In my studies of yoga, I have found a nice website called Yoga U Online which interviews yoga experts about yoga. They offer webinars for a fee (between 15 and 75 dollars or so). They also do a lot of promotional MP3's interviewing people who are teaching classes to promote their classes. I always listen to these freebies.
There are lots of teachers interviewed who have been teaching for twenty or thirty years. Many of them are also physical therapists or acupuncturists or Ayurvedic doctors or regular western doctors. But they are wonderful experts and elders in the field of yoga.
To hear them is to listen to a great deal of accumulated wisdom. It is grounded knowledge of how yoga works in real people's bodies.
I listened to one interview with Judith Hanson Lasater. She has been teaching yoga for over thirty years. She was a founder of the magazine Yoga Journal. She has written several books about yoga. She is also a physical therapist.
She made the point that as a yoga teacher and a physical therapist, she sees some possible problems with the way yoga is being practiced. She notices a real tendency in the current practice of yoga in America toward students and teachers trying for hyper mobility. She talks about the hamstrings having a normal, average flexibility of 90 degrees. She states, "a person can have a good life with 90 degrees of flexibility in their hamstrings."
In yoga across America, people are trying to accomplish so much more flexibility than that. She compared yoga to ballet, with hyper mobility being encouraged in both disciplines.
She ended by saying that as a physical therapist, not much that a person can do to their body is worse than hyper mobility. As we age, we lose strength. That muscular strength can keep a hyper mobile joint stable, But as we age, that declines.
It is a good point she makes. I wonder what people are doing to themselves with the hot, driving, forceful yoga. That is not how it is practiced in India. (Although there are certainly hyper mobile yogis in India who seem no worse for wear as they age.) It is basically a gentle practice in India.
I think building strength is a good part of yoga. And some flexibility, too. And balance. I see it as a three legged stool, with those three as the legs. Flexibility is a good thing, I think, when it is achieved slowly and steadily, without force or strain.
I am not sure there is just one answer to this question that she raised. I think yoga as an industry would do well to slow down a little and build some wisdom into the way it is practiced. It is easy to get caught up in the practice and find yourself pushing toward a goal. We are told to work toward defeating ego on the mat. And then we push ourselves to do a hot, driving practice.
I think there is room for both. I would like to see yoga become more introspective and careful. It has so much to offer to people when it is done slowly and steadily.