Keeping Yoga Safe

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than a year since I did my 200-hour teacher training course through Yoga Works at their Soho facility in NYC.

Never in a million years would I have imagined I’d gain so much on a personal level from the month long intensive course that I began solely as a means of continuing education in order to offer one more service to clients.

Amongst the most important takeaways were that yoga is about much, much more than getting a killer workout to tone your butt (the practice is only one of the eight limbs, actually ), bringing your practice with you from the mat and into the rest of your world is transformative and there’s no such thing at being ‘bad at yoga’.

But one more thing I learned, and this one was a bit alarming, was just how much some of the instructors I’d previously taken class with didn’t seem to know.

Pardon the pun, but yoga is everywhere, truly.

Yoga’s exploding popularity (the number of Americans doing yoga has risen from about 4 million in 2001 to what some estimate to be as many as 20 million in 2011) means that there is now an abundance of studios where many teachers lack the deeper training necessary to recognize when students are headed toward injury .

Put it this way: you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it.

In other words, as well versed as I may have been in human anatomy, physiology and kinesiology, it didn’t really sink in that some of the practices implemented by some of the teachers from whom I’d taken classes were, frankly, dangerous.

If you’ve had the opportunity to study under someone who truly is an experienced, knowledgeable teacher, you may be able to detect some red flags from the get go, but in many cases, it’s a bit subtle, which makes it no less risky.

So how do you know if you’re in a safe environment or not when you cubby your shoes and unroll your sticky mat?

Here are ten things to look out for in order to determine whether or not to stay past the opening OM: 

• Did the teacher ask each student if they have any injuries or issue they should be aware of in order to offer modifications to poses?

• Did the studio check to see if you’re attending a class suitable to your level of experience?

• Did the teacher ask if you’re ok with him or her making adjustments to your pose?

• Does the teacher move around during class with a close eye on all students to ensure safety?

• Are complicated poses demonstrated and broken down for anyone in class who may be newer than others?

• Does the teacher suggest that ‘if you don’t know what to do, follow the person next to you’?

• Are you told that you mustn’t drink water, use the restroom, take a break unless the teacher deems it’s appropriate?

• Are you made to feel uncomfortable in any way, shape or form?

• Is it made clear that the use of props does not equal “you stink at  yoga”?

• Is the overall feeling you get when you walk into the studio one of calmness and tranquility, or do you feel it’s more of a booty show about who has the most killer abs?

None of the above criteria are listed in jest; in fact, many are situations I’ve experienced myself.

Fortunately (she says as she knocks wood), I didn’t ever sustain any serious injury from yoga and after the incredible teacher training class I partook in, it’s doubtful I ever will.

Yoga is something I believe all of us can benefit from, regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic level or race.

Find a good safe class in your neck of the woods, download a podcast or read a book that shows you what to do.

Follow the yoga inside your heart and let it guide you to a safe place to practice so that it can become something you do as part of your lifelong journey to optimal health.

Nourish your body, feed your soul!