a physical therapist, one might think I have a lot of opinions on the recent story traveling around social media and the blogosphere concerning Kino MacGregor’s recent hip injury. It's the latest in the line of stories intended to illustrate the dangers of a certain type or intensity of yoga asana practice. I’m sure I should have a strong position on this issue, being in the business of treating and preventing musculoskeletal injury.

And I do have a strong opinion. I'm an opinionated lady, after all. But it might not be what you expect.

If you haven’t read the story, the gist is that Kino sustained an acute hip injury while assisting a student during yoga, and has since been heavily scrutinized for her wildly bendy asana practice, including some pictures she posted on Instagram in the weeks after her injury. I’ve seen a lot of “should” and “should not,” “right” and “wrong,” and suggestions that Kino is not only harming herself with her extreme yoga practice, but that she could be harming others by essentially setting unattainable asana standards for her followers. As for Kino’s body, I’ve never been in it. I don’t know how it feels, what it’s been through, or what it needs. I also haven’t done a professional physical examination of her injury, and so I wouldn’t know if she is currently behaving in harmful or healing ways. It’s like when someone posts information about their recent injury to Facebook, asking for suggestions of what might help them, and they receive a plethora of diagnoses and modality or exercise suggestions from people of unknown qualifications and zero hands-on knowledge of that particular injury. Where are those diagnoses coming from? Generally, I imagine they come from well-intended people sharing their own personal injury experiences and the remedies that helped.

Each of us collect a lot of experience in our lives, and learn our own bodies and minds. Each experience impacts our thoughts, actions, and opinions, and at times it can be difficult to let go of our own deep sense of right and wrong, helpful and harmful, when we talk to others about their bodies and minds. Kino is being publicly harpooned as an example of harmful asana practice leading to injury, but honestly, no one knows for sure whether that is the case, and even if it is, it’s a conclusion Kino will need to come to on her own, so the watching public is off the hook! On the other side, one might argue that as a “yogalebrity,” Kino’s public display of intense asana is setting an unsafe example for students and the public at large. Perhaps we feel that as yoga teachers or yogis that care about other yogis, we must speak out against this “showoff yoga” so that others might be warned that asana such as that is bad or dangerous. But then we are speaking from a position of being in our own bodies, or perhaps from experiences with our own demographic of yoga student or fellow practitioner. It’s so easy to call someone out or put someone down for something we have judged as wrong, but I have noticed that when we take this path, our conversations become divisive, argumentative, and even hateful, and this brings us further away from yoga.

If we are truly concerned for the safety of practitioners in modern asana, we need to look for a danger that could be applied to any person, regardless of their physical or mental state. We reactively want to look for someone or something to blame for increasing physical demand and risk in modern yoga, which I believe stems from a general lack of personal awareness during asana. Who wants to take their asana practice slowly and technically, learning the purpose behind their poses and how each step feels in their body, when there are Instagram feeds to fill? When it’s hard? When it means we perform fewer chaturangas?

If we are to teach people safe yoga, we must guide people to experience asana in their own bodies and progress based on feel rather than look. We must remind ourselves and others, again and again, that our yoga practice can be so much more than a collection of photos—It can empower each of us to boldly pursue our passions in this word. Do we really care more about looking good on the internet or in our group classes than we care about human and civil rights, world hunger, peace, animal welfare, preserving our environment, building healthy personal relationships, loving and performing well in our jobs, having kick-ass life experiences, and an endless number of other topics? Yoga is glorious because, when practiced with awareness, we can uncover the openness, courage, and compassion we already possess that will inspire us to make the most out of life. And that has everything to do with our own mind, body, breath, experience, and practice, and absolutely nothing to do with Kino’s practice. We are each responsible for our own thoughts, words, and actions, and looking at pictures of asana on the internet cannot force us to act unsafely. Perhaps the hullabaloo about the yoga of Instagram is really an opportunity for us to more closely examine our own responses to social media pressure. Can we recognize and accept our own bodies and our own practice without either seeking to meet or passing judgment on the “standards” set by a collection of photos of other people? To me, that is the yoga in all of this. Can we see these photos and let them be, so that perhaps we can talk about and pursue something more important than shaming others, cultivating fear, and arguing about it all? I believe we can. I know we can change the conversation from one of divisiveness and animosity to one of problem-solving and spreading love through yoga. And if we want to see positive change in our lives and communities, I believe we must.