How to Critically Analyze Yoga Articles (and Books)
[Note: this article also appeared in Elephant Journal in three parts.]

Frequently articles, and even books, become controversial topics of the day, passed around in a sudden flurry of emails, sent from one yoga teacher or student to another, or appearing in Facebook posts and on other social media sites. The controversy acquires proponents who claim to have always believed what the author of the article is stating, while other readers have a visceral antipathy to the conclusions reached. The emails and posts seek confirmation of each reader's own bias and understanding, but through all the discussion and debate, the author's original premises and conclusions are rarely analyzed in a dispassionate and reasoned way. One cause for this is simply the lack of knowledge on how to critically analyze arguments presented in an article. The intention of this article is to provide such tools, in the hopes that readers, yoga teachers and yoga students will be able to look at articles about yoga clearly and unemotionally. A side benefit would be nice as well: by understanding these tools, perhaps more yoga professionals writing articles will take greater care to ensure that their arguments are well constructed, logical and relevant.

There are several simple and useful tools that can be used to analyze an argument. To understand how to use these tools, it is helpful to have a real life controversial article to analyze. For the purpose of this discussion, I have chosen an article that I have been asked to comment on several times. It is an article appearing in Elephant Journal on July 11, 2013, written by Michaelle Edwards entitled, "When Flexibility Becomes a Liability". We will look at this article in three waves: first we will investigate the relevancy of the arguments offered; second we will look at the sufficiency of the arguments; and finally we will look at validity and credibility of the premises to see if they are acceptable.

Intentions

Before we begin to dissect the article, it is important to first spend a moment imagining the intention of the author in writing the article, in the interest of satya and ahimsa. Ascribe to the author a positive intention! I do believe that Michaelle Edwards is offering this article in the hopes that she will help yoga students reduce their chances of injury and harm. I share the same intention in my classes and writings. While it is impossible for me to know exactly why she wrote this piece, by assuming it was for a positive reason I am less likely to slip into a logical fallacy of attacking her rather than her writing. Often readers will disagree with an article because of who wrote the article, rather than the validity of the arguments offered. These "ad hominem" attacks (to the person, not the argument) can be seen anytime a critic notes some irrelevant fact about the writer instead of focusing on the writing. We can reduce this tendency by imaging the writer really does have our best interest at heart, and we can thank her for her intention to help us, whether we ultimately agree with her conclusions or not.

When Flexibility Becomes a Liability

Smiling Contortionist Accompanying the article was a picture of a very flexible young woman, shown here, smiling pleasantly (as if to say, "You mean, you can't do this?") The article became controversial due to the disagreement many readers had to the overarching conclusion of the argument. These readers believed the article concluded that people are stretching too much and hurting themselves, even to the point of requiring hip replacements, all due to forward folding in yoga classes. The title of the article alongside this picture seems to imply "You better not do this!" But, is this a fair categorization of the article's conclusions? [1]

Articles usually have a point to them: the basic point of the article we will call its "overarching conclusion." This conclusion usually stems from several minor conclusions and each conclusion in turn is based upon one or more premises. Thus the general equation is: premise(s) --> conclusion(s). Frequently, conclusions can become premises for further conclusions, so a rigorous delineation between premises and conclusions is sometimes tricky. There are logical tools that can help us evaluate the validity of an article's conclusion and the adequacy of the premises. Often, however, writers will fall afoul of logical fallacies that undermine their conclusions. There are three basic kinds of fallacies that can occur in an argument: [2]
  1. Irrelevancy (non-sequitur) - this is a test for relevancy
  2. Hasty conclusion - this is a test for sufficiency
  3. Problematic Premise - this is a test for acceptability
These are in descending order of strength, thus it is more critical for an argument to ensure that its premises are relevant than they are acceptable. There are dozens of types of logical fallacies that can bedevil an argument, but almost all of them fall into these three categories.

