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November 20, 2015

Dear Yoga Teachers: Stop Hurting Yourself & Others.

Sami Taipale/Flickr

As I’ve been practicing yoga for close to 15 years, it’s not a big shock when I reveal that I have injuries.

Most people assume I caused them.

While that is true of some of them, the vast majority came from a surprising source. Namely, they came from yoga instructors giving me adjustments.

Most of them senior teachers who had trained with some of the best-known yoga instructors in the world and spent countless hours in workshops. None of them hurt me deliberately. Most of them thought they were merely helping me to go deeper in my practice, but the simple truth remains that I got hurt. And sometimes it was very, very badly.

A few examples that come to mind: Getting a hamstring injury when an instructor forced me into a forward fold, injuring my shoulder in a revolved triangle pose when I was put into the “correct” position and, most notably, getting a second degree mat burn when getting an adjustment in a reclined bound angle pose.

While most of these injuries healed, the shoulder injury nags me to this day.

My experiences with injuries have not only impacted my practice, but have also influenced how I teach yoga.

Simply put, I am not comfortable with adjusting students beyond the bare minimum (i.e. I may straighten a student’s arm in triangle).

When it comes to those deep adjustments, no way.

Despite being a registered 200-hour teacher, I know I don’t have the anatomy background necessary to do those deeper adjustments. I learned some basic anatomy in my training five years ago, but in no way was it comprehensive enough. I also know from my own body how much the body can change day from day or hour from hour. (The day before I got that hamstring injury, I was able to forward fold without a problem. That day, though, it was too much.)

Yoga teachers themselves have been known to get injured while adjusting others, too. A good friend of mine recently had surgery on her knee as the result of a student falling on her during an adjustment.

Furthermore—perhaps one of the direst secrets in the yoga community—there is a sort of weird pride amongst students and teachers in going over the edge. Many feel that if it hurts, then they must be doing it right or getting closer to being a “true” yogi.

However, this simply isn’t true. While yoga isn’t about the poses or physical asana, even those who view it merely as a means to stretch and work out are not going to be able to do so if they are injured.

Injuries—even minor ones—suck.

Therefore, I would like yoga instructors, especially those who teach Ashtanga and vinyasa, to lay off those deep adjustments—unless, of course, you really have the background in anatomy and physiology and, perhaps more importantly, really know your student’s body.

And by knowing your student’s body, I also mean checking in with them to see if they have any new injuries or if they are coming from an operation, having a baby, et cetera.

Much as yoga teachers aren’t doctors or therapists, they aren’t experts on human anatomy either. For the few who are, that’s not coming from yoga teacher training.

In my own teaching, I am more likely to recommend a modification, or perhaps a different pose entirely, than to try to get an uncooperative body into a certain pose.

Sometimes less really is more, and the best way that yoga teachers can help their students master their physical asana is by keeping their hands to themselves.

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Relephant Read:

Adjustments in the Classroom.

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Author: Kimberly Lo

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Sami Taipale/Flickr

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