October 31, 2014

Yoga Teachers Get Sick Too: 3 Ways to Yoga without Asanas.

Ryan Hyde/Flickr

Do yoga teachers get ill?

Say this with a tone of incredulity and you’ve got the gist of how some yoga students feel about their yoga teachers. Add in a little bit of shame and you’ll get how some yoga teachers feel when they announce they’re not well.

During a period of ill health that spanned about three and a half years, I spent time trying not to disappoint my yoga students as well as questioning my personal practice. During this time, my yoga teaching style and delivery was both challenged and changed.

I realized, as both a teacher and student of yoga, that yoga is not a cure for all ills or a miracle inoculation—it is not meant to be. Even though I couldn’t practice the poses and sequences I had learned as “yoga,” I instead got the opportunity to practice “the ability to withstand suffering and happiness equally.”

It turned out, in the end, that my poor health gave me more yoga than my yoga! 

Here are a few ways I got my daily doses of yoga, without the physical practice:

1. Ego-ball-busting-effects without signing up for every Yoga workshop in town.

There is nothing more ego-destroying than illness. To be unable to care for ourselves; to be weak and frightened; to have to ask others for help; to perhaps not even “be ourselves.” Maybe we are scatter-brained, angry, forgetful or impatient with the pain. Maybe we fight against the possibility that others who meet us whilst we are like this, will think this is us. We may want to explain that it isn’t. We may want to tell everyone that we are much better, smarter, stronger and more beautiful than what they see before them. These harsh times may just last a day or so, or weeks, or years.

2. Heart melting transformations (no backbends needed). 

To open our heart to ourselves during these difficult moments and to learn to just to live them and share them as they are, not as we would like them to be is a challenge. To rise to this challenge we need to find time each day to roll out our mat (or make our bed our practice mat) and just be.

3. Flexibility of body and mind.

Illness, stress, aging and death are all the parts of life that we may not voluntarily sign up for given half the chance. They are the parts of life many of us fight against and question regularly. There is no magic way to bypass these trials. During these times, I remind myself of a tale about a Guru and his student.

The Guru told the student to put a generous heaping of salt into his drinking glass and drink it. The student did and it had the expected results, basically , “Yuck!” Then the Guru asked the student to take a generous heaping of salt and put it into the river, and then take a glass of water from the river and drink it. The water was delicious.

If we can open up and make space for those things in our life that are difficult and keep moving forward, they will be much easier to digest.

We have a culture, now, that is too quick to take anything and everything, natural or prescription and to include Yoga within that mix in order to hurry along/remove our offending symptoms. We might then fill the time in between ill health and health berating the body and wracking our mind with thoughts of how this is wasting our time, bothering us, letting us down. We may think life is being a pain and that we are in pain for no good reason—nothing we can put our finger on anyhow.

Now, each time I find myself battling with the ravages of a body out of balance I stop.

I breathe.

I make space.

I wait.

Then I ask my body what it needs and try to listen with compassion. My Yoga time has transformed from a place of gymnastics and fighting to become something better—to be my place to stop, to breathe, to wait and listen.

As a Yoga teacher, I now regularly share this information with my students. I also offer the advice:

If your Yoga teacher is ill, please don’t say on their return “I thought you didn’t get ill?”

They’ll silently thank you for it.




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Author: Sonia Welch

Apprentice Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Ryan Hyde via Flickr



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