Friendship Yoga

Friendship Yoga
1231 Gilbert Court
Iowa City, IA 52240


Press-Citizen Article

Getting fit, avoiding injury
People learn new ways to practice yoga safely

Monday, January 7, 2008
By Brian Morelli
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Despite its graceful, flowing motion, the yoga style that Elyse Miller was using caused severe pain to her hips.

"It is very beautiful, but it's kind of jarring," the 50-year-old Iowa City woman said of a method called Ashtanga, in which the student moves quickly from one posture, or asana, to the next. "It felt really good at the time, but then you pay the price. For my body, the flowing motion was a little too rough on my hip joints."

Miller never quit; she just changed her routine. About four years ago, she switched to the Iyengar method, which allows the body to ease into asanas and focuses on body, mind and spirit oneness.

Many people such as Miller suffer injuries from yoga, but instead of quitting, they alter their practice. There are a variety of ways to explain the pain, such as matching the wrong technique to your body's needs, as in Miller's case. Others suggest the problem is rooted in inexperienced and overzealous teachers and participants jumping on the yoga bandwagon.

Recently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that 14 million people practice yoga or tai chi in the U.S., which is up 136 percent since 2000. With that surge, there have been a number of injuries. The commission reported that 13,000 Americans were treated in a doctor's office or emergency room for yoga-related injuries over the past three years.

Richard Shields, the director and professor of the University of Iowa Graduate Program in Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Science, said yoga is no different than any other exercise in terms of sustaining injuries. He said it comes down to knowing the limits of one's body.

"There is an optimal biological range for all tissues. It doesn't have to be one particular type of exercise over another. Once you get outside of that optimal range, you can suffer an injury with any activity," Shields said.

Nancy Footner began studying yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar's modernized version of classic yoga in 1985. In 1993, she established a yoga studio in Iowa City called Friendship Yoga, at 1231 Gilbert Court, where she teaches this method -- a style that limits injury, she said.

"Iyengar yoga is not simply a workout but an opportunity to study oneself, physically, mentally and emotionally. Over time, as one becomes more immersed in the subject of yoga, the spiritual benefits become more apparent," she said.

At her studio, students learn by watching a teacher demonstrate a pose and are given clear instructions for what to do, Footner said. The teacher monitors students for any special needs due to age, injury or congenital problems, for example, and also to ensure they are not taking unnecessary risks, she said. Attentiveness to students should be the first priority, she said.

The recent "yoga craze," as Footner describes it, has cast a spotlight on this ancient practice and exposed yoga as a way to care for people's bodies, which is a good thing, she said. But it also has opened the door for injuries due to ambitious but insufficiently trained instructors and participants.

"There are a lot of untrained people teaching yoga," Footner said. "When they don't know what they are doing, people can get hurt."

Linda Bolton, 52, of Iowa City, is one of those people who blame an aggressive instructor for an emergency doctor visit.

Brain surgery in 2000 led to balance problems, which prompted Bolton to take up yoga. She says that yoga is "one of the most effective means for (her) not to have pain."

Rates at her studio increased, leading Bolton to turn to her local gym for classes. In a session in February 2007, the instructor pushed the students too far, Bolton said. Bolton ended up making an emergency visit to her chiropractor.

"It was pain standing. It was pain bending over. It was pain lying down. It hurt like hell. I felt kind of crippled," Bolton said.

With the influx of people jumping onto the yoga trend, it is turning into more of an aerobic exercise and performance, which it is not intended to be, she said.

"Part of yoga is trusting the teacher," she said. "For people to teach yoga classes without acknowledging that people in the yoga class have unique emotional and mostly physical components, there is some irresponsibility in my mind. Yoga can hurt you."


  "Why should you practice yoga? To kindle the divine fire within yourself. Everyone has a dormant spark of divinity in him which has to be fanned into flame."
B.K.S. Iyengar