Irrelevancy

Let's look at some examples of where a premise may be irrelevant to the conclusion it is supposed to support. At the end of this article is a disassembly of Edwards' article into premises and conclusions. For ease of references, these have been numbered. Breaking an article down in this way makes it easier to see the strength or weaknesses of the author's points and conclusions. Let's examine her first set of premises and their conclusions:

Premises: A
  1. Being a woman means you have a higher chance of undergoing hip replacement
  2. Women have looser ligaments than men
  3. Excessive flexibility and weak stabilizing muscles lead to hip joint deterioration
  4. Lumbar and hip joints must have strong tight ligaments to allow proper function of the hip joints
Conclusions: A
  1. All women should consider practicing strengthening exercises to stabilize the hip
  2. All women should be cautious when doing "hip openers" in yoga classes
  3. Having more flexibility than you need compromises the longevity of your joints.
The nature of Edwards' article does not provide one to one correspondences between the premises and conclusions, and few articles do, so we have to assume that each conclusion is meant to be supported by the preceding premises. But, is each premise relevant to the conclusions? For example: premise A2 is irrelevant to all the A conclusions because none of the conclusions compare men to women. The conclusions do not mention men at all, so there is no point to premise A2. Likewise, premise A1 also is irrelevant because it again compares women to men. (The premise says that women have higher chance of needing hip replacements than men. Women also have higher rates of breast cancer than men, but this is not relevant to whether a woman should have a mastectomy or not.) Both of these premises are irrelevant to the conclusions being offered, and thus run afoul of the first test for logical fallacy. The remaining two premises, however, do seem quite relevant to the matter of women's safety and pass this first test. We will see later whether these two premises are sufficient and acceptable and thus whether they do support the conclusions.

One of the most prominent conclusions the author reaches in her writing is (D3) "Your spine does not need to be stretched." Most yoga classes offer forward bending postures that stretch the spine, and the author is implying that all these teachers are in error, and they are risking the health of their students. This is very big claim and thus requires substantial support before it can be agreed upon. Are the premises offered relevant to this conclusion? If we look at the premises in (D) we find three offered; we can check now to see if they are all relevant: Premise D1 states, "Leaning over, reversing the natural lumbar curve in a quest to touch your toes does not honor the integrity of the design of our spine." Leaning forward certainly will create a stretch along the back of the spine, so this premise does seem relevant to the conclusion. (We will see later if it is sufficient and acceptable.) Premise D2 is "Folding forward puts a lot of torque on the sacral angle." Putting torque on the "sacral angle" (a term that is not defined) is not the same as stretching the spine, so D2 is not relevant to the conclusion offered. D3 states, "Folding forward undermines the curving forces in the spine and hip joint needed for shock absorption and hip stabilization. " This premise is problematic because we are not told what "undermining" means, nor what "curving forces" are, thus it is very hard to determine if premise D3 is relevant or not: we will have to suspend judgment on this premise's relevancy until we know more clearly what the premise means. D3 also talks about the effects of forward folding on our hips, which is not relevant to the conclusion that your spine does not need to be stretched. If the premises offered have no bearing on the conclusion reached, the logical fallacy of irrelevancy has been committed. At least one, and perhaps two of the three premises offered in support of the conclusion that we do not need to stretch our spine are not relevant.

Hasty Conclusion

Once premises are deemed to be relevant to the argument at hand, we next need to test the premises to see if they are sufficient to support the conclusions? Is more information needed in order to arrive at the proposed conclusion? If the premises are not sufficient to support the conclusion, then the argument has committed another logical fallacy: hasty conclusion.

Let's return to look at premises A3 and A4 to see if they are sufficient to draw the three conclusions proposed. We will look at the premise A4 in relation to the conclusions drawn. The premise is that the hip joints must have strong, tight ligaments to allow proper hip function. Is this premise sufficient for us to conclude that (CA1) all women should do strengthening exercises to stabilize the hip joints? With a little reflection, we can see that "all women" is overly broad. Many women already have strong ligaments; why should they have to continue to strengthen their ligaments? Likewise, from A4 it does not follow that (CA2) all women should be cautious when doing hip openers. Many women are in no danger when doing hip openers, and the fact that most yoginis who do hip openers are not suffering hip joint problems, attests to this. Here, just one anecdotal observation of a woman who has done hip openers and has no problems will be sufficient to prove that conclusions CA2 and CA1 are not warranted by premise A4. Finally, A4 does not support CA3. CA3 is problematic in that there is no precise definition of "more flexibility than your need." How is "more than you need" defined? Needed for what? To touch your toes? To get out of bed? To drive a car? Since CA3 is an ill-defined conclusion, no premise can be used to support it. We can see that premise A4 does not pass the sufficiency test and the conclusions offered are not supported by it.

