There are thousands of gifted yoga teachers out there! Whether we take a class in New York, Cape Town or Berlin, there are plenty of opportunities to meet some truly inspirational and knowledgeable teachers.
Sometimes, their approaches are so different, we feel like we’re doing a normally familiar asana for the first time. Isn’t that just the greatest feeling?
But regardless of how "great" a teacher is, or how experienced, or how motivating, here are three reasons why simply listening to your yoga teacher and taking their word for everything isn't the best idea.
You and I may have similar body types but we have very different needs, don’t we? Just because a teacher says, "go through your Chaturanga" doesn’t mean it’s right for you!
Even if you’re doing exactly what she says, the movement may not help build strength but instead really hurt your shoulder joint. Am I saying stop trying? NO.
But if you notice that the 10th Chaturanga is doing a number on your shoulders or elbows, by all means stop and settle for good old chest, knees and chin to the ground, coming up in Cobra instead. Same journey, less wear and tear.
In yoga we often talk about the body’s own intelligence and how to tune into it. One fast lane to doing so is, of course, your breath! But what do you do when the teacher actually walks you through entire sequences telling you when to breathe in and when to breathe out?
Tough one, since a certain synchronicity helps the class community, right? However, whenever I noticed I was actually shortening my breath to, well, “get with the program”, I first thought I have to try to keep up, or it’ll be disruptive to the class. I was wrong again.
Simply “skip” a round by coming into child pose instead or take an extra breath, if it is what is called for. Same sequence, less hectic.
As teachers, we have learned about alignment cues to help students reap the benefits of the pose. One of those cues might be to look up in Triangle pose, to lift your gaze skyward. Anybody with neck pain will attest, looking up in this pose can cause quite some tension in the neck muscles.
In these cases, looking straight ahead or down makes more sense. So, with all due respect to Iyengar and correct yoga anatomy, making sure you enjoy practicing versus trying to obey or fit in will not only keep you safe, it will also keep you coming back! Same pose, less tension.
Sounds nice, but what if I’m new to yoga or just not much of an alignment buff? Here are some good questions to ask yourself:
- Do I feel stable?
- How is my breathing, coming in and out of a pose?
- Is there any pain beyond that of a muscle being lengthened?
Respecting your yoga teachers is one thing and we are grateful when you do, but we love it even more when you respect your own body because it means you’ve understood one of the key principles of yoga: Love your self.