18 November 2008

Greetings from the most inflexible yoga teacher

by Danielle Hope Hier, Tampa Bay Yoga Examiner

I am a yoga teacher...No, really. It's true, though you wouldn't think so. In fact, If I could go back in time, my high school yearbook should have read, "The least likely person on the planet to ever become a yoga instructor."


Last year, a neurosurgeon looked - dumbfounded - at my MRI following a car accident, saying the that person on the Xrays should be on the operating table at that moment, not touching her toes, swimming, dancing, lifting weights and having a greater level of mobility than the average - uninjured - person.

"Whatever you're doing," He informed me. "Keep doing it. Because, it seems to be working for you."

What I was "doing" was teaching and practicing yoga.

Born with scoliosis that not only came with a curved spine, but also a reversed curve in my neck, a shortened hamstring, misaligned hips and shoulders and extra pressure on my lungs (leaving me prone to allergies, sinus and bronchial infections), I was the kid in high school gym class who could barely touch her kneecaps (vs. toes) and had asthma-like reactions to exercise.

Now, I was being told that I additionally had a torn shoulder and a herniated disk in my low back...Not a great overall diagnosis for someone who earns a living keeping people healthy and fit.

Refusing to admit defeat, I tailored my practice and kept moving.

The results?

In a strange twist (corny pun intended), I began working a local neuromuscular center designed to provide yoga for those recovering from back and neck injuries, or dealing with ailments such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, spinal stenosis. And in my advanced classes, I could lead students through poses that my body didn't want to do, but were appropriate for them.

My point here is that when people say to me, "I wish I could do yoga, but I'm not that flexible" or, "I can't do yoga, because I'm too...[insert appropriate reason: injured, overweight, old]" I try to impress upon them that if it is something they want to learn, it can be adapted, even if that means teaching yoga from a chair vs. standing, or using props (like tables, chairs, blocks or yoga straps) that help facilitate stretching and balance.

Also, the physical practice of yoga (known as "Hatha" [pronounced: Hah-Tah] , is only one aspect of an entire philosophy, and is subject to interpretation. Therefore, assuming that yoga is only one way, is a misunderstanding. And, within that aspect are a million and one styles of yoga (like world religions and music), that translate into very specific methods.

So, while a person studying Ashtanga might be more interested in power, strength and cardiovascular development, someone studying Kundalini might be more in tune with kirtan (chanting) and energy-building excecises.

Do I think that means that all yoga classes are suitable for everyone all the time?

No, of course not.

However, I would offer that there is a class out there specifically for you (be it in physical practice, devotional studies or community service). Listed below are some resources for finding an appropriate school in your area.

For more info: www.birdlandyoga.com, www.iayt.org, www.yoganetwork.org, www.yogafamily.com

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