To be fair to the author, let's assume that she didn't really mean to hyperbolize the conclusion to refer to "all women." Would her point be supportable if she said "some"? Since is it plausible that some women may indeed have weak ligaments in their hips, then this premise clearly would be sufficient to establish the conclusions CA1 and CA2. On this basis, let's give premise A4 a provisional pass of this test, but only if we remember to replace "all" with "some" women in the conclusions.

Let us look at premise A3: the author is proposing that "excessive flexibility and weak stabilizing muscles lead to hip joint deterioration," thus "all women should consider practicing strengthening exercises to stabilize the hip," and "all women should be cautious when doing "hip openers" in yoga classes." Is the premise sufficient to make these conclusions? If we grant that premise A3 is true, then it would seem to be sufficient to support the conclusion. If excessive flexibility and weak muscles lead to hip joint problems, then clearly if women strengthen these muscles and reduce flexibility here, it will prevent the joint damage that these two conditions caused. But, is A3 true? While the argument passes the relevancy and sufficiency tests, if it is not true it is a problematic premise.

In our analysis of Premises and Conclusions A, we have seen so far that A1 and A2 are irrelevant, A4 is insufficient (but if we change the conclusion slightly it would be sufficient), and A3 is sufficient to support the conclusions. The next test is to see if the remaining premises, A3 and the modified A4 are acceptable - are they true? We will answer this question a little later on.

For now, lets return to the major premise D3: Your spine does not need to be stretched. We have seen that of the premises offered in support for this conclusion D2 was irrelevant, D1 was relevant, and we could not determine the relevancy of D3 due to problems arising from unclear terminology used. We now can ask, "are D1 and D3 sufficient to establish the conclusion?" As we mentioned, this conclusion is a very big claim. Does the fact that "leaning over, reversing the natural lumbar curve ... does not honor the integrity of design of the spine" really mean that the spine does not need to be stretched? In every day life our spine moves. We bend over to tie our shoes, to reach across a table, to turn on a water faucet. Curving our spine naturally stretches the spine and we move every day in all directions, stressing and stretching our spine. Many studies have shown that immobilization of the spine is very detrimental. Bed rest, which used to be prescribed for patients after surgery or after delivering babies, is no longer the cure-all it was once imagined to be. Hospitals today encourage patient to become mobile as quickly as possible. Never stretching your spine is one of the least healthy things you can do for it. The author's claim that the spine does not need to be stretch requires much more support that the few premises she offers here. She would need to cite research studies, case studies, and anatomical explanations of why not moving the spine the spine is actually healthier than stretching it. Her premises are not sufficient to draw the conclusion she has offered.

There is a logical fallacy that often arises that when something can be done too much; the fallacy is to assume that the safest approach is to do nothing. It is self-evident that a person could over-stress their spine, or any joint, and hurt himself. But this fact does not mean that 1) everyone will suffer if they do the same activity (this is the fallacy of "we are all alike" and ignores the reality of skeletal variations) and 2) that no stress at all is the safest course of action. Paul Grilley offers this simple example: we know that overeating can be very unhealthy for some individuals, leading to obesity, diabetes and heart problems. However, the solution to overeating is not to never eat food! The solution is to find moderation. In the same way, to claim that because some person hurt herself doing a forward fold does not mean 1) that everyone will hurt themselves doing forward folds or 2) that no one should every fold forward ever again. These are fallacious arguments, and Michaelle Edward's arguments are insufficient to conclude, "your spine does not need to be stretched."

Problematic Premise

A premise is problematic when it is not acceptable for a variety of reasons. Of the four premises offered in support of conclusions CA1 and CA2, only A3 has survived the earlier tests of relevancy and sufficiency unscathed. A4 could be acceptable if the conclusions are modified, but are these two premises acceptable A4 states that joints must have strong and tight ligaments in order to function properly. Is this true? Unfortunately, the author does not provide any evidence to back up this assertion, and most of her other assertions. Assertion is not evidence. An assertion may not need any evidence or proof if it is self-evident, but A4 is far from self-evident. Are there any studies that show that only strong, tight ligaments allow proper movement of the hips? It is easy to conceive that a joint that is not tightly wrapped by ligaments may have more range of motion and still be functioning properly. Many yoga students claim their hips are too tight and this is preventing them from having their natural range of motion there. A question of definition arises again: what does the author mean by "strong tight ligaments"? Strong relative to what? Normal? What is normal? The assertion that hip joints must have strong, tight ligaments is undefended, thus unacceptable. Proof is needed. Without this proof, the conclusions are not supported. Likewise for premise A3, the author has simply asserted this to be true and has not defended her assertion.

