March 7, 2012

It’s Not Any of Your Business.

Photo: Derrick Tyson

Illness, Injury, Privacy Management, and the Yoga Student.

As I write this post, I’m getting ready to go to a yoga class with an instructor I know, but whom I’ve not taken a class from before. And, I find myself feeling torn about whether or not to take him aside before class and mention the chronic illness(es) that I have, and how they impact my practice. I’m just not sure how I want to, or should, manage this situation, and I’m certain that I’m not the only person who faces this issue as a yoga student.

Many yoga classes begin with an instructor asking students, generally, if there are any body issues about which the instructor should be aware.

This moment is ripe with issues of the self and privacy management. But, I don’t think that we, as practitioners or teachers, generally unpack the dimensions present.

There are certainly good reasons for students to share information about body conditions with an instructor.

Such knowledge can help the instructor to be better able to provide variations on poses based on physical conditions. Additionally, verbal or physical adjustments may need to be altered to account for particular physical issues. Finally, it helps instructors to understand why a student is electing not to do certain poses, and clarifies the difference between a reasoned choice to not engage a pose and uncertainty about how to do so.

There are equally good reasons for students not to share.

Photo: ThePetiteOboist

A student may feel that, frankly, it is not the teacher’s business whether he/she has a physical condition. Yoga teachers are not doctors or therapists, and we have to recognize that. Students may also believe that they will be overheard in the classroom, and often there is not a more private moment or place to have the discussion. Finally, a student may feel that telling the instructor about the condition may make that student appear less capable or able, and potentially decrease the instructors willingness to push the student into more vigorous or deeper postures. And those are just the obvious or “logical” reasons to retain the information.

Communication privacy management theory (Petronio) suggests that we elect to withhold information primarily due to our understandings of ownership and risk.

We believe that information about the self belongs to us, and that we should control who that information is shared with, when, and how. The decisions we reach about when to engage in sharing are based, in large part, on the risks we perceive in sharing. Risks can be psychological (shame, sorrow), social (ostricization, unwanted attention), or relational (loss of a friendship, reduced power). Thus, there are many complex reasons behind why a student might not want to share physical information with a yoga teacher.

The selection to share, or not share, information about a physical condition in a yoga class can be impacted strongly by the culture of the yoga community, as well as larger cultural settings.

Photo: Dominique

A male student in a vinyasa class may feel it is more acceptable or less risky to indicate a sports-based injury than a genetic condition, because one might appear to culturally indicate strength, while the other may seem to indicate weakness. A female student in an ashtanga class may be more comfortable talking about an injury from a workplace incident than one sustained in yoga, because one might appear to be related to dedication, while the other may be seen as suggesting a lack of body mindfulness. In a culture that values ability and independence, it may be easier to speak about a slipped disc than fibromyalgia.

We have so much self wrapped up in our understandings of the physical body that a “simple” report of physical issues is never really simple.

Though both student and teacher may recognize the value of sharing such information, there is so much more that is concurrent with that exchange. As teachers and students, it is wise to consider how we ask for information, how we share (or don’t share) that information, and how we respond to disclosures about the body.

As for me, tonight, I took a pass on sharing. Maybe next time.


Editor: Tanya L. Markul

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