SPECIAL REPORT: Yoga for men – pain, or pain relief?

SPECIAL REPORT: Yoga for men – pain, or pain relief?

COLUMBUS, GA (WXTX) - It's Wednesday night at the Art of Yoga studio in Columbus, and these folks are getting their minds and bodies on the same wavelength.

It's a warm-up, if you'll pardon the expression, for what's known as Hot Yoga – hot because the heat is jacked up to 90 degrees.

"This is probably more than I sweat in a normal PT session."

It's one of a handful of classes that attracts almost as many men as women.

"We have a lot of men that come in looking for the benefits of the detox and deeper stretching," said yoga instructor April Laxton.

But that stretching can sometimes bring pain.

"When it's painful, and it can be, it certainly has been for me at times, that's your body telling you to back off," said Tanya Edwards-Jones, owner and instructor at Art of Yoga.

It's good advice, especially for men, who seem to run a higher risk of injury simply because they are less flexible than women. Men need to work up to a certain level.

"If you try to get into a position that you're not ready for you might injure yourself because you just should build up to a flexibility and strength," said yoga instructor Jared Glebe.

Sadly, that doesn't work for everybody. It certainly didn't for Michael Conti. A scary incident in a yoga class in Connecticut has altered his life forever.

"I thought maybe I tweaked my knee or something and then it turned out to be much more serious than just a meniscus problem," said Conti. "It turned out to be nerve damage."

After reading "The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards," Michael wrote to its author, William Broad.

"That letter became a turning point," said William Broad. "I slapped myself on the forehead, I can remember doing this and thinking, wow, most of the letters I'm getting about serious injuries have been from guys."

Broad investigated federal data on ER visits for yoga-related injuries. Although men made up only 16 percent of his study, they accounted for 20 percent of the strains, 24 percent of the dislocations, 30 percent of the fractures and a whopping 71 percent of nerve damage injuries linked to yoga.

By contrast, women only accounted for the vast majority of fainting episodes.

Sports specialist Dr. Tanya Hagan says, in general, there could be a few reasons for this.

"Men, with their increased muscle mass and decreased flexibility, are pushing those joints beyond their appropriate physiologic limits," said Dr. Hagan.

Tanya Edwards-Jones, who owns the Art of Yoga and is the lead instructor, is well aware of those limits.

"The body naturally reacts to pain by tightening and stiffening up around it," said Tanya. "And everybody knows they're not in yoga to class to tighten up, right? So, there's sensation before pain and that's what we're looking for. We're looking to ride what I call the edge."

As she puts it, yoga is not designed for the "no pain, no gain" crowd. Her students say it isn't discomfort they feel; quite often, it's exhaustion.

"I'm going to sleep very well tonight," said Army Captain Eli Feret. "After one of these, I usually go home and drink about two gallons of water and pass out."

The assertion that men can be seriously injured doing yoga is highly controversial.

Many instructors are critical of the study, claiming that students are always made aware that if they begin to feel pain they just need to back off.

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