Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Safety in Yoga

The yoga world (and my facebook newsfeed) exploded a little bit with the release of the New York Times Magazine article dramatically entitled, "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body."

Reactions were varied - some cried "Amen!", some felt it had interesting points, and others (mostly teachers) were horrified at the scare-tactic feeling of the article.  Using rather dramatic words like "wreck," focusing more on anecdotal evidence and less on scientific evidence, and most of all, implying that yoga causes more harm than good.

A huge number of responses have since been shared throughout the Internets, and here's my uncharacteristically brief two cents:

Yoga asana (the physical practice of yoga) can potentially cause injury.  Yoga asana can potentially aid in the rehabilitation of an injury.

Some yoga teachers can be careless, either by not checking in with their students to see what injuries they may be dealing with or by placing too much importance on their students going "deeper" into a pose when it may not be good for them.  Some yoga teachers are phenomenal at tailoring each class to the specific students they have in front of them, offering copious options for each fitness level, and creating a safe space in their class.

Some students are overzealous, may push themselves too hard, or won't share with their teachers an injury out of shyness or ego.  Some students check their ego at the door, taking care that they don't place more importance on the poses than on their physical capacities.

In yoga, like in any other activity anywhere, accidents happen.  There are good teachers and not so good, mindful students and not so mindful students.  Realistically, we all have a bit of both in us.

What's crucial to remember is that one of the integral elements of a yoga practice is ahimsa - non-harming.  It's up to each individual who has chosen to practice yoga, however they practice it and for whatever reason, to respect and protect their bodies as part of that practice.  Otherwise, is it even really yoga?

During my Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training, my wonderful teacher started the training by telling us she wasn't going to give us a list of poses to do and not do for pregnant women.   You can't generalize any segment of the population with a list of do's and don'ts.  The key to being a good teacher, she said, is to teach to the students you have in front of you.  Cater to them in all their unique needs and levels.  It makes you a true teacher, then, and not just someone parroting a sequence they've learned.

This seemingly obvious but absolutely necessary advice is something that can be applied to every class, every teacher, every student.  Work with what you have, not with what you wish you had.  Be mindful, be present, be safe.  That's yoga.

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