Pain Bodies in Yoga Class. [Whose "fault" is it?]

Via on Aug 6, 2009

picture-113Pain Bodies in the Classroom. Whose Fault is it?

by Sarah Miller

I’ve taught more than a couple thousand yoga classes in the last five to six years. 99% of the time, there are no outstanding issues.99% of the time, there are no issues that could hinder you from being able to teach again—or make you question why you’re teaching in the first place. And while the job of a yoga instructor is complex—handling numerous, unique physiologies—the majority of one’s feedback is generally positive and life enhancing.

When a person functions from the level of pain body (which we all do at least occasionally) the blame game is more likely to occur. A person who doesn’t take responsibility for their actions—all of them—lets others know that they’ve been harmed, accosted or victimized in some way. This is classic pain body mentality. Normally you can spot it, and protect yourself. As an instructor, you may be dealing with a room full of pain bodies. Offering a class that nurtures, honors, uplifts, inspires and helps your students transcend this mental cycle is truly the challenge.

If a student tells you that they’ve injured themselves in your class—or you have injured them in a class, then obviously this is an opportunity of growth. For both of you. Can you learn from this? If so, what are the crucial lessons and insights you’ve gained as a teacher?

There are two examples so far in my experience that have had to make me think—one quite recent. In each of these examples I was blamed as the culprit—that I personally injured the individual somehow. There is a similarity here in the stories: pain bodies. I thought about all the modifications I’d given, all the props that we’d used, all the adjustments I’d made. And it wasn’t good enough. In fact I realized that for these situations, nothing was ever going to be good enough. The individuals wanted to be angry about the class, angry at me and angry that yoga “doesn’t work.”

My question is:

How much responsibility lies with the teacher and how much in the students themselves?

At this point, I’ve decided that these experiences have helped me grow and offered picture-211me some excellent food for contemplation. I feel more confident about refusing certain students as well, which I think is something all teachers need to consider from time to time. Perhaps we’re just not a right fit for each other, and another instructor is what they need? Or perhaps they aren’t ready to start a yoga practice?

We all have to take responsibility for our actions. As an instructor, your job is to make sure all are safe and leave the class better than when they arrived. Then, at some point you have to surrender. You can’t do the asanas for the students. You can’t decide what their outcome will be.

You can only set a certain intention and strive to maintain that goal. Hopefully it will be a win/win situation.

*Photos courtesy of Jon Fife, Michele Fife and SevaYoga.

About Saraswati J.

Saraswati J. is a Jyotish Coach and Consultant, bridging ancient wisdom with a Body-centered approach to Expressive Art Therapy. Her Jyotish work is especially well suited to the extra sensitive artists, mystics and healers---and those looking for insights for their dharmic path. Check out her website and find her on Facebook. Additionally, she creates unique adornments with the urban goddess in mind. Check out her jewelry at Swati Jr* Jewelry {Be A Goddess. Be Adorned.} #BeAGoddess and also on Facebook.

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7 Responses to “Pain Bodies in Yoga Class. [Whose "fault" is it?]”

  1. Ann says:

    This should stir conversation from other teachers as well as practioners. I'll be curious to read what is posted.

  2. Lisa says:

    I was injured after a well-meaning teacher decided to push my sacrum when I was in downward dog – took me three painful weeks to recover – my advice to any teacher is to always ask before touching or physically correcting and to always request students to listen to their bodies and to create space within themselves, especially when pushing the envelope.

  3. [...] Miller of Elephant Journal recently began the discussion about “whose fault is it?” when a student is injured in a [...]

  4. ARCreated says:

    I would be curious to hear the injuries that you were faced with? I tend to adjust people "out" of poses rather than "into" them as it seems most people push themselves too far so (knock on wood) I haven't had this happen…
    I don't ask every time I adjust — my regulars get their favorite adjustments I guess, but I do often whisper guidance and ask for feedback…for instance I NEVER do the forward fold laying on someone adjustment without first asking if they have more space — even if I have done it with them before as everyday is different…I also always ask students to bend their knees in dog if I am going to do the low back push and straighten into the push so they control the level.
    but you are correct that in the end some people are just cranky – don't let it scare you…

  5. [...] they may be backing out of a pose not only because it is physically uncomfortable, but it may be bringing up some emotional discomfort, or they simply feel nauseous in this [...]

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