October 12, 2013

Why We Need to Practice with Yoga Instructors.

Yoga instructors are getting a lot of bad PR these days.

There are all kinds of ’em making the news for all the wrong reason. In no particular order there are:  pervy yoga teachers (the ones who sleep with their students), narcissistic yoga teachers (can be identified by the 1000 selfies on Instagram and Facebook showing off in challenging poses), and greedy yoga teachers (those that are only in it for the money and want to be the next yoga superstar). While I would estimate that these types of instructors make up less than five percent of all the instructors out there, they get the most attention.

Another undeniable fact is that yoga is everywhere. There are thousands of books, YouTube videos, DVDs, etc. available for the public. Recent articles about home practice has even sparked some debate if actually seeing a yoga instructor is necessary. Shouldn’t everyone have a home practice? Isn’t a yoga practice really all about the individual?

While the answer to all the above may be yes, the truth is, a good teacher is essential to establishing a solid yoga practice. A friend of mine recently issued a challenge to those who say practice is the real teacher by asking them to wire a house from top to bottom by themselves and expect it to work perfectly, all without injuring themselves and/or having anything go wrong with the house.

He has a point. A very good point, in fact.

As both a yoga instructor and a student, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to obtain correct alignment. It’s easy to miss certain things—even while carefully viewing videos and pictures with even the best instructors in the world. Plus, let’s be honest. How many of us actually closely study the instructor in the DVD or book versus just looking and trying to copy the instructor? I certainly am guilty of the latter.

Even after a decade of consistent practice, I am still learning new things. For example, just last week in Mysore practice, I learned that the elbows should be off the floor in janu sirsasana/head to knee pose. I’ve probably done that pose over 1000 times and for all that time, I was doing it incorrectly.

Doing poses correctly isn’t just about doing them right, but they can also save one from painful, chronic injuries. Granted, injuries can happen in a studio with an experienced teacher, but anecdotally speaking at least, the majority I see happen at home. Even worse, however, are the cases when one has been practicing incorrectly for a long time and one day, something snaps, pops, breaks, etc—they end up sidelined for months, even years.

Least anyone think I am dumping on home practice, I am not. I agree that a home practice should be a part of any yogi’s practice. However, my point is, it should not be the only practice that one has.

For all the flack that they receive, yoga instructors do undergo training. They (hopefully) know what to look for. Despite the fact that I consider myself to have above-average body awareness, I still find myself shrugging my shoulders up by the ears when they should be down, and I find myself trying to lift myself up on my fingertips when my hands should be flat on the earth. While these may sound minor and trivial, overtime they can be huge problems. (For instance, the latter habit can result in permanent wrist injuries including “blowing out” the wrists.)

Lastly, along with constructive feedback, a good instructor can also give praise and let you know what you’re doing well. This is important. I tend to be my own worst critic. It’s entirely possible that without the encourage of a good instructor, I would have ended my yoga journey a long time ago.

There is a genuine real, need to practice with a live yoga instructor that has nothing to do with unscrupulous instructors trying to swindle their students. (Plus, I know better than most than unlimited packages often end up costing studios and instructors.)

Home practices are good, but maintaining a practice with a teacher is essential for advancing in yoga and preventing injuries.

The truth is all the books, videos and on-line tutorials are worthless if you are doing them incorrectly. Practicing with a teacher does not mean going to a studio every day or several times a month. However, see them. Get their feedback. Don’t think of going to a class and/or paying a teacher as an expense, but rather a long-term investment in yourself and your practice.


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Ed: Sara Crolick

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