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A Jan. 5 New York Times magazine article on “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” has ignited an international controversy with sparks landing in Billings. The article has put some followers of the physical, mental and spiritual discipline on the defensive.

The article quotes Glenn Black, a yoga teacher for nearly 40 years, saying “the vast majority of people” should give up yoga because it’s too likely to cause harm. Black argued that too many schools of yoga are focused on “pushing people.”

Reports of yoga injuries are nothing new. Years ago, some of the most respected journals in the world, including Neurology, The British Medical Journal and The Journal of the American Medical Association, reported on injuries associated with yoga, from the relatively mild to permanently disabling.

Despite that, yoga has increased in popularity exponentially. In 2001, there were about 4 million Americans practicing yoga. Today, that estimate is closer to 20 million.

Elizabeth Klarich, a certified yoga instructor who has been teaching classes in Billings since 1980, said the New York Times article sheds a beneficial light on the risk of yoga.

It addresses valid concerns about the direction that some yoga practitioners are going that tends to be misguided by the ego rather than anchored in the heart and the spirit of yoga, Klarich said.

So much of the yoga teaching in this country focuses on perfecting a pose rather than developing the whole self, which leads to unhealthy competition, she said.

“We’re working with the body and there is the desire to achieve perfection in poses,” Klarich said. “The ego can take over rather than listening to the heart, the body and spirit. The ego wants to do more than the body is capable of. It is beneficial for people to know there are risks to yoga.”

Klarich, 56, teaches 15 to 20, hourlong classes each week and has been practicing yoga since she was a teenager. Her desire to teach grew out of a longing to help others. Her classes are comprised of both men and women of varying ages and background. Participants range from athletes to drug addicts and everyone in between. Her husband, David, also teaches yoga.

Klarich said she has no intention of either attacking or upholding the arguments in the New York Times article.

“I am a person who believes there is good in everything,” Klarich said. “I was looking for the good in that article. I wasn’t looking to defend yoga. I’m a huge believer that you manifest what you intend. I intend daily to not injure others.”

Klarich, technically called a yogini, said she adapts each class to the individual and his or her specific needs, skills and abilities. She focuses on breathing techniques, meditation, flexibility and visualization.

“The whole idea is to help them rather than have them learn a pose or perfect a pose,” Klarich said. “I’m teaching a loving, intuitive, healing approach to yoga. That’s the core of who I am and how I teach.”

Mac Schaffer, 65, of Billings, has been practicing yoga since 1967, and said the key to practicing safe yoga is to know your body. He said injuries are bound to occur when overzealous instructors incite their students to go too far too fast.

“It takes a while to get the body to a place where it can begin to stretch,” Schaffer said. “I’ve never been injured because I know what I’m doing. Elizabeth has taught me an awful lot.”

Tim Harrington, 45, of Billings, started yoga about three years ago and now practices it three to four times each week. “I swear by it,” he said. “None of the classes I’ve ever taken make me feel like it’s wrecking my body. I’d say if it feels uncomfortable, stop.”

An 18-month pupil of Klarich’s, Angie Wong, 55, has found nothing about it that “wrecks” her body. In fact, she said, “It’s amazing.”

“Yoga has really helped me find a sense of calm in my body and find a center,” Wong said.

“Elizabeth’s way of teaching is about being in tune with, and listening to, our bodies. It has nothing to do with wrecking my body. It has allowed me to bring fresh energy into my body and replenish the energy I have.”

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