With the increasing popularity of the power yoga, vinyasa yoga scene in the yoga community,there has also been an increase in the yoga related injuries among our students. There were around 4,500 people in the U.S. that visited an emergency room due to a yoga related injury in the past year. I am sure that some of these 4,500 people had amazing, qualified yoga instructors leading their classes. I am also sure that the aforementioned instructor gave a well guided class, but for a student that doesn’t know how to practice ahimsa, B.K.S. Iyengar could have been teaching and it wouldn’t have made a difference.
“Ahimsa” Sanskrit for “non harming” or “non violence”. This is the first Yama in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. This means to maintain compassion towards oneself and others. As an instructor I see my students pushing themselves when they should be pulling back, and fighting with their bodies and their limitations, when they need to be ok with surrendering and letting go and taking that child’s pose. That being said, I also teach vigorous vinyasa classes, give options for arm balances and inversions that would not suit a beginning, sometimes maybe not even an intermediate yoga practitioner. I teach a Thursday morning class in the Atlanta area, that depending on the students, can get a bit intimidating for the novice yogi. During the Thursday morning class and the other vinyasa flow classes I teach, I always offer gentle variations on the advanced option, but more often than not, I see people violently throwing themselves into variations of poses that are not meant for their bodies at the time.
As a student of yoga, as well as a teacher, I totally get it. We all want to see if we can get into the pose that seems impossible to us. It wasn’t until a back injury took me out of my Ashtanga practice that I learned how to have ahimsa in my own practice.
I sustained a back injury during my career as a ballet dancer that took me away from my Ashtanga practice. A friend of mine at the time, knowing that I wanted to get back into the yoga studio, and also being aware that I wasn’t allowed a vigorous flow class, recommended an Iyengar class to me. Now if you have taken an Iyengar based class, you know that it is not an Ashtanga practice. I remember walking into the studio and being given props. I had never used props before. I knew of one lady at my Ashtanga studio who used a block, but she was recovering from a torn hamstring. I remember that first class being torturous. I could not understand why we were moving so slow and why I had to use all of these props, etc. Then after a few more classes I realized that I was practicing ahimsa. That I was learning how to be “non harming” to my body. I had to accept that I was injured and that I was recovering from an injury. I was forced to learn and practice ahimsa.
I would never wish a serious injury on anyone as a way to learn ahimsa. My suggestion as a yoga instructor, would be to start mentioning the Yamas in your classes. If you are teaching a particularly intense flow class that day, inform your students of ahimsa. Make that your theme for your class. Sometimes we just need to know that it is alright to rest. That each day your practice is changing and evolving and that you might not nail that handstand. You might never get that handstand, but be ok with it because your practice is not about tricks and crazy acrobatics. Your practice is about finding some peace in your daily life, working towards that authentic self. If that authentic self likes to kick up into a handstand, awesome. If that authentic self likes to hang out in child’s pose, awesome. Just find your version of ahimsa and if you are a yoga instructor, be open to helping your students find theirs.
Meredith teaches yoga, pilates, and private ballet and yoga instruction in Atlanta. When she is not teaching, she is practicing either at home or at one of the amazing yoga studios in the communities she discovers on her travels throughout the country. Meredith is also the East Coast Whole Sale Manager for KiraGrace, a women’s yoga apparel company. She cherishes her time with her son, and satisfies her curiosities of life through reading, writing, and taking advantage of opportunities to explore the world. One of Meredith’s passions is venturing into communities to dine at local eateries. She shares her food reviews on the My Yoga Scene blog. Meredith loves being part of the global yoga community and enjoys planning events the help bring the growing community together. If you are interested in community lifestyle guest blogging, interviews, promotions, or event sponsorship and hosting, please reach out to Meredith here: [email protected]