If you have been following the recent reports from the The New York Times, NBC News, New York Magazine, Yoga Dork, etc. the past 2 weeks, you are aware there is a healthy debate occurring among yoga teachers, yogis, and journalists, some of who are yogis others are not…
Members of the Broadway cast of “Godspell” do their flexible best. From left: Uzo Aduba (doing the wheel), George Salazar (extended-hand-to-big-toe pose) and Nick Blaemire (headstand).
And like other cultural topics our 24/7 media hyperbolizes, to some bashing yoga is the new band wagon of the moment. So this yogi is going to throw her 2 cents in too…
You can get hurt walking to your car, you can get hurt having a massage, sitting at your desk day after day in an uncomfortable chair, wearing high heels, barefoot, running, biking, lifting weights, playing tennis, commuting to work, you get my point? And guess what? You can also get hurt in a yoga class, especially when you are not mindful of your practice.
One of the 8 limbs of yoga, yamas, teaches us and what yoga teachers need to keep top of mind during class, the concept ahimsa, which translates to nonviolence. Ahimsa doesn’t just refer to not inflicting pain on others or yourself but more specifically to the love we need to show humanity and our own body physically, verbally, and mentally. “Ahimsa means maintaining compassion towards yourself and others. It means being kind and treating all things with care.” Yoga Journal
If we are violent to our body it means we are not listening to it and violence and awareness do not coexist. One of the main purposes of yoga is to cultivate awareness from within, therefore violence negates all our practice’s purpose. If you are in a yoga class moving through asanas (poses) and NOT practicing ahimsa you are inhibiting yourself and unable to experience the true benefits of yoga.
The next time you are in class, ask yourself if you are pushing when you should be pulling back, fighting when you should be surrendering, or forcing a pose when your body is telling you to stop. If you think, “but I’m just doing what my teacher is telling me!” Realize your teacher can’t feel what you feel and they are simply offering you a guided instruction, which you need to modify to best accommodate your own practice.
When my teacher explained ahimsa to me my entire outlook on yoga changed. As a former dancer and athlete I had to let go of my performance/result based mind set (ego) and resign myself to the process and moment. The goal of yoga is not to have a perfect Virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2) or any pose for that matter.
Image from: FitSugar
Rather it is to be constantly vigilant and observe how your body feels while being aware of your thoughts and intentions. We need to be stewards of our own bodies, conscious of our breath, listen to our teachers, make individual adjustments as necessary, and find our own edge. Yoga is a practice, no one has ever mastered it, nor will they ever.
Therefore, practice yoga to learn. Seek out teachers that make sense to you, ask them questions, and develop relationships. We must use personal responsibility, listen to our bodies, and have love for our whole self. Yoga will wreck our bodies if we practice recklessly, but so will having bad posture when we sit in a chair. If you take a challenging class and ignore your body’s warning signs then experience pain or an injury it is because you were not aware, not because yoga is harmful.