Jim Harrington speaks out. A message to the author of Natural Born Heroes.

Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall



I opened Christopher McDougall’s book in the bookstore to get a feel for it. He had me at, “It takes a very affluent and indulged culture to convince itself that standing around in weird positions is exercise. Have you ever used yoga for anything useful? No. Has anyone ever shouted Quick, Sun salute for your life! ”


The first page I read was bashing yoga, I bought the book immediately.


It’s important to engage with oppositional views and there is a healthy debate here that gets to a clearer understanding of the subject.


This has been my life’s mission. To make yoga more relevant and meaningful to people who are interested in more than just “standing around in weird positions” and trying to get their leg behind their head. Not that there is anything wrong with the pursuit of excellence in doing weird positions. I also love that stuff, but I think that it should be done in a way that it enhances a person’s life. I first took up yoga in the 80’s because I was surfing so much that my back was seizing up and because the then heroes of surfing culture, like Tom Carrol and Mark Occhilupo, where talking about it. It took me about a decade and several injuries to figure out that my body was over flexible and some yoga postures were not helping me.


I have actually heard a few people say that the yoga ‘saved their life.’

A mountaineer that I was training told me that when he fell into a glacial crevasse in a blizzard and was hanging off his rope, the yoga breathing that I had been teaching him saved him from panicking and probably saved his life.

Anyway, I loved the book and it inspired me to run and jump all over the mountains here with new enthusiasm. I loved this line too. “ Being fit isn’t about being able to lift a bar or finish an ironman. It’s about rediscovering our biological nature and releasing the wild human animal inside. “

…But in response to the scathing attack on Yoga, here are a few points that I would like to make.

1. Yoga isn’t really exercise- it has been constructed as a kind of workout in its modern incarnation in the last 80 years or so. By the way I loved the comment in the book that said that most people have a poor attitude toward exercise. “They think of it as punishment for being too fat.” That is also true of plenty of yoga classes, but the thing is they generally end up feeling better by accepting their imperfections.

2. Yoga can be used to relearn natural and healthy biomechanics for people who have been in chairs for too long or people who have developed an unnatural posture by overworking parts of the body.

3. The way that I like to teach and practice is very much in line with the philosophy of practicing natural movement patterns so that the joints stay stable and fluid.

There are people teaching yoga that do not know or do not care about the balancing of strength and flexibility. There are plenty of poorly trained Yoga teachers in India and the West who have no understanding of functional anatomy.

They may not really understand for example that a hinge joint does not really rotate well like a ball and socket joint or that the sacroiliac joint is not good for side ways flexion.

Good quality yoga brings a healthy and youthful exuberance, ease and positive mindset. This makes yoga a great cross trainer for any other activity and gives a base of agility that is a kind of low-level fitness on its own.

4. The mental aspect of yoga is the more important. This is probably what Christopher McDougall has missed. Doing weird positions is the surface view. Under the surface there is an internal struggle going on. Yoga is not just weird standing positions; it is also about standing your ground or holding your own.


If you still do not understand then try this:


Exercise One:

Go to the wall,

Put your hands down on the floor and kick up to a handstand.

Now, stay there for as long as you can.

Observe what goes on mentally.

How was that?

Exercise Two:

Stand and bend backwards as far as you can.

Try to look at your heels from behind.

Hold a steady gaze.

Stay there for a few minutes.

How is the feeling, what goes on?

Uncomfortable isn’t it?

Some people love a good handstand or a good back bend. They would have been able to get into either with ease. Most people would have experienced waves of fear, dread, anxiety and all sorts of other things. Mind stuff comes up because the mind is rebelling and resisting the position.

The question is: ‘are you able to stay there with that beyond what is comfortable, practice equanimity and be steady in the mind?’

Fact: being ‘steady of mind’ is a trainable skill.

It’s not that different to digging deep on a hill climb or focusing in an intense match moment. That place is where the real yoga is. If you are just posing away at the yoga class and it is not challenging you because you did gymnastics as a kid, then there is no transformation of body and mind going on.

The tradition naturally involves austerity or discomfort in some way.

5. A deeper level.

The practices of body positions are just one aspect of the traditional practice. The practice involves a more subtle breath and a mind focusing exercise. Even though they are not exercises in the conventional sense; they do not fall into the category of strength training or cardio.

They are used for becoming familiar with the subtle energy, which is traditionally called Prana. Prana is said to be ‘that which moves behind and alongside other forms of circulation like blood flow, neural activity (including thoughts and emotions), lymphatic and cerebrospinal circulation, and the transfer of oxygen at cell level’.

Fact: oxygen transfer to the cells is increased by around 18 times in the presence of high levels of carbon dioxide. This can be achieved through retaining ones breath or very minimal breathing known as hypo-ventilation. Most people think that breathing more brings more oxygen to the cells but actually it is the opposite. This kind of thing is what Yogis in the Himalayas have been practicing for thousands of years.

It is a far cry from the spandex brigade of washed up dancers that pass as yoga teachers displaying their flexibility in gyms across the country.

In conclusion:

The short answer is…

Yoga is a practice of mindfulness that involves the body in its entirety, including the connective tissues, nervous system, the organs, and joints. It can be a great tool to maintain health in all systems and to maintain a natural and youthful body. It’s also a system that leads to understanding psychology.

But NO, it’s not really an exercise program.

It is an ancient art of healing and the understanding of one self through deliberate discomfort.

That’s my view for the day.

Have a great day or should I say have a challenged day and stay with it.


Best Regards, Jim.


About Lynette Morris

Yoga teacher, blogger and organic addict

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