Posted by: birdmaddgirl | 6 January 2012

From Om to Ouch

those who know me or have followed this blog are probably aware that about a year and a half ago i suffered a painful shoulder injury. it remains vaguely diagnosed to this day as “shoulder instability” – lucky for me i haven’t torn my rotator cuff. how did this happen? i’m often asked if it’s a yoga injury. my best answer is still: i don’t know, but it’s unlikely. i was engaged in several other sport activities at the time and family medical history leads me to believe that genetics play a large part. did my yoga practice contribute? possibly to the timing but i have no reason to cite my practice as the culprit.

however, the injury taught me to take my practice seriously in a new way. i’ve scaled back on much of the asana that i do and my body and my yoga are better for it. i almost never do an unmodified vinyasa anymore (knees down all the way, baby). i rarely practice wheel or headstand despite being a lover of ashtanga. my shoulder stand practice is also a very careful one and i often skip that too. beyond simply removing or altering my approach to poses, though, my injury – regardless of its source – has taught me to be a better yoga teacher. it taught me that yoga is not about where a student “should” be based on some arbitrary system like years of practice. most students should be doing less so that they can do more.

this somewhat hyperbolic but important article is out in this week’s NYT magazine. the headline is whack and there are some scare tactics masquarading as statistics, but i am so behind the sentiment expressed here. yoga is not for everybody or for every body. anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

as a teacher and a student of yoga, i am constantly aware of how much i don’t know. and it’s scary to be the guide, to be the one telling someone else what to do physically. and it’s scary to be in a classroom and not be certain whether or not a teacher can assess and guide your individual body effectively.

these 3 things are addressed at the beginning of every class i teach:

1) injuries, limitations, discomfort anywhere in the body?

students are often shy about speaking up & i find that midway through a pose someone will end up telling me something doesn’t work for them. better late than never! speak up students!

2) if it hurts, don’t do it.

at no point in your yoga practice should you ever be in pain. the breath is your best guide. if you are able to breath deeply and consistently then you are unlikely to push yourself past your body’s natural limits.

3) you are responsible for your own practice.

listen to your body before you listen to a teacher. if something feels unsafe or uncomfortable DON’T DO IT. down dog or child’s pose are always options. or just sit cross-legged and breathe. or wave down  your teacher and ask for an alternative asana. but be aware of your own practice and be responsible for yourself. your teacher can’t experience your practice for you.

yoga is no better or worse than anything else. it’s a tool. if you use it well, it will serve you well. and for some people, that might even mean not using it at all.



  1. Thanks for this post. Another article written by a journalist who’s probably never really done yoga that puts the practice in a bad light. Sigh…

    • Thanks for reading! The article is cited as an excerpt from a book, so this might be a distillation of broader context, but this just seems overblown to me. Sigh, indeed.

  2. […] are a few other responses to the article by nvnehi and anytimeyoga and Michael Taylor. I think it’s interesting to see the very different, […]

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