Thursday, June 02, 2016

Teaching Yoga - Getting Injured and Making the Best of It

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By Kathryn Boland 

Have you been injured in another activity, but still had to teach classes as a yoga instructor? Did this teach you something valuable in the long run? Getting injured can be irritating, frustrating, and even stressful - considering that we heavily rely upon full functioning of our bodies as yoga instructors. You may have to find alternate ways to teach beginners and more advanced postures (those ways apart from demonstrating). You might find you need to reduce your teaching schedule, to give your body time to heal. These, among others, can be challenging adjustments to make. On the other hand, getting injured can offer invaluable learning - if we can remain open to that.

New Ways of Understanding Asana

Except in severe cases of injury, it's usually fine to continue practicing - if done mindfully, slowly, and cautiously. It's best to consult your medical doctor to be sure, however. And if your body is telling you to take a break, please do so! If you do continue practicing, there will certainly be sensation arising when you begin to access the injured area. It's essential information to guide your practice, just like any other sensation. Of course, listen to the sensation and don't "push" further into any particular asana. Instead, stay at that edge, or back off a bit, and take a breath or two to observe where that sensation is really coming from. 



That could help you learn (or re-learn) what muscles are working or lengthening at any given point. For instance, with a tight hamstring I came to see that's it actually the bottom leg's hamstrings that’s more significantly stretching in a Standing Split - because, with the knowledge of which hamstring was recently torn, I compared the sensation of the two sides in that posture. Sensations from a tender area can offer a bodily-felt sense of what is happening in asana practice, and thus another powerful layer of learning about it.

Refreshing Other Skill Sets 

Demonstrating postures and moving sequences can certainly be an instrumental teaching tool. But so are verbal cueing, physical adjustments, and guidance in using props. If we as instructors have limited ability to demonstrate, we might just have to more significantly call upon those other skills. As they say, sink or swim! That could help us see that we over-rely on demonstrating, at the cost of our other teaching tools remaining undeveloped. Or it could help us see how those other tools work more effectively with certain students, in some practice situations. 

You might also use the experience to focus more closely on yoga practice apart from asana - teaching on the Sutras, meditative techniques, deeper pranayama exercises, et cetera. The options are infinite! Not being able to demonstrate as fully and often as you once did could lead you towards those explorations, or return to those non-asana aspects of practice that you haven't shared with your students in some time. Thus, your current injury could lead you to meaningfully explore other teaching territories! 



In Our Student's Shoes

Getting injured can sometimes lead us to take a step back in asana practice - to less advanced postures or less deep expressions of postures. That can bring us back to "beginner's mind", that enthusiastic mindset of being ready to learn and take on new challenges. Even short of such a shift in mindset, we might be able to relate more authentically to our students who can't quite "reach their toes" in Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold) or lift up a foot in Crow Pose preparation posture. 

While recovering from injury, we might experience their same occasional feelings of self-criticism and frustration. From there, we might be able to more effectively guide them in the yogic processes of releasing such negative, unhelpful energies - with non-attachment, satya, ahisma, and of course breath! From students' perspectives, it could be very validating and refreshing to see that even yoga instructors face those challenges! Getting injured is an initially unfortunate event that can reap such beneficial effects.

All in all, yes, injury can be frustrating and anxiety-provoking. But all is not lost. Remember your practice, and the Sutras’ values. Try to be patient, give your body the time it needs to heal, and see what lessons the experience can teach you. See how you might be able to make lemonade out of lemons. Your teaching and practice might never be the same

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