The author also uses jargon and terms that can be interpreted in many different ways, which makes it hard to evaluate the premise. Jargon can be described as any word or term that is not commonly understood or is used in an uncommon way. If a writer wants to invoke a term that is uncommon to the audience she is addressing, she is obligated to define it. Otherwise the premise that relies upon the jargon will fail to support any conclusions, and the conclusion that uses jargon risks becoming meaningless. It can be acceptable to use jargon when the audience knows what the jargon means: if this article was intended for students who have studied with the writer, then there would be no need to explain the terms. However, the average reader of Elephant Journal would be unlikely to have taken classes with Michaelle Edwards, or read her book or viewed her DVD, so the onus is upon her to define her terms.

Examples in this article of jargon are numerous: "when you sit poorly in your chair ..." what defines "poorly"?; "you are flattening your sacral platform ..." (premise B3.) What is a sacral platform? Is it the sacrum? How can you "flatten" the sacrum? Is it the combination of the sacrum and its attached ligaments? Again, how can you flatten this area? Other terms used as jargon in the article include "the design of our spine," "sacral angle," "hip stabilization," (premises D), "anatomical sense," "stabilizing forces," (conclusions H), "float", "functional biomechanics," (premises J), "breathing dynamics," "natural alignment," "externalizing forces," "infrastructures," (K) and many others.

Evidence

The author offers many premises that are simply assertions: for example - B1 - "many people stretch their ligaments too much." Where is the evidence for this? How frequent is it? How many are "many people"? To avoid the fallacy of problematic premise, evidence or support is required for an argument's main premises. This is not required, as mentioned, for self-evident statements, such as premise F3 - yoga did not prevent Lady Gaga's hip injury. Obviously! Lady Gaga was injured, she did yoga, thus yoga did not prevent the injury. Nor is evidence required of every premise, as that can lead to a never-ending spiral of requiring proof for the proof. But premises that are fundamental to the overarching conclusion of an article do beg to be defended. Controversial premises also must be defended, or at least a defense, if not immediately offered, must be promised to be forth coming or available somewhere else. The use of footnoted sources or references should be provided in these cases. In Edwards' article, there are no footnotes or external sources cited.

While problematic premise is the least important of these three main fallacies, it is the one that requires evidence. The burden of proof shows up when a premise is asserted, for assertion is not proof. In the field of science, there are four levels of proof or evidence used to ascertain the strength of a theory or statement. [3]
  1. Testimonial (anecdote)
  2. Argument (hypothesis)
  3. Correlation
  4. Experimentation
The weakest form of evidence is personal testimony. This anecdotal evidence arises when one persons says, "I did this and that happened." We find this form of evidence used frequently in the advertising industry, where a celebrity claims to have had great success using a certain product. The problem is, this form of evidence does not present all the times other people did the same thing but did not achieve the same results. If you accept anecdotal evidence, you could be convinced to believe almost anything! This does not mean that the anecdote is not true, but it means that it is a particularly weak form of evidence because it is almost impossible to evaluate across a broad base of experiences. One example could be, "A student of mine hurt her knee while doing Pigeon Pose, therefore no one should ever be allowed to do Pigeon Pose in a Yoga class." The conclusion is based upon an anecdote, and while that incident may be true, it ignores the fact that millions of other yoga students do Pigeon Pose and do not suffer any harm. In Edwards' article, she uses the anecdote of Lady Gaga (premises F1, F2 and F3) to support the conclusion that poor yoga biomechanics contributes to joint destabilization. This is anecdotal evidence and is not compelling.

Argumentation is the construction of a logical, reasoned hypothesis based upon known facts and observations. The conclusion usually follows an unspoken "ought" - given all these facts and what we do know, this "ought" to be so. Arguments or hypothesis can be very valuable for directing further enquiry into a research topic, but are not proof in and of themselves. Instead, they can be useful to direct tests and experiments that will prove the assertion. For example, one might assert as Edwards does, (E1) "Years of tugging on ligaments can weaken the forces in the body that hold you together." There is no proof offered here, but if this is true then we can imagine setting up a series of studies to test whether this is true.

