The reason that I fell so deeply in love with yoga—and so quickly—was because it helped me to heal an injury deep in my hip that I developed in college.
This injury eventually kept me from rowing, kept me from running, and made it wildly uncomfortable to sit still for long periods of time. I was 22 and my body always hurt, which made me terrified of getting older.
And then I walked into a yoga studio, kept coming back every day, and slowly, finally, my hip stopped hurting. I felt like myself again.
And I was so f*cking stoked about this life-changing experience of healing an injury—that doctors said would require surgery—just by being in a hot room and doing some weird poses, that I wanted to share that feeling with everyone I met.
In March of 2016, I quit my cozy job at a large tech company to teach yoga and blog full time.
I was burnt out, was on a career track that I wasn’t especially passionate about, and knew that if I didn’t at least try to teach yoga full time, I would always wonder if it would’ve worked. I walked out of my office with a box full of things thinking I’d never go back to an office again, that I’d spend the rest of my career years in leggings and sports bras, and I would never again feel that unhappy.
I’m still so proud of myself for taking that leap, for trying something new. It was terrifying and hard—and many people thought I was crazy. But I had to see what would happen.
For the first few months, things were absolutely perfect. It was summer in Seattle, so I got to spend my days outside writing and then teaching yoga in the evenings. I donated all of my professional clothes, and my friends and I joked about burning bras. I got engaged. I was promoted to help manage the studios that I worked for. I’d met dozens of wonderful men and women who were passionate about the same things I was, and others who’d left big companies to pursue their own passions. I was introduced to the wonderful community of female entrepreneurs in Seattle. I was invited to join my boss in leading a yoga retreat in Mexico. All of it was refreshing and wonderful. I was sweaty and happy all of the time, and I felt like this was the life that I was supposed to live.
And then, at the end of January, 2017, I was driving to teach class across town and was sitting at a stoplight when somebody ran into my car so hard that it hit the car in front of me.
In the yoga world, there is no health insurance unless you buy it yourself, so mine was terrible. The accident conveniently happened across the street from a fire station, so a bunch of helpful people immediately ran over, helped me out of my car, and then ushered me into the back of an ambulance. “You are probably very injured,” a nice, older fireman told me. “Please move slowly so you don’t hurt your neck. You probably are going to have terrible whiplash.”
My husband (fiancé at the time) was out of the country for a rowing convention and I couldn’t reach him. The car that I had bought a few months before was smashed. By the time I got home, I could barely move. It was just me and my brother. I laid on the couch, pretty freaked out about going to sleep because I didn’t know how my back and neck would react. I called my boss in tears. My whole job relied on movement, and I could tell within hours of getting into that accident that movement was going to be very painful for a while. Probably even for a long time.
And I know that some of my friends are tired of hearing about it. F*ck, I’m tired of hearing about it from my own body. But this injury, those stupid few seconds in January of last year, ended up teaching me things that I would never have learned otherwise.
The moment that I was no longer able to practice yoga in the same was like lifting a veil. I saw a lot of things that people had previously complained to me about the yoga world that I hadn’t paid much attention to, and that new knowledge was important. It pointed to a lot of flaws in a system, a community, that I had so deeply believed in. It showed me many of the issues with yoga in America. I started to really question the intentions behind yoga. I started to worry a lot about what we were doing.
And there were a few instances that really made me pause.
Within the same week the accident happened, a Bikram teacher wrenched me into a position so uncomfortable that I started to cry. After I’d told them that I was just in a serious car accident. After I had asked them not to touch me during class. After I had told them that I would probably end up laying on the floor for most of class and taking things slow.
When I told a teacher that my body hurt so much that I couldn’t practice that day, let alone barely lift my head up, they looked at me and said, “I don’t believe in that. I believe in healing the body through mindful movement. You are just going to make your injury worse.”
That same day, I had an appointment with my massage therapist. She touched my neck and said, “Oh honey, this must hurt so much. I am so sorry. It’s been a long time since I felt whiplash this bad.” And I felt validated in how my body was feeling.
In a different yoga class, I quickly realized that I couldn’t make it through. My neck was spasming and cramping and I was fighting off tears. I sat down. Another student looked at me and mouthed, what are you doing? I pointed at my neck and mouthed back, car accident. She rolled her eyes. She did a headstand. She seemed disgusted that I was being so lazy. I was, to be honest, disgusted with myself in that moment too. Why couldn’t I just push my body through? I had been a collegiate rower; doing some yoga shouldn’t be this painful.
I read on a yoga website that depression is something that can be cured by meditation and yoga, and that everybody should throw out their pills and stop cheating themselves. I was terrified that a community that I loved so much was saying so many dangerous things.
