Saturday, September 30, 2017

How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body and The Answer

Teaching yoga is not just another job, it is constant learning, struggle and preferably, joy.  It’s important for a teacher to be versed in the new ideas, as well as old principles and texts that yoga was founded upon.

What I’m sharing with you today isn’t the commonplace yoga read most yogis already know. These two articles are coming from a fascinating, often surreal, sinister and inspiring yoga world.

I concluded that yoga world is a wild place to be. I recommend these articles that will not only challenge the conception of yoga teaching but will change the way the teachers view the fragile human body.

The five years old article by The New York Times, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” (William Broad, Jan. 5, 2012) is still actual. The article is labeled as an offending material for $5billion yoga industry. The article was written by senior science writer William Broad. In it, he had at length conversation with the local yoga veteran Glenn Black.

“Is this yoga?” he asked as we sweated through a pose that seemed to demand superhuman endurance. “It is if you’re paying attention.” His approach was almost free-form: he made us hold poses for a long time but taught no inversions and few classical postures. Throughout the class, he urged us to pay attention to the thresholds of pain. “I make it as hard as possible,” he told the group. “It’s up to you to make it easy on yourself.” He drove his point home with a cautionary tale. In India, he recalled, a yogi came to study at Iyengar’s school and threw himself into a spinal twist. Black said he watched in disbelief as three of the man’s ribs gave way — pop, pop, pop.

After class, I asked Black about his approach to teaching yoga — the emphasis on holding only a few simple poses, the absence of common inversions like headstands and shoulder stands. He gave me the kind of answer you’d expect from any yoga teacher: that awareness is more important than rushing through a series of postures just to say you’d done them. But then he said something more radical. Black has come to believe that “the vast majority of people” should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.

Not just students but celebrated teachers too, Black said, injure themselves in droves because most have underlying physical weaknesses or problems that make serious injury all but inevitable. Instead of doing yoga, “they need to be doing a specific range of motions for articulation, for organ condition,” he said, to strengthen weak parts of the body. “Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.”

- How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body by The New York Times

Many yoga teachers, yoga studio owners, as well as yoga bloggers wrote their 2 cents about the article. Here, well-known yoga teacher, Sadie Nardini, wrote the response to the previous article, published by Elephant Journal.

Students: What I’d look for in any instructor is not what yoga lineage they’re from as much as how much anatomy training they’ve had, and from whom. It’s one thing to take 20 hours of basic movement and learn the main bone and muscle names in a teacher training, and quite another to spend, say, three semesters of intensive Yoga Anatomy training from Kaminoff.

Look for trusted anatomy of yoga resources like the following, and educate yourself. You don’t have to be a yoga instructor or advanced practitioner to gain the knowledge of how your body works–and doesn’t–in your poses...

Bottom line:

It’s your body–don’t trust it to just anyone. Ask any prospective yoga teacher what, if any yoga injuries they’ve had, and if, for example, they’re about to go into spinal surgery from years of severely over-expressing themselves in yoga posture, then move on.

In addition, each student has a responsibility to check themselves before they wreck themselves in class. You might not know everything about yoga poses or anatomy, but you do know the feeling when you’re pushing too hard.  So when the urge to go all agro on a pose arises, whether it’s to strain toward strength or flexibility, it’s ultimately up to you to resist the ego’s siren song–something that leads even more experienced yogis to push their limits, then act mystified at the fact that this supposedly ‘healing’ practice hurt them instead.

Yoga isn’t healing if you refuse to act in balance whether on or off the mat. It can lead to your dysfunction just as easily. Yoga is there to reveal your current habits to you, and give you a chance to move toward health–or away–in every moment.  How students and instructors choose to align–or not–with their individual needs, their integrity and common sense will manifest itself in the body as either greater equanimity, strength and freedom, or less.

Teachers: Do everything I suggested that your students do, including commit to a regular evolution of your anatomy knowledge. Study in person with some of the great anatomy minds, and ask questions about the poses you regularly teach.

Do your own personal yoga practice, consistently. So many of you practice less than your students, and it’s easy to fall out of connection with your own body and, therefore,  stunt your growth and deeper understanding of the poses.

I did agree completely with Mr. Black when he said that teachers can’t ever learn as much from training as they can from direct experience. See? Never discount what you can learn from a teacher just because you disagree with some of their views–you’ll gain much more insight this way.

Question even what your main teachers taught you, especially if it doesn’t feel right in your own body. Remove aggressive language like “push” or “straighten” or “tighten” – and constant suggestions that the students go farther and farther in every moment. Sometimes progress means that they back off, or rest. The body has a point with both strength and flexibility when farther is too far.

And, in my opinion, don’t ever do a hard or forceful adjustment on your students’ bodies.  They are where they are for a reason: strength and flexibility is a slow progression. A clear verbal instruction and light touch are all that should be needed. Any more than that is you taking over their process. We as teachers are here to empower, not enable.

In conclusion, yogis, know this:

When you think about it, basically, anything and everything you do could potentially kill or injure you. Life itself is a crapshoot, and yet if you want to reap its rewards, like loving more completely, moving your body, doing your life’s work and trying new adventures–you’re gonna have to risk it.

Be safe, educate yourself, trust your intuition, don’t push–only press–forward, and remember to act with truth and passion, and not from fear. After all…life’s a crazy ride. Better enjoy it while you can.

- Sadie Nardini Responds to “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.”

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