Even with my not so happy hamstring tendons (I'll save the yoga butt PSA for the next post), I love me a sweaty, dynamic asana practice. I love the movement, the flow, the breath carrying you. I get it.
When I take a studio class, it's almost always vinyasa or strong flow. I love the flowing movement, but you also know I'm an anatomy junkie. I dig alignment, and our bodies do too.
Let's be honest, as wonderful as asana practice is, it can and has lead to injury, if we have not been instructed in correct alignment and anatomical safety.
Which brings me to this little story. I'm just an anonymous participant in a vinyasa class. Throughout the practice, I'm catching glimpses of ribs protuding, over-arched backs, knees in all manner of suspect positions, hips twisted and chests contracting so hands can reach the floor, shoulders twisting, jump-backs with straight arms, legs flailing into attempted handstands mid-flow... The teacher in me is becoming anxious. No one is receiving corrections or adjustments. Some alignment cues are called out, but most practitioners don't possess the body awareness to apply them. I try to shift my focus back to my practice, and we flow to the next asana; now someone is directly in my line of sight, torqueing their knee, forcing the cued alignment despite it taking them out of the pose.
I need to chill the f&%# out. This isn't my class. And my yoga is still practicing releasing the things I can't and shouldn't be trying to control. Still, my brain won't stop processing all of the potential injuries and poor-alignment muscle memory. I'm feeling frustrated that the teacher isn't correcting; I'm wondering why potentially 'injurious' asanas are being offered as an option, but I need to cut that out too. In my teacher training, I was told that it would be necessary to sacrifice setting up alignment for the sake of the flow. Most teachers were probably told the same thing. I had very comprehensive anatomy training, and I extended it beyond my yoga teacher training; most 200-hour trainings simply don't have the time to offer the amount of anatomy necessary to teach a truly safe class.
(It's not really necessary to sacrifice alignment, BTW.)
The onus is on instructors to facilitate a safe practice. Body awareness and ego can get in the way of that. Most people have little of one and too much of the other. Combine these with wanting people to come to our classes, and some instructors may feel apprehensive in offering corrections. Our role isn't just to stand there and bark out asanas (although there's a style for that if you like that sort of thing). Teachers are meant to guide students to their best practice for that moment/day/week/year. That means respectful corrections and verbal adjustments. That means gently guiding a student to back off, not force themselves so deep, or go for it so hard, if it's not serving their practice.
We're meant to guide the practice, not the ego, and yet our own egos find us silently nursing injury after injury.
Returning to my story, which is one class and many, more than half, of the students would benefit from going back to a few basics classes or adding some Iyengar classes to their practice. But how likely is this to happen with students who believe they've got a strong, aligned (safe) practice and instructors who won't say otherwise?
Yogis be proactive in your practice. Asana should never lead to injury.
- Listen to your body. It seems obvious, but it's often forgotten. Your body will always tell you. I promise. It doesn't matter if the yogi next to you is a contortionist. It doesn't matter if the instructor offered four variations for one asana, each one deeper than the previous. Don't be competitive, release the ego, listen to your boundaries.
- Find a teacher who can show you what your habits are. Where are you 'cheating' your poses? Once you have this, you can work to build a more balance practice, undo any bad habits, and re-train your muscle memory for the safest, most balanced alignment.
- If you have only ever taken vinyasa or flow yoga, really consider adding alignment-focused classes or jump into a few basics classes. Yes, they're slower; there are a lot of long holds - they can sometimes be more challenging.