[Unfortunately, most of the evidence surrounding the various claims of yoga efficacy or dangers is either anecdotal or argumentative. There are precious few higher-level proofs of yoga's benefits available, but thankfully, that is changing as more scientific studies of yoga are conducted.]

The two final forms of evidence are correlation and experiment. Correlations are better evidence for an assertion than anecdotes or arguments, but they are not the ultimate proof.[4] A correlation implies some sort of connection between two events, but correlation is not causation. The connection may be coincidental or meaningless, or it may in fact be quite meaningful. Sometimes two things are correlated due to a third causal factor. For example, suppose a study showed that people who take frequent short breaks from work died younger than people who took no breaks. You might believe that taking breaks causes early death. However, when you discover that the reason people took these breaks was to smoke cigarettes, you realize that is not the taking of breaks at work that causes death. Correlations can be useful, but they must be treated carefully. In Edwards' article, she begins by correlating the rate of hip replacements with women doing yoga, however, she offers no proof that these two events are causally connected. How many of the 400,000 people whom had hips replaced were women who frequently did yoga? How many women did not have to undergo hip replacement because they did yoga? No evidence is offered.

The most powerful form of evidence is through experiments and studies, but here too there are levels of quality. The gold standard in medicine for experimental evidence is the double-blind, controlled test. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into this test, but it is only form of evidence that is considered "proof" in the world of medical science. Nowhere in the Edwards' article is this highest level of evidence offered. No studies are referenced. Her premises are mostly assertions, some self-evident, and others anecdotal.

Credibility

It is possible for a premise to be acceptable if the author who is asserting it has a high degree of credibility. There is a scale that can be used to evaluate the credibility of an argument, an article or the writer of the article: it is called the Credibility Index. A picture of this is shown below.[5]

The Credibility Index


At the top of this index, there are the crème de la crème of the science world, the top scientific organizations. This would include the national academies of science such as the British Royal Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. They are given the top credibility index of 6. These are the most trustworthy scientific bodies in the world.

In the world of science there is a process called "peer review" which requires studies to be reviewed by people who are knowledgeable in the field of study and who did not participate in the particular study. If they accept the study as meeting the standards of the field, then they bless the study for publication. (Often the study is sent back for correction and after a few iterations, it passes muster and is published.) The highest credibility is given to studies published in the top scientific journals, such as Science or Nature, because these journals apply the highest degree of review to the studies. Lesser, but still good journals, would be next in credibility ranking. Below the realm of published studies, we have credibility assigned based on the level of expertise of the individuals. Scientist talking in their own field of study would be given a credibility index (CI) of 3. Professionals talking outside their main field of study would not be as knowledgeable as one inside that field and would have a CI of 2. Below that, we have informed individuals who have taken it upon themselves to become educated about a certain topic. They have a CI of 1. Anyone who has a vested interest, or has no obvious understanding of a topic is given no credibility.

So, what is Michaelle Edwards' CI? According to her own web site, she has been doing yoga since 1972, hurt herself severely while in a yoga pose, educated herself in anatomy, runs a yoga school, has written a book and DVD on yoga alignment, and is a licensed massage therapist. While she has not stated she has any professional degrees, she appears to be more than just an informed individual. This could earn her a CI of 2 for the field of anatomy. However, she has committed some factual errors that a person credible in the fields of anatomy would not make. For example: (premise L1) "breathing deeply engages your psoas, which connects your diaphragm to the lumbar spine to the femur"; and (premise L4) "the psoas is the only muscle group that is attached to the discs of the spine". The psoas does not originate on the diaphragm, nor does it "connect" to the diaphragm,[6] and the diaphragm is a muscle that also attaches to the vertebral discs of the spine.[7] These premises are clearly factual errors, and problematic. They detract from the writer's personal credibility. Also, the article was not peer reviewed so the article itself has no greater credibility than what the author brings to the table.[8]

Given that, in the field of anatomy and related biomechanics, Michaelle Edwards might be assigned, at best, a CI of 2, does this mean that some of her premises can stand alone without requiring further evidence? Yes, in some cases. Without elaboration, we can say that from her own experience and credibility the following premises do not require further evidence: B1, C1, C2, E2, F4, G3, G4, I1, L3, L5, L6, N1. The rest of the premises, however, are anecdotal or need defending (save those that are obviously self-evident.)

