Hot Yoga

September 12, 2008 at 3:41 pm | Posted in compassion and connection, learning and growing, philosophy, the Universe craves balance | 3 Comments

And no, I don’t mean the kind of yoga practiced in a 105° room, either.

I’m talking about me, being hopping mad about the experience a friend of mine had in a yoga class.  Go on over to Ciboulette’s site and read about what happened.  Go ahead, I’ll wait; you’ll need to read it to understand what I’m so mad about, anyway…

You back?  Okay, first of all never, and I mean NEVER, stay in a class where the instructor tells you that pain is to be expected!  EVER!!  The very FIRST thing I say at the beginning of EVERY yoga class I teach is that if it hurts, don’t do it. Challenging is good, painful is bad, and unless one is in labor, this is ALWAYS true.  Please promise me, y’all, that you’ll get up, roll up your mat, and make for the door as soon as you hear an instructor tell you that you need to work through the pain.  You NEVER work through the pain unless you’re delivering a baby.  Promise me.

Look, I have nothing against Bikram yoga in principle.  The poses themselves are very similar to yoga poses taught in other traditions (not much changes in that respect – yoga poses have been pretty much the same for the last 5,000 years) and, as long as someone is well-hydrated and not prone to heat exhaustion, I think that hot yoga is fine, if you’re into that sort of thing (personally, I don’t particularly enjoy sweating/melting, so I’m not really a fan).

What I DO take issue with are teachers who teach students not to honor their bodies or their intution.  I dislike teachers who don’t offer modifications to students, who expect students to do the pose THIS WAY, DAMMIT! without any consideration for the different levels people occupy or the different ways in which people are physically built.

It may be true that, because of someone’s bone structure, they will never be able to get into a “full” expression of a pose, and no amount of focus or dedication or practice will change someone’s bone structure, folks.  If someone (like me) has a short neck between the body and the head of one’s femur, for example, one is never going to be able to do a full split; it’s not a matter of making the muscles work in certain ways, it’s a matter of the physics of bone against bone – once the head of the femur hits the hip bone, it’s not going any further no matter HOW much yoga one practices.

I really think that responsible yoga teachers would encourage their students to work within their physical edges.  I tell my students to do what they can and ONLY what they can.  They are certainly allowed to gently nudge those edges – if you don’t go a little beyond what you always do, you’ll never really improve – but they are admonished to never, ever force themselves into poses.  It’s just not worth the risk of injury.  And for the love of Goddess; if it hurts, stop.  Let’s not fail to take into consideration the fact that you may have tweaked your shoulder lifting the baby out of the tub, or that you slipped on the stairs and have a fussy ankle now.  Those bits need to be treated gently while they heal, and your instructor should be telling you that during every single class.

Finally, a good teacher is one who will encourage you to be kind to yourself.  Don’t allow yourself to be bullied or intimidated in a class – yoga, at least as I understand it, is intended to teach us how to interact with ourselves, each other, and the world around us.  We’ve got plenty of influences telling us to compete and strive and push ourselves.  What we really need are loving, counter-balancing messages of relax and accept and flow.  You should leave your yoga class feeling joyful and renewed.  If you don’t, don’t go back; keep going to classes until you find a teacher who clicks with you – you’ll know them when you find them.



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  1. Thanks for the support, Chili! I went to a very nice yoga class on Thursday evening that restored my soul. My body’s still hurting though from the other experience!

  2. I think this is a good lesson beyond the yoga room. So often we allow people in our lives who push too hard, cause us pain, and/or encourage us to do things that are painful. Why do we allow that (myself included)? Why do we sometimes fall into the trap that in order to grow, things have to be difficult? Sometimes growth IS difficult, but sometimes you just have to let go of unreasonable expectations to grow. I spent 5 years of almost constant struggle at a job thinking that’s just the way it has to be and I needed to find a way to make it work. It probably felt a lot like being in that hot yoga class with the instructor yelling that you have to work through the pain.

  3. Sheesh! I would say that my class has a bit of the competitive spirit in it and yet, I show all kinds of modifications for people who can’t do the tough stuff. It’s all about doing what you need to do and responding to your body. That instructor is assuming that everyone has the same goals and the same body type and have never had any injuries.

    Like me trying to do tree on my left ankle which has been injured too many times in karate. Might as well name it Willow in the Wind the way I do it and sometimes I just give up stand on one foot in any manner possible.

    I know what I want and no amount of bullying will change it and I wouldn’t want to be that kind of instructor.

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