It can be a confusing time to be a yoga teacher and/or practitioner. Don't get me wrong - I love going to a good yoga class - but more and more I am aware of the controversies.
I began my yoga practice about 8 years and it was exactly what I needed at that time. I fully "drank the Kool Aid", and when I attended my yoga teacher-training and was told that it would be a "life-changing" course, I jumped right in. About a year after finishing my training I took a substantial break from yoga. I was dealing with imbalance and pain issues in my body - (these issues were not caused by the yoga, they were already present) - and I had begun to realize that doing countless sun-salutations with not enough strength was probably not what my body needed at the time. When I returned to yoga a few years ago, I approached it quite differently. My teaching now tends to focus on gentle movements and poses, breathwork, and meditation. When I attend an active class I try to stay in tune with how I am feeling and I avoid and modify certain poses.
As I've learned more about my own body and yoga practice, I've become inspired to actually do more teaching and learning. My hope is to be able to intertwine different types of movement practices and therapies.
Here are a couple of my current thoughts/ramblings.
1) The idealization of yoga. For some reason, yoga has been idealized to be a cure for anything and everything. Sure, yoga can be very helpful for many ailments (stress, insomnia, headaches, just to name a few) but anyone with existing injuries should proceed with CAUTION. It is no secret that yoga can cause injuries or worsen pre-existing injuries, but I feel like this is a bit of a hushed subject. Just like in any field, there are tons of great yoga teachers and also some not-so-great teachers...you must dig a bit to find who and what works for you. Yoga is often recommended to musicians who are suffering from pain or tension, but traditional classes are often quite wrist-heavy and forward-motion heavy, which can be the opposite of what an injured musician may need.
The good teachers are beginning to think outside of the box and realize that certain yoga practices may be doing more harm than good. The good teachers explore subtle movements and strength, rather than forcing the body into an awkward pose that perhaps were once considered "traditional". Everything evolves with time and research, and yoga should be no exception. Recently I've been following the blog posts of Matthew Remski, who is a fairly well-known Toronto yogi and Ayurvedic practitioner. He started a new blog series a couple years ago called WAWADIA: What Are We Actually Doing in Asana? He has some interesting thoughts and numerous interviews. If you scroll to the bottom of his page, you can find an archive of all his blog posts from this series: http://matthewremski.com/wordpress/multimedia/wawadia/#archive. Two of my favourite posts that I've read so far are: http://matthewremski.com/wordpress/am-i-even-teaching-yoga-anymore/ and http://matthewremski.com/wordpress/wawadia-update-20-the-kaminoff-matthews-interview-full-transcript/.
2) Striving for headstands. The other day I went to a class where the instructor led us through many advanced poses. As I glanced around and saw so many struggling bodies in awkward positions, I wondered why the teacher was not giving modifications or suggestions. And also wondering - even if she was giving modifications, would anyone actually take them?
For many people, headstands and other inversions are the "end-goal" of yoga (of course, there isn't actually supposed to be an end-goal). When I first did my yoga teacher training, I initially also strived for headstand and felt embarrassed that some of my fellow classmates could do this pose but I couldn't (and then would get mad at myself for thinking this thought, as it totally goes against the yoga philosophy!). I tried and tried, until finally I realized that I did not care about going into headstand and it did not even feel good when I was in the pose! Kind of like when I realized I did not want to learn jazz (but just felt like I "should") this realization was like lifting off a weight.
With more research showing that poses like headstand and plow can be fairly dangerous for many people, one studio was the centre of much debate after they posted a sign asking their students to refrain from doing headstand or shoulderstand in the studio. With some really insightful information from top yoga teachers, I suggest you read the article here:
In a few weeks, I am going to be taking a weekend Yoga Tune Up® course called Integrated Embodied Anatomy, from a studio in Toronto called Connect Studio. I am super excited to take this course, as I've heard amazing things about Yoga Tune Up therapy. As stated on their site, "Yoga Tune Up® is a fitness therapy format built around the three P's – Pain, Posture and Performance. It helps eradicate pain, improve posture and enhance performance through a unique blend of yoga, Corrective Exercise, Self-Massage, and Breath Strategies."
The funny thing is, the more I learn and research this area, the more it seems that there is to learn! (Just like music...or any subject, really...)
To end with a quote: "Anatomy is not reality. Anatomy is a construct, that we have all bought into, to describe experience...It’s just one set of ideas, one paradigm... But we take it as reality, so we think we can’t teach without talking about anatomy, but I think you can be an amazing teacher without referencing anatomy at all." - Amy Matthews