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Yoga 101: Staying Safe and Using Yoga to Heal

In response to a recent New York Times article, Erin Wheeler has some tips to get the most out of your yoga session.

Have you ever been in class, in the middle of a sequence and all of the sudden, something starts hurt? I don’t mean a, “Ugh, this is so hard and I am so tired” kind of hurt, but that your actual movements are causing pain or even injury? I have.

At first I felt angry and wanted to place blame on the teacher. I'd say things like, “that teacher, made me hurt my back” or “my hip hurt for weeks after that class.”

In reality, I chose to place full trust in the teacher and I didn’t practice my yoga within myself. I didn’t apply my knowledge as a teacher or as a student. Nor did I apply it to my physical limitations and abilities.

Wanting to do doing certain postures, I have let my ego distract me from reality and what I need to do to keep my body injury free. Recently, I read New York Times article “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”. I read a lot of responses that contradicted the article, I think rightly so.  But I wanted to approach the side of how yoga can heal your body. That includes how we can be safe in our own bodies, respect the teacher's choice of sequencing, and ultimately remember that the practice is all about healing.

On the flip side of the New York Times' article, I found an article written by Bethany Eanes. The insightful The 4 Family Trees of Yoga Posture article can help educate the student on how to lead themselves at home with sequences that will make them feel good and avoid injury.

Ah, now that’s the spirit. I want to do the same thing. Let’s take the positive angle and perhaps help people prevent injury with educating.  Ahimsa. Start with ourselves, speak kindly to ourselves, see ourselves in loving way, and honor our physical bodies abilities and limitations.

Here are some tips, that can help you avoid injury and learn a little more about your yoga practice.

  1. Take a break. If you are doing a sequence that causes you pain, such as opening and closing your hip, give yourself permission to modify coming to  or  posture to recover your strength and breath.
  2. Use Props. If you have an injury you should honor your limitations and avoid compromising your safety and use  or a variation that feels best to your body.
  3. Speak up. Tell the instructor before class if you have chronic pain or if something you did last class didn’t feel right.
  4. Use your breath as a guide. If you are struggling to find an even and smooth rhythm, Sama vritti, then there is a good chance you are straining beyond your bodies abilities.
  5. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. If you have never done the posture before, observe and study before you try it.
  6. Drop Ego at the door. Most instructors will build a practice in stages of intensity. For example, if you struggled with a headstand against the wall, then wait until you have mastered it before you try it in the center of the room.
  7. Hydrate before and after class. Watch out for signs of overheating and dehydration. If you become dizzy, nauseous, or your heart rate feels elevated, slow down or take a break.
  8. Peer pressure. Observing to learn is not the same as observing in envy. No matter how “strong” or “perfect” another student looks in a posture, maintain your truth (satya) in your body. Your posture looks different, but I guarantee you both feel the same in your bodies.
  9. It’s not a popularity contest. If you continue to go to a teacher just because they are popular, but don’t feel good after their class, find a new teacher. There are plenty of great teachers in our town. They might not run with the cool kids, but have a lot to offer and could be a better match for you.
  10. Chill in savasana. If you are nearing the end of a class and feel wiped out, you have the right to find early.

All the yoga instructors that I know want to bring this healing art to their students with all the love and compassion that they have to give.  But, like in life, our teachers don’t know everything. They're human and make mistakes or are misguided at times. Always remember the practice of yoga is all about healing yourself, using the ahimsa, non-violence philosophy. If something doesn’t feel right, you have the right to not do it.

Starting this week I am starting to include at the end of my columns, “Weekend Happennings or Yoga Deals”

Weekend Yoga Deals:

This weekend is the re-launch of the Hot Vinyasa Program at the Hyde Park Lifestyles Family Fitness, 1510 W. Swann Ave. In their  brand new mind body room classes will be FREE March 10 and 11 and always open to member and non-members. Kids Club Care is always offered to members and non-members during classes, too! If  you would like to take a free class with me, I will be teaching the  Sunday March 11 9:00-10:15 and then 10:30-11:30 with special guest Eluv. Eluv will guide both classes in a journey of sound healing playing her crystal singing bowls during final meditation savasana. Call for additional information: (813) 258-0500

Namaste!

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