Yoga has been one of my foundational practices as I recover from a gravely disabling and long-term chronic illness. My healing protocols have been many and diverse and yoga continues to be an absolutely critical part of it.
The dark side of yoga really boils down to failing to listen to our body/mind/spirit needs. Injuries can happen. There is a learning curve involved when one is new at this. Be kind and gentle with yourself as you learn.
My learning curve involved over-doing it a few times when I first started taking classes in the community. I used yoga to rehab out of my bed after being bedridden for a couple of years.
My muscles had totally atrophied so when I started doing yoga I was simply lifting a leg and rotating a foot at first. I built up on this slowly over time. This allowed for me to very slowly over a long period of time regain strength. It also demanded a sort of attention and patience many people never have an opportunity to learn. I’m very good at paying attention to my needs now in the classroom as a result of my rehab.
Still, the first few times in the classroom were exciting and I did overdo it. Though I think it was a necessary part of the process really. I had to learn what my limit in the classroom was so that I could recognize when my nervous system was saying, “STOP”. That required making the “mistake” of over doing it. Again, had I not done it I wouldn’t have learned my edge. So it was a necessary part of the process.
So even though it meant returning to my home practice for a week or two or three (yeah, at first over-doing it really would mean having to not go out again for a good long while)…but, it taught me what crossing my edge looked like and now that doesn’t happen anymore.
Now I know exactly when my nervous system has had enough and I leave as soon as that happens. Sometimes, too, though, now I can stop and rest in the middle of the class and that can reset my edge and I can continue with the class. What I do when I’m not sure about how close to my limit I am is to take a resting pose, savasana or child’s pose, for example. I stay in that pose a while. The class continues. That is okay. After I’ve rested a bit I can sometimes join the class again. Other times I find that I do, indeed, need to leave and so I do.
I’ve taken to introducing myself to every new teacher I encounter and tell them my circumstance (I do not give a lot of detail. I simply say I’m rehabbing and I may have to leave early). Most have been lovely and supportive. But not all of them are. If I do not feel safe or comfortable about leaving after speaking to a teacher (and sometimes taking the class once) I will not return to that class.
I’ve been lucky to find an amazing community yoga studio. It’s all donation based and the teachers too, volunteer their time. It’s a studio that is deep in the true spirit of yoga. Sadly, not all yoga studios are like this. Many are competitive and don’t appreciate the subtleties of what yoga is truly about. Just yesterday I was speaking to a friend of mine who was injured by a yoga teacher who was pushing her deeper into a stretch. My friend was saying, “ouch, please stop that” and the teacher refused pushing her even further. My friend is still suffering from that injury eight years later. Frankly, if a teacher even touches you without asking permission, I think that is a problem. If a teacher doesn’t stop touching you when you say it hurts, well, that is criminal.
I recently saw a big hullaballoo in an article on NPR about leaving yoga classes early. Clearly not all yoga communities are as wonderful as mine. Some of the comments by teachers are rather sobering. If a teacher doesn’t appreciate that there are times when students must leave in order to take care of themselves, well, then, they’re not much of a yoga teacher. Avoid such people. Talk to the studio and the teachers before you start taking classes. If they don’t immediately encourage your need to support yourself in the ways you need to support yourself, find another studio or teacher. Sometimes they won’t be explicit about their displeasure. In those instances, trust your gut.
We need teachers that help us learn to trust our body/mind/spirits. Anyone who suggests you shouldn’t be doing that, whether implicitly or explicitly, has no business teaching yoga.
Doing yoga at home when you’re not ready to go to a class also works. I did that for several years before I was well enough to start attending classes in the community.
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