Bringing it all together

We now have all the tools we need to analyze any article about yoga critically and dispassionately. We have already looked at Edwards' first few premises and conclusions. Again, at the bottom of this article is a complete breakdown of all her premises and conclusions and we will leave it as a homework assignment for the interested yogi to go through and determine whether each conclusion is supported by the premises, and if not, determine which fallacies the premises have succumbed to. Let us move to her final conclusions and their premises.

Overarching Premise: N
  1. Yoga practitioners will often suffer from injuries
  2. Spinal ligaments are getting stretched beyond their anatomical function (jargon) when we do poses that take our spine into the C shape.
  3. The C shape of our spine is the bane of aging
  4. The human body is made of curves and spirals
Overarching Conclusions: N
  1. When posture is naturally aligned (jargon) the human body stays flexible
  2. Intense stretches to relieve tension of the parts (jargon) are not needed.
  3. What has the most value is to remember our innate postural patterns (jargon) and preserve the natural integrity (jargon) of our spine and joints.
The first thing to note is the fact that the overarching conclusion Edwards reaches is not the one cited at the beginning of our article! There we stated that many people felt the conclusion of her article was that people are stretching too much and hurting themselves, even to the point of requiring hip replacements, all due to forward folding in yoga classes. While this conclusion could be assumed, it is not in fact stated in her article. In this case, many readers critiquing Edwards' article for this conclusion have set up a straw man and are attacking that. A straw man is a substitute conclusion masquerading as the real one, and it is often much easier to attack the straw man, defeat it, all the while appearing to be attacking the writer's original conclusions. Let's stick to what she actually offers.

We now know that premises need to be checked for relevancy, sufficiency and acceptability if they are to support the conclusions. Acceptability also may depend upon the evidence offered for the premise. Does premise N1 meet these criteria? On the surface N1 seems to be self-evident, but it does imply all yoga practitioners will frequently suffer from injuries (assuming we are talking about injuries caused by their yoga practice). Such a claim requires evidence, none is offered, so this is a problematic premise. Premise N2 also is an assertion. We have been given no proof that spinal ligaments are getting stretched beyond their anatomical function, and we have no idea what anatomical function even means (again this is jargon). N3 refers to the C-shape of our spine, but there is no evidence offered that this is the bane of aging (a term which also borders on being jargon). Finally, N4 is self-evident and is the only premise here that is not problematic, but is it sufficient or relevant to the conclusions? If we look first at the conclusions offered, we find that it does not matter whether any of the premises are problematic or not, because they are not sufficient to establish the conclusions.

Conclusion N1 says that when the body is naturally aligned the body stays flexible. Beyond not defining what naturally aligned means, to support this conclusion would require much more than is offered in the premises. A marine corp sergeant standing at attention would be naturally aligned, but to stay like that for 24 hours a day would not lead to flexibility, but rather rigidity. Indeed, not only are none of the premises offered sufficient to establish this conclusion, they are also not relevant to the conclusion. It does not matter if yogis get injured or not from their practice, this has no bearing on whether natural alignment maintains flexibility. Neither does it matter if the spine is C-shaped, spinal ligaments are stretched or that the body is made up of curves and spirals. These premises do not need to be evaluated for sufficiency or acceptability because they are not relevant to conclusion N1. With the same analysis, we can see that these premises also are not relevant to conclusions N2 and N3.

This does not bode well for the article's overarching conclusions, but there may be some support for these conclusions buried within the earlier premises of the article. If, so, then the writer has left it to the reader to dig out those applicable premises and bring them to bear on her final conclusions. This is not a task that should be left to the reader: the writer should summarize her main premises or main sub-conclusions along with her main conclusions at the end of the article. I will leave it to the reader to go through the full body of the article, looking at each premise, and decide whether the conclusions reached are supportable. Remember, the premises should first be checked for relevancy (that saves a lot of work: if the premises are not relevant, then there is no need to evaluate them further.) If they are relevant, are they sufficient to arrive at the conclusion, or is further information required? Finally, if the premise is relevant and sufficient, is it acceptable? Does the evidence provided, if any, make the premise acceptable? Is the source of the evidence credible?

