Structural Integration - Deep Tissue Bodywork, Posture and Movement Education

"When the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneosly, the body heals itself."
Ida Rolf, Ph.D.

“Yoga is Evil”

November 9, 2009 : Articles

“Yoga is Evil”: A healthy approach to stretching
[Published in the April 2006 issue of Vision Magazine]

I once took a class from an instructor at one of the local massage schools. John Economos has this interesting Zen master approach to teaching, which to some can come off as him simply being rude and arrogant. But by taking a closer look I found there to be an underlying message he’s going for, or at the least he wants to stimulate a unique dialogue.

The first day of class he decides to hit us with a shocking phrase to the holistic practitioners in attendance, “Yoga is evil”. The bewildered faces of the people around me were amusing, but I admit I was a little taken aback too.

Since I knew something about John’s extensive training in therapeutic bodywork and movement education I decided to approach him, to probe a little deeper into his intentions. After all, I had been through my share of bad Yoga classes and therefore I was a little intrigued. His response was that many Yoga classes are taught incorrectly and can actually be damaging; this resonated with my experience.

Since the Yoga boom in the states we have seen many of these classes offered in new and interesting places. Something that was once considered a fringe practice in the U.S.A. has become mainstream in recent years. While this integration into the collective consciousness is a welcomed shift, it has unfortunately diluted the true intention. Originating as a spiritual practice in India, Yoga is a lifestyle that one chooses to accept. The asana meditation that many gyms and spas teach as an aerobic stretching technique is only one part of a holistic approach to uniting the higher and lower self. There are really eight “limbs” of Yoga, the asana practice being only one of them. A Yogi embodies a lifestyle that respects all and deepens his/her relationship to the world through service.

Sometimes I feel a little odd when people ask if I “do” Yoga, it’s comparable to asking if I “do” art. Yoga is something one becomes, not something one does. Of course I know what they mean. No, I don’t go to a class to stretch every morning for a set length of time. Although I think stretching is an important practice that should be done on a regular basis to maintain flexibility. This is especially true for those of us who are active. Most exercise shortens connective tissues that need length to stay flexible and healthy. Granted, this should be done with some awareness of what needs length and how to find a comfortable way to stretch that doesn’t strain those tissues.

Now, stretching isn’t everything. Dr. Rolf, who developed Structural Integration, believed that connective tissue is in its most vital and natural state when balanced by being neither too loose nor too tight. A simplified version of this would be looking at a basic hinge joint. If there is too much tension on one side of the joint it will lose flexibility when trying to swing in the opposite direction. A joint in this position over time can cause undue wear on the structures designed to protect, support and cushion the bones where they meet. This includes connective tissues such as cartilage, intervertebral disks, bursa and many other vital components of our articular system. When that structure is aligned appropriately in gravity, movement becomes less of a burden, much freer. Posture also plays a huge role in this and excessive tension can certainly misalign the whole structure as well as individual joints.

A basic stretch I want to review here is one that most people can use. For one reason or another many of my clients have problems due to excessively tight hamstrings. This can manifest as tension and/or pain locally at the back of the thigh beneath the buttocks and it is commonly implicated in lower back problems. To stretch the hamstrings we are going to approach them one at a time starting with the left side. First tune into your breath; deep, relaxed and full breathing helps oxygenate your tissues. Focusing the breath on each area you are stretching makes the stretch much more effective. Sit on the ground, preferably on carpet or a Yoga mat on hard flooring, and extend your left leg. Your right leg is going to rest comfortably on the floor on its side bent at your hip and with that knee bent at about a 90 degree angle. Now, extend your left heel by slightly flexing your foot. You may feel a slight stretch in the back of your calf.

Next, I’d like for you to start by bending forward at your hips. A common way people do this stretch incorrectly is by reaching forward to the toes with their hands. Remember we are seeking to lengthen the back of your leg, arching forward and stretching out the torso doesn’t achieve this end. We want to focus on bending at the hips and keeping your spine erect, thereby sending your sitbones back and away from the heel that is extended forward. Now find a comfortable place where you feel slight resistance that is neither painful nor strenuous. If you can touch your toes without straining that’s great, but this isn’t necessarily the end goal. I want you to hang out at this place of resistance for a while, at least 90 seconds. Since there are three separate muscles in the hamstrings see if you can progress through each one. When one releases, go a little deeper into the stretch, again finding resistance and not straining to push yourself past it. Just relax. Breathe. When you are ready to come out of the stretch, slowly backtrack through these steps.

Yogic asanas are powerful techniques and with the proper approach can be gateways to better health, mentally and physically. Keeping our bodies in balance is a lifetime study resulting in improved vitality and longevity. I hope to enhance your perception in some way by sharing this holistic vision that perhaps Yogi’s, Dr. Rolf and John Economos can all agree upon. The key is to listen to your body, breathe and let your mind get out of the way.

Archie Underwood, BA, HHP is a Rolf Practitioner of Structural Integration.
He has an office and teaches in San Diego, CA. You can reach him at: or by phone: (619)861-3232