On Facebook yesterday morning I saw yet another high-profile teacher post about needing hip replacement surgery. Later, I went to teach my regular Tuesday morning class. We were doing some low lunges and I was cueing my students to move mindfully and carefully with adequate resistance in order to safely stretch the psoas – rather than forcing yourself to go lower into the pose just to make it look “like it should.”
I also told a story of one of the first yoga classes I took in the U.S when I returned from living in Asia for 4 years. The teacher was brilliant and beautiful. She was super flexible and also deeply knowledgeable about the tradition. I remember in the first class I took with her (this would’ve been in 1995), there were several hypermobile young women in the front row who were very deep in the lunge, with their hips really close to the floor, they were so flexible. Then I said, “and now, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them are chronically injured. Because with that kind of body, what you really need is more stability, not more mobility.”
Anyway, right before savasana, one of my newer students (who has only been to my class a handful of times) motioned me over. With tears in her eyes she whispered, “I used to go to Jiivamukti classes when I lived in New York. I loved it, it was so spiritual. But now, I’m in chronic pain, and I know it’s because I’m so flexible and I did things I shouldn’t’ve.” I told her that healing is possible, that she can build up strength, and that I hoped she would keep coming to class, and we could work on it together.
But, whew…wow, it was heavy and sad to say the least. The thing is that I never mentioned the lineage of my New Jersey teacher, but she was also trained in Jiivamukti yoga. I don’t like to slam specific styles – I’m not interested in mudslinging. Besides, I loved the classes – my teacher had such a brilliant, inspiring way about her. But still, I’m sure some of those people who were in classes with me back then and who kept practicing for years like that, are now injured. I don’t know how much my teacher really understood about anatomy, kinesology, and stretching at that time – really, how much did any of us understand back then? We had all been fed the idea that forcing your body into risky poses was somehow spiritual.
Maybe we didn’t know better?
Maybe we sorta knew, but we were young and didn’t care?
Honestly, when I first got to Asheville in 2001, I taught stuff that I neither should have been doing nor teaching – I was definitely gentler than most teachers, but I didn’t understand what I understand now, and I worry that people sustained injuries. And then I think about how it was hard to make a living back then if you didn’t teach really difficult, risky poses – and it’s still hard to make a living if you don’t teach like that.
I am pretty sure, that as long-term teachers and practitioners continue to age, we are going to continue to see an even greater epidemic of injuries. So many people have been exploiting their hypermobility for so long – it’s an unsustainable way to practice.
What we can do, as teachers, and as a community, is continue to grow our knowledge base about safety, to be vigilant about not only offering but encouraging options, focus on teaching not only poses but the deeper skill of self-reference, and provide ample opportunities for self-compassion and self-acceptance.
You don’t have to destroy your body for yoga. Your own yoga practice – done in a way that it supports you – is not only good enough, it is beautiful.
Learn to teach safe, sustainable yoga. Check out our yoga teacher training program here. It begins January 19 in Asheville.