You now have the tools to evaluate any article pertaining to yoga (or any other field of enquiry) to see if the conclusions offered are clear, logical and supported. Please remember, the writer you are evaluating is coming from a positive intention: focus on the arguments and not the person. If you keep these tools in mind as you read articles, you will find yourself more and more able to separate the real from the unreal, and move from darkness into the light of clarity.



Michaelle Edwards' Argument by Premises and Conclusions

Premises: A
  1. Being a woman means you have a higher chance of undergoing hip replacement
  2. Women have looser ligaments than men
  3. Excessive flexibility and weak stabilizing muscles lead to hip joint deterioration
  4. Lumbar and hip joints must have strong tight ligaments to allow proper function of the hip joints
Conclusions: A
  1. All women should consider practicing strengthening exercises to stabilize the hip
  2. All women should be cautious when doing "hip openers" in yoga classes
  3. Having more flexibility than you need compromises the longevity of your joints
Premises: B
  1. Many people stretch their ligaments too much
  2. These people are unaware that it can take years for damage in their joints to show up
  3. When you sit poorly in a chair, you are flattening your sacral platform (jargon) and over stretching the ligaments that attach your sacrum to the pelvis and femur
  4. We you do a 5 minute child's pose, you are flattening your sacral platform and over stretching the ligaments that attach your sacrum to the pelvis and femur
  5. Long ligaments can destabilize the dynamics of our pelvis to spine and pelvis to leg attachments.
Conclusions: B
  1. Longer is not better for your ligaments
  2. Long ligaments will lead to SI (sacral/hip) joint or groin pain
Premises: C
  1. Many people who do yoga and stretching exercises have chronic SI joint pain
  2. These people keep bending forward (in an attempt) to stop the pain
  3. Forward bending poses (cause) a shortening of the front (of the body) and excessive strain and over stretching of the back extensors.
  4. Most of us are pulled forwards and are shortened from excessive time spend in chairs
Conclusions: C
  1. Our back body is strained and over-stretched
  2. Our back body needs to be tightened and strengthened, not stretched.
Premises: D
  1. Leaning over, reversing the natural lumbar curve in a quest to touch your toes does not honor the integrity of the design (jargon) of our spine.
  2. Folding forward puts a lot of torque on the sacral angle (jargon)
  3. Folding forward undermines the curving forces (jargon) in the spine and hip joint needed for shock absorption (jargon) and hip stabilization (jargon).
Conclusions: D
  1. Without the lumbar curve, you end up with a flat looking posterior or butt
  2. Without the lumbar curve, you end up with ofttimes chronic low back, knee and neck pain
  3. Your spine does not need to be stretched
  4. Our longitudinal spinal ligaments get over-stretched when we slouch or do yoga or fitness positions that engage the forces of spinal flexion over extension and stabilization.
Premises: E
  1. Years of tugging on ligaments can weaken the forces in the body that hold you together
  2. As ligaments become lax, this can lead to serious postural issues, such as forward head carriage, chronic hip, back and knee pain, slowed digestion and elimination, and even a weakened immune system
Conclusions E
  1. If you have tenderness when you walk, sharp pain when doing revolved triangle or deep warrior this is the beginning of hip destabilization and will require hip replacement
Premises: F
  1. Lady Gaga cancelled a tour due to hip pain that required surgery
  2. Lady Gaga does Bikram's yoga
  3. Yoga did not prevent her injury
  4. Many other famous yogis have had hips replaced
Conclusions: F
  1. (Poor) yoga pose biomechanics contributed to these joint destabilizations
  2. We are not learning from these experiences
Premises: G
  1. Toddlers bend their knees and hips, engage butt muscles and curve their spines when they fold forward
  2. When we keep knees straight in yoga, instead flexing the spine to fold forward, we are overriding our natural design forces (jargon)
  3. Walking without bending knees is uncomfortable
  4. If you could never bend your knees, life would suck
Conclusions: G
  1. Keeping knees straight all the time does not contribute to the longevity of your joints
Premises: H
  1. When you fold over and slowly straighten your legs, you will feel it in your sacral/hip joint.
Conclusion: H
  1. It does not make anatomical sense (jargon) to stretch out the ligament stabilizing forces (jargon) in your spine and hips.
Premise I
  1. It is not too late to strengthen your hips and butt muscles
Conclusion I
  1. So working any yoga pose with strength and motion, instead of relaxing into a static pose, will benefit your hip/femur joint
Premises J
  1. Strengthening your postural muscles using deep breathing while in a natural spine position can activate dormant extension and expansion forces
  2. This will allow your bones to float (jargon)
  3. Keeping your knees bent while bending over enlists your gluteus or butt muscles which assists in stabilizing the pelvis
  4. This contributes to functional biomechanics (jargon) and strong stabilization forces (jargon)
Conclusions J
  1. Once your body works in a healthy, connected fashion, your ligaments can regain their natural length (jargon)
  2. This will protect your hip joint and sciatic nerve from wear and tear
Premises K
  1. The key to healthy alignment is accommodating your breathing process (jargon)
  2. Breathing dynamics (jargon) provide the best tool for checking (to see) if a pose contributes towards natural alignment (jargon)
Conclusion K
  1. If you cannot take a deep breath in a pose, then the pose is activating externalizing forces (jargon) in your body that overrides the body's natural and essential core movements and infrastructures (jargon)
Premises: L
  1. Breathing deeply engages your psoas, which connects your diaphragm to the lumbar spine to the femur
  2. Sitting in chairs shortens the psoas
  3. Doing forward bends with straight knees shortens the psoas
  4. The psoas is the only muscle group that is attached to the discs of the spine
  5. In many people the inner groin is short
  6. In many people the psoas is short and tight
  7. A shortened psoas can affect the balance of the hip joint
Conclusions: L
  1. Sitting in chairs can lead to bulging or herniated discs.
  2. Forward bends with knees straight can lead to bulging or herniated discs
  3. Sitting in chairs and bending forward with knees bent can possibly lead to compression in the hip socket and deterioration of the joint
Premises: M
  1. A pose called the core connector (jargon) activates the psoas/diaphragm connection quickly
Conclusion: M
  1. The pose called core connector (jargon) restores equilibrium (jargon) in the psoas
  2. Balancing the actions of the psoas can stop chronic back pain, stabilize the spine and create a fluid balance (jargon) of the whole body
Overarching Premise: N
  1. Yoga practitioners will often suffer from injuries
  2. Spinal ligaments are getting stretched beyond their anatomical function (jargon) when we do poses that take our spine into the C shape.
  3. The C shape of our spine is the bane of aging
  4. The human body is made of curves and spirals
Overarching Conclusions: N
  1. When posture is naturally aligned (jargon) the human body stays flexible
  2. Intense stretches to relieve tension of the parts are not needed.
  3. What has the most value is to remember our innate postural patterns (jargon) and preserve the natural integrity (jargon) of our spine and joints


