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.
Thank you, Kaoverii. Once again you bring us back to center in our teaching and our practice. I was just having some concern today after teaching that one of my young (35) students might not be challenged enough, even though I give variations. She keeps coming back and from the look on her face after structured breath and meditation, I have to realize that it IS enough….and a blessing to have a practice that touches our True Nature AND keeps us safe!
Thanks so much Carol – I agree! Yoga can be very powerful without being risky if you know what you are doing.
Thank you Kaoverii. A greatly appreciated post I plan to share.
Thanks Linda! So nice to hear from you!
Thank you for reminding me to stay true my practice. To remain honest with myself and others that share the yoga journey.
This is a wonderful reminder of creating more strength as well as flexibility. Finding a nice balance between the physical, and inner exploration to guide students away from trying to do the poses the way they see them in magazines is a challenge for teachers in today’s western yoga. I have many students who appreciate a more gentle approach to yoga, so I feel blessed to attract the students I want to teach. Sometimes we think by looking at certain students they want a more “power” type class when really if we ask them, they are happy to find a calming and centering class. After all, there are many exercise classes they can take for a more physically intense workout. Yoga doesn’t have to fill that spot.
Thank you Susan. I have found that too. Sometimes the people that look like they really want to work out, spend lots of time in Childs pose. I appreciate them for listening to what their body needs!
Hi! It’s my first time commenting but I wanted to let you know how much I love your work! I am a Canadian teaching in Hungary, Europe for 2-3 years now. Since it’s my own business, I teach the way I see fit. It’s a great privilege (and advantage) if you deeply believe in the therapeutic aspects of yoga practice. Recently I have spent 6 weeks in Canada where I took some yoga classes in the style of vinyasa of various bases. I have to tell you that I was surprised and buffled by the speed with which yoga has transformed into acrobatics. While teaching in Canada I was considered a “tough” teacher who focused her teachings around the breath and (well) the core. But this “tough” girl has become a little bit wiser perhaps over the years of teaching people with different problems and conditions and having quite a few issues of her own. So after classes there I felt utterly exhausted and riddled with questions as to why Ifeel that way. After all I have been a practitioner for 20 years and an inquisitive teacher for 10. “The stuff these people can do”, I thought. Aren’t they in pain? And “where is the yoga (yok) in this extreme effort?” One (by the way brilliant) young teacher said he was never injured from yoga before or in pain in general and he also said it had nothing to do with age. This got me deeper into thoughts regarding my own abilities.
After all I did find the yoga in all of this: and that was letting it go. I reminded myself that “it is now in your ego” and that is not where unity can be found. I made peace with it but keep on wondering how other students with perhaps less experience do in the face of what seems to me as a competitive style of instructing. And all of this, of course, begs the question: where is yoga headed?
Thank you so much for writing! Your experience and insights are really appreciated! In my experience, it seems like (and this is purely anecdotal) a lot of men are not getting injured in the same way. I wonder if this is because they typically aren’t as hypermobile or because they are not expected to do as much contortion. I don’t know. But at any rate, like you said, there’s an element of letting go that is particularly helpful. I have experienced more and more of that in recent years as I’ve let go of this idea that I have the right way to teach everyone and that people should be studying with me. I simply have one perspective (which I’m happy to loudly share LOL!), but people truly need to find their own path. The diamond shines only after a lot of filing and polishing. lots of love and appreciation. P.S. Please feel free to join my online community so you can keep in touch from afar. It would be nice to connect more. https://www.facebook.com/groups/174237752627648/
Great post! My students probably get sick of hearing me responding to them with: “It’s not about how it looks. It’s about how it FEELS to YOU in YOUR body. This is YOUR practice.” I can’t help but giggle when I hear those words coming from one student to another. Planting those seeds Koovari!
With much love and appreciation for all that you do,
Thanks Tammie! This stuff definitely has that ripple effect. Thank you for sharing your passion with others! The world needs more love and self-acceptance.
As a teacher preparing to teach a targeted group of those with a history of illness and obesity, I enter with great caution. I am reminding myself that yoga is NOT just a pose but an approach of mindfulness and awareness. I believe that with that as the guide post, my students will blossom like flowers—opening with grace and ease and always honoring their bodies.
You are awesome Pamela! Thanks so much for sharing this work – so many people are benefiting from your gifts! Yes, let’s all blossom!
Thank you for this brave and outspoken post, Kaoverii. Although I practiced poses in my younger years that I can no longer do , at least in the same manner, I never did push to do do extreme poses even though I had good flexibility. The happy result is that at age 71 I still have no pain in my body. Even when I do rather intense (for my age) strength and aerobic work outs with “non yogis”, I do not experience soreness like some of the younger folks do. I think this is because I know how to listen to my body and practice good alignment as I’m exercising. I am ever grateful for finding yoga in my younger days. I appreciate your teaching, Kaoverii!
Thanks so much Sue. You are truly an inspiration and role model for younger teachers. Thank you for continuing to share your journey!