Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Yoga and Injuries, the Awful Truth: Even Teachers Get Injured

There's been a lot of buzz about yoga and injuries around the blogosphere/web/news/world lately.

Ever since the New York Times hit the proverbial red button with its Yoga Can Wreck Your Body article, yogis have leaped into the fray to defend the practice.

Most of the criticism (and defensiveness) seems to center around training--the quality of it or lack thereof, alignment--the knowledge of it or lack thereof, and knowledge in general--or lack thereof.

Frankly, I agree: it's all of those things. Too many teachers are poorly trained, don't know squat about anatomy and alignment, and lack knowledge in general.

But here's the dirty little secret nobody wants to admit: there's also a sort of entitlement in the yoga realm and I think that can lead to injuries too. Maybe it even leads to more injuries than the first three factors.And I'll share why I think that.

I've been teaching for four years. I've been practicing for 12 . I'm certified through the Yoga Alliance. I'm an anatomy geek (as in, I love anatomy and learn more at every opportunity!), and I know even more about my own body, having resided in it for 34 years.

And I STILL got injured. Just a few weeks ago, in fact.

Here's the skinny: I tried a new studio two weeks ago. I'd heard really good things about the teacher from several people and I was excited to try his class. Things were going fine...until the end. He brought everyone into full wheel pose--an intense back bend.

I opted not to do the pose. I have some lower-back issues and wheel isn't a good (or safe) choice for me. So, instead, I happily lay on my mat in supported bridge.

Next thing I know, the teacher is standing over me, with one foot on either side of my head. (Um..Ewww. Thanks for the stellar view of your crotch, dude.)

"What's going on over here?" he asked.

I told him.

"Living a life of fear and resistance is no way to live at all," he responded condescendingly without missing a beat.

Note: We had never met before. He didn't even know my name, let alone what my lower-back issues were and therefore why wheel wouldn't work, let alone whether or not I live a life of "fear and resistance."

I explained that this wasn't the case. I explained again that I didn't want to do the pose. I hoped he'd go away.

He didn't. Instead, he said, "I have two leaking disks in my neck. But do I let that stop me from doing shoulderstand?"

If he wants to be able to walk in later life, he probably should let those leaking disks stop him from putting his whole body weight on them in shoulderstand. But I didn't say that. In hindsight, I should've.

As the rest of the class labored in wheel around us, he started arguing with me. He told me he sensed my resistance, but that I needed to do every pose. That I needed to overcome my fear of life. That I needed to harvest the mind-body benefits of every single pose. That everyone should. And then he said a bunch of other yoga-ish BS that kind of annoyed me.

I explained my philosophy that actually every person shouldn't do every pose. There's no one size fits all in yoga. And I'm OK with that. I'm OK with not doing wheel. In fact, I'm happy not doing wheel. I'm happy doing this modified practice that honors my body and its needs.

He seemed to relent, told me to hold his ankles.

"Oh, how nice! He's giving me a fun new modified pose to try!" I thought. (Stupid, stupid me.)

Instead, he reached over, grabbed my hips, and lifted me--against my will--into full wheel. I felt a sharp, pinching pain in my back and asked him to put me down.

"Just walk your feet together! Then it won't hurt!" he insisted, still holding me up in the air, my back over-arching against my will and ability.

I tried and it still hurt. "Please put me down!" I asked again.

"Just walk your hands together!" He insisted instead.


Finally, reluctantly, he put me down. But it was too late. The whole left side of my back was in terrible pain.

I sought him out after class, frustrated. I told him he was out of line and had had no right to force me against my will into a pose that I had told him wasn't safe for me to do.

He nervously shifted away from me. "I've taught 10,000 classes and you're one of only three people that's ever had a bad reaction," he said defensively.

"Three that you know about," I corrected, "who knows how many more were too ashamed to come tell you after you embarrassed them in front of the whole class! And three, by the way, is THREE TOO MANY!"

Hopefully, he will never put his hands on another student and force them to do ANYTHING they don't want to do. But even if he learned his lesson, he still learned it at the expense of a student (me in this instance) getting hurt.

This teacher was out of line, entitled, arrogant, and WRONG--a dangerous combination. It terrifies me how many more teachers are out there like him. My friend Dee pointed out that that would've never happened in a "fitness" class--and she's right. I cannot imagine a Body Pump or step teacher doing what this guy did. It's the yoga that made him think he had some cosmic connection of deep insight into someone he'd never met before.

And that's the ugliest part of this whole thing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day from a tiny Mutt

Pelu's learning the hard way that you may have to kiss a few of these before you find your prince.

Happy Valentine's Day, all! :)