Note: As mentioned, this article appeared in Elephant Journal, where comments were invited. If you feel like contributing to the discussion, please visit this page. Michaelle Edwards also provided her views there.


1 -- The article was given new life when William Broad reported on it on November 2, 2013 in a New York Times article titled Women's Flexibility is a Liability (in Yoga). Paul Grilley posted an analysis of this article on November 6, 2013 at Teachasana.
2 -- See Logical Self-Defense by Johnson and Blair - page 12
3 -- These levels were developed by Dr. Roy Walford and are described in his book 120 Year Diet, pages 22 - 25
4 -- For a more in-depth view of correlation in medical science, visit the website Science Based Medicine.
5 -- See the book What's the Worst Than Can Happen by Greg Craven, chapter four.
6 -- Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy states (Plate 478), "[the] Origin of the psoas major muscle [is] from vertebral bodies, transverse processes and intervertebral discs (T12 - L4) and origin of psoas minor muscle [is] from vertebral bodies (T12, L1)." Gray's Anatomy 39th Edition (page 1082) in describing the diaphragm states, "The medial arcuate ligament is a tendinous arch in the fascia that covers the upper part of the psoas major." Cover is not "connected". As shown in Netter's book (plate 189), the psoas passes through the diaphragm, but is not connected to it.
7 -- Ibid.
8 -- There is a dearth of peer-review experts available in the yoga community, which means all yoga articles and books suffer this low credibility ranking. We can only hope that one day some organization, perhaps the International Association of Yoga Therapists, will pick up the gauntlet and create a peer-reviewed magazine that will ensure greater credibility and quality of information for the yoga community.


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