By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
Have you ever seen teachers pushing Yoga students too far? Hatha Yoga provides many wonderful benefits, usually leaving students craving more because they feel so good. It leaves muscles feeling long, lean, and strong. Yoga relieves common aches and pains associated with everyday stresses within our bodies. Additionally, Yoga provides a healthy outlet for releasing anxiety, stress, nervous energy, and worries.
As Hatha students progress, they often feel eager to reach the next physical level, taking stretches deeper, holding them longer, and trying more advanced poses (asanas). This is all fine and good when both student and teacher are aware of the limitations and concerns each person has. When a teacher pushes a student too far, asking them to go to a place they may not be ready for, there are a multitude of risks.
Yoga teachers are greatly responsible for the well being of their students, making sure they understand the rewards of practicing Yoga in a safe manner. This responsibility includes explaining the benefits and risks of each pranayama technique and Yoga pose.
It is part of our responsibility as Yoga teachers to offer modifications of techniques for people with unique needs. We should be explaining the importance of listening to your body. It is appropriate for Hatha Yoga teachers to encourage students to take the stretch a bit deeper, hold it slightly longer, or breathe into each pose with intent. However, when the teacher’s role of an “encourager” becomes more demanding, he or she could be pushing too far.
If one’s Yoga teacher training did not cover the need for compassion, it is time to think “outside the box.” If a master trainer taught you to verbally abuse students, you should visit some classes that are outside your root Yoga style to observe compassion in practice.
The risks of pushing Yoga students too far include injuries, both minor and major. When muscles are stretched too far, they can strain or even tear. Overused or strained tendons can result in bursitis or tendonitis. When students push too hard on ligaments or cartilage, these too can become injured. Pre-existing spinal injuries, like herniated discs, are common in life.
Depending on the exact location of a herniated spinal disc, there may be pain, but it is also possible not to have pain. Some people have an existing herniated disc and do not feel any pain. If any one of us teaches a class and a student has a bad physical reaction to it, a pre-existing injury can become a “Yoga-related injury,” as far as the public is concerned.
When instructors are pushing Yoga students too far, forget to warn students of risks, fail to give pose modifications, refuse to offer props, or encourage them to try poses that are uncomfortable, they are risking the health of their students.
Yoga teachers should always teach students to listen carefully to their own bodies, reminding them often to stop if something doesn’t feel right or is painful. Students who are pushed too far might also become discouraged with Yoga, causing them to miss out on all the benefits a safe practice will provide.
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