The entire yogic community worldwide has been up in arms over the recent New York Times article: “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”. It’s been praised and criticised, taken to pieces and analysed to the point of being anal. To me, it doesn’t particularly matter how researched the facts were, or who is to blame for injuries, but let me tell you my story…
About 2 months ago I went to a led Ashtanga Primary Series class, led by a teacher I had not been taught by before. Upfront, I told her my issues with headstands and backbends, so that she can assist me when it comes to it.
When it came time to push into a backbend, the teacher came to assist me. She very gently talked me into preparation poses, purring praises as I progressed. When attempting a full backbend, my elbows tended to bow outwards, so she held them in line as I attempted to lift my upper body off the ground. I gave it my everything and managed to get myself off the ground…slightly…I was dripping with sweat and out of breath (yes, that’s how bad my backbend attempts are). Nonetheless, the coaxing continued and I was pushing myself further than I was comfortable…and then some, and then some more.
It was a crazy experience and I broke down in tears, from exhaustion and from the effects of opening up the heart chakra. It was all just very weird for me.
I went home to forget about the experience and woke up the next day with a very painful shoulder, like I had pulled a muscle. I figured that I had just pulled something and it should heal quite quickly.
Well here I sit today, with tendonitis from a tendon tear in my shoulder and a damaged AC joint.
Some would blame the teacher, saying that she should not have been pushing me past my limits. And I agree to an extent. I don’t agree with blaming anyone else for things that I do and that happen to me in my life, but teachers do need to start trying to understand when students don’t want to push themselves further. It’s not a difficult science, if she says “No, I don’t want to”, it’s not a sign of weakness, it’s her understanding her body enough to know that pushing something further will lead to injury.
I agree to a certain extent with the comments on the New York Times article that yoga has become about ego, and I can see it around me. But I do believe that is a serious generalisation and there are many people out there who practice yoga intelligently, know their limits and never use ego as a reason to do any asana in a particular way.
I don’t believe that ego was the cause of my injury. I don’t believe that I was competing with myself to prove that I could do this. To some extent, I did get excited at the thought that maybe, just maybe, I’ll lift myself off the ground more than usual and feel that feeling of accomplishment, of self-pride, but that is not the sole reason I did it. The main reason was that of trust. I trusted this gentle, soothing voice next to my ear, holding my elbows and telling me I can do it, pushing me deeper and deeper into a place I wanted to be.
I was not ready and I should have been more assertive about that.
I’ve not been back to a class since then and I am doing some work on healing my shoulder injury, but the most difficult obstacle to overcome is that of being able to trust again.
That will take far more time than muscular healing.