Saturday, March 31, 2012

Do As I Say, Really, Please -- Day 83

Walk: R/T Mindful Body
Distance: 8 blocks and Teach

One time when I was considering stopping teaching yoga - or cutting back on classes - I ran into my old aerobics teacher. He understood completely: "When you teach these things you walk around with your students in your mind all the time." So, no, it isn't just teach, go home, forget, and for dedicated/responsible teachers a lot of energy continues to be spent between classes - even in dreams.

The main student on my mind these days is a very athletic woman who used - a long time ago - to also be a dancer. She is ecstatic to have discovered yoga - and as a seasoned teacher, this is a cautionary sign. In the middle of one class she asked out loud "What do you mean by tripod headstand?" The students laughed - because this of course is a complicated pose that can't be explained lightly on the spot. It was fun for everyone, and I'm always happy to have people ask questions. But I knew she was a new student - most of whom are doing anything to avoid poses like headstand - so I told her I'd talk to her after class.

During that talk we discussed headstands in depth. I told her that headstands are traditionally counterindicated unless you've done yoga for a year and are proficient at other inversions like shoulder stand. But since she was an athlete/dancer and would probably teach herself if not taught by a trained teacher, I also demonstrated proper headstand technique. I cautioned her repeatedly about trying it on her own - and if she 'disobeyed me' - to be near a wall and not to do any more than one because of inner ear/balance disturbances after being up in headstand.

The next day by chance I ran into her coming out of a class, and she announced she'd practiced all three versions (!) of headstand at home - to the point where she could now do them all. That means she must have done at least 10 headstands by herself at home. How to react I'm wondering? Congratulate her but also remind her in a friendly but strong way that yoga poses are serious business and there are reasons to take it easy and listen to yoga wisdom.

Well today toward the end of class when I was focusing on twists she started wincing and was in so much pain she had to periodically stop practicing. Turns out she'd irritated her sciatic nerve. NOT today in class; that was a reinjury. Sometime in the past week the injury had happened, she'd rested for one day then gone running and taken another yoga class. She experienced 'really bad' pain doing both these activities. So again she rested one day. Then this morning she got up, ran 6 miles in a cold, windy rainstorm and came to my class where the inflamed nerve acted up again.

I won't go into the modifications she needs to make while healing the nerve or how long the healing will probably take. She can still keep coming to yoga but she absolutely needs to get herself informed about sciatic nerve issues, know modifications to make, tell the teacher what is going on, be patient, back off, plan to respect her body and the time it is going to take to work through this - and probably be much stronger than she was before the injury. And you can see her resisting all this. "I'm not going to give up yoga!" she said numerous times.

The problem is I understand completely because I was there decades ago. Athletes think if they have a problem doing something, the answer is Try Harder! If they are injured, they take pain killers and Work Through It! If they do a physical activity, they Excel at it or keep working on it until they do! Advice like "Take it easy, Back Off, Plan to modify, It's going to take quite a while..." is held with contempt if they even listen at all. I totally understand but now I also fully understand and respect that this is one prime way injuries happen in yoga.

And so ... yoga teachers walk around with their students on their minds much of the time.

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