Safety in the Studio!
The anticipation of experiencing an exceptional yoga class is like paddling out in the ocean on your surfboard. You’ve caught good waves often enough you yearn for it. You know it like you know what sunshine is. As I pack up my yoga mat and head out the door, I know in every ounce of my being that I always get what I need. After almost forty years of practicing, I can count the number of times I disliked a class on one hand. I know of nothing else I’ve experienced that passionately and positively, so I return again and again.
However, over the last ten years in the United States, I’ve experienced an escalation in dangerous sequencing. If you are new to yoga, that simply means the order in which a yoga teacher takes your through the poses.
Teachers are also leading students through twice, and sometimes three times, as many postures as what I was taught in Yoga Teacher Training was appropriate for a normal class.
I’m also witnessing an ever-increasing speed at which teachers are moving students through the poses. Unless someone is an extremely fit and/or advanced practitioner, most people don’t have the understanding of the poses, core strength and/or shoulder stability.
The combination of (1), the sequencing (2), the number of poses a student is expected to safely execute and/or move through, and (3) the speed of the class is coming across as more of a fitness class. But it’s actually a bigger than this. The bigger issue is that it is clear to me students are not getting multiple things:
1. Instruction on how to do the poses– Most of the classes I’ve attended, it’s commin to see people struggling to keep up with little, or no, feedback from the teacher on alignment, breathwork, or more complicated instruction in more advanced instruction (for example Moola Bandha).
2. Individual attention. It could be the sheer number of people in a large room or an inexperienced teacher who is talking so fast and moving so quickly they barely look around the room and single someone out with an adjustment and/or a cue as to the correct way to execute a pose.
Add to this, the shortening of classes from an hour and a half to an hour (or fifty minutes) I’m concerned for the safety of the students around me. As a teacher, I know and understand the modifications that I need to make to ensure my own safety. More than motherly concern, I’m wondering about how many people will physically be able to practice yoga as long as I have.
This makes me incredibly sad. I recently sent a private note to the manager of a local studio where I have seen incredibly dangerous sequencing only to receive a very kind note saying each teacher was certified. It was a very professional blow-off.
Here’s what you can do:
1. Speak up. Have you been in a class yet where the teacher asks what the class would like? Have you made a suggestion? Have you ever raised your hand or spoken up in class and asked for clarification? You can talk in yoga classes. Of course it’s important to respect the many people who have all come for a great class, but love yourself enough to get what you need while there.
2. Private If You Can. If you’re uncomfortable speaking up in class or feel it’s disruptive somehow, privately tell the teacher your concerns. You can use that time to also ask for extra attention in a class you’re confused and/or struggling in. In yoga, the only challenges should feel like a “growth” challenge, not a negative challenge that needs to be overcome somehow. The best teachers point the way for you to come to your own realizations.
3. Alternatives. If you have the least bit of concern, try another class, another style, another studio, or if you have a gut feeling that you keep hitting a wall and may not go back to yoga, then I implore you to consider why? Everyone can do yoga. Yoga is for everybody.
4. Try the Buddy System. If you feel unsafe physically, emotionally or personally tell a friend, tell the studio owner or do not go back. There have been recent reported abuses on people who somehow felt unable to speak up. If your boundaries have been crossed, take every action to protect yourself.
5. Smile. You should look forward to going to yoga. If not, there’s a problem. Make sure and ask for what you need. We all come to yoga for different reasons, but there are some unifying ideals that should feel inclusive, safe, healthy and be joyful. There’s no reason to deny that yoga is fun. Perhaps it makes you feel sexy, brave, confident, carefree, empowered, fill in the blank, and or is just a really good way to relax. Whatever you need, it should meet you there. If not, get to another class.
Yoga is a body, mind and spirit practice. If your class is only all about the body, it simply isn’t a yoga class. It could be a hybrid, fusion, or some other style of a fitness class where they are doing “yoga looking” body movements, but it’s still not yoga. There is a parallel with attention getting “fun” classes like yoga with animals, yoga while drinking or eating something, and/or many classes where something could be included to bring a sense of newness to this ancient science. Those classes will come and go, like Yoga on a surfboard – which is a blast, by the way, but there still needs to be a place where someone can learn yoga. The body, mind and spirit yoga. Call it real yoga, traditional yoga, or by a name branded by someone who carved out a new, unique variation that still holds it principles in traditional yoga.
I always profess that any time someone new can be introduced to yoga, it’s a great day. No matter why they come. But if the teachers neglect to also offer a safe sanctuary for someone to come and learn what yoga is all about – the body, mind and spirit yoga I keep falling in love with over and over again then for many it’s simply going to be an app that fell out of style.
The least we can do isn’t acceptable. The best we can do is honor a guiding principal of teachers the world over, to teach in a way that does not harm but instead instructs, uplifts, elevates, educates and inspires.
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