I kept hearing about people who had been injured in yoga classes. I kept meeting people who had been teachers for decades who suddenly walked away and never went back to their mat. I met a handful of people who had traded yoga for Pilates—for the simple reason that Pilates just had so much more information and training behind it.
Here’s the thing. To be a yoga teacher (myself included), we have to take 200 hours of training. That’s it.
So many incredible teachers take more trainings, read more books, and ask more questions, but many don’t. Two hundred hours is just a few weeks. It’s nothing more than a small blip in time. It’s an introduction. It’s a foundation. The first training gives teachers the resources to know where to start in their yoga education. They’re like 100-level classes in college. They are not Ph.D. courses. You’ve probably encountered a lot of incredible teachers who’ve been teaching for years and know a lot about the body and how to keep you safe, and that’s incredible. Those teachers exist and they are amazing. I consider myself extremely lucky to have practiced with many of them.
There are also thousands of yoga teachers who never bother to go past that 200-hour training. They’ve likely had their own inspiring experience with yoga (just like how it healed my hip) and think they know it all. I used to be one of these people. There are also people who get their teaching certifications just for fun. Or from shady training programs.
I feel so horrified looking back at students who would tell me they had serious injuries, body parts replaced, or undergone surgery, and to think of what I may have said to them. What we all have said to them. The poor advice that I likely gave somebody.
I came to this realization at the same time that I realized my body physically couldn’t handle teaching full time if I ever wanted to get better. It was supposed to be the happiest time of my life—I was about to get married—and instead, I just felt confused and let down. I felt like my devotion to yoga had failed me.
In May of 2017, I put in my two weeks notice at the studios that I had been managing.
These studios are where I started my practice years ago and were deeply important to me. I still remember the first classes I took inside those rooms and the extreme relief I felt as my injuries slowly began to hurt less with each class. The staff were, and many still are, some of my closest friends.
But, there are a ton of reasons that I decided to stop teaching full time. Most of them have to do with my realization that as much as I wanted it to be, teaching full time just wasn’t my thing. I realized that there is a big difference between loving the practice of yoga all the time and loving to teach all the time. I love practicing. I like teaching a few classes a week. That’s it.
There was also a large part of me that couldn’t be intertwined with something that I didn’t believe in—at least not in the same way—anymore. This is not about the studios where I taught or about any specific individuals; it’s more about the yoga world as a whole. I was, and still am, worried about the information that we give people. I worry about the intention behind our teachings. I worry about our promises that yoga can fix injuries and cure serious mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. I feel some of the spiritual advice that we give to eager students is sometimes misinformed.
I don’t hate yoga. In fact, this injury made me fall more in love with other parts of yoga that I hadn’t previously explored. In yoga there are eight limbs—this is something that I find really fascinating. One of those limbs is asana, which is the physical practice of yoga. One eighth, or 12.5 percent of yoga is physical. That’s nothing. There are seven other limbs that I leaned into hard this last year when I couldn’t move.
So yes, I still love yoga. I love it, and I worry about it sometimes. I worry that we, as teachers, think that we know more than we do about our students. I worry that we think because we had one great experience with something that everybody else will too. Yoga healed an injury of mine once, and so I used to think that it would do the same thing for everybody else. I used to think this even if their injury was totally different from mine or more severe. I now know different.
After leaving in May, I stopped going to public classes with the exception of a few that were taught by my friends. I felt that I had become so disconnected from the yoga that I had once loved (not to mention that I was still very injured) that the most responsible thing was to practice on my own. To explore practicing yoga in my new injured body and to get to know myself again.
I made myself take a break from teaching to find out if I missed it. I took myself out of the studios to see if I would still practice yoga by myself—with nobody watching, with nobody knowing if I was signed into a class, with nobody planning to meet me on my mat. I had to see if it was still the same. I had to know if there was still a place in my life for asana, or if it was better if we went our separate ways.
Slowly, tentatively, my asana practice came back to me. I fell back in love with yoga—every part of it—and found a studio in my city that is full of thoughtful teachers with years of training under their belts. Teachers who regularly take training after training. Who ask questions. Who never touch students’ bodies without making sure they won’t hurt them first. I am so glad I found them.
As students, it is our responsibility to always take information with a grain of salt. To ask questions. To stop doing something if it doesn’t feel right. It is our responsibility to research studios and styles of yoga before jumping into class. We have to listen to our bodies.
As teachers, we have a responsibility to be careful. To be thoughtful and to be informed. To do better.
Author: Lizzie Braicks-Rinker
Image: Ben Blennerhassett/Unsplash
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Callie Rushton