I was re-reading an article that showed up in The Globe & Mail Oct. 10, 2009 on injuries occurring in yoga classes. The article was called ‘Trouble on the Om front’ and was written by Anna Sharratt. I was once again taken aback by the recklessness of the posture adjustment described by Darlene Buan-Basit.
“A self-confessed A-type, Darlene Buan-Basit went to a major yoga studio in Toronto to find inner peace. Instead, she dislocated her shoulder. ‘I had done this yoga instructor’s class once or twice and perhaps he thought I could go further,’ says the 37-year-old chiropractor at Balance Fitness in Toronto. Ms. Buan-Basit was doing a bind, a pose in which one arm wraps around the body to grasp the other arm. ‘He gave me an adjustment and out went my shoulder.’ She was lucky: Her classmate, a chiropractic student, ‘popped’ the joint back in… But after a painful recovery and intensive rehabilitation, she’s now wary. ‘The injury could have been serious. I’m quick to say I’m fine, thank you,’ when instructors offer to push her deeper into a pose, she says.”
How can this happen in yoga class? Part of the problem is the construction of mainstream yoga classes, follow along classes without precautions or postural corrections. This is the instructor-based model where yoga teachers run a syllabus of poses as if playing a game of follow-the-leader. Often there are no contraindications or precautions mentioned and no postural corrections offered.
Yoga Teacher Training programs can leave would-be yoga instructors with the idea anything goes when it comes to the sequencing of classes or postures within classes. Poorly constructed posture order or illogical order of a series of classes can lead to disastrous consequences. Without some oversight into how a yoga class should be presented, yoga teachers can easily put students in danger of becoming injured.
Yoga teachers that do not facilitate the needs of each individual in their class lack empathy and understanding for the unique health challenges students face when practicing yoga. A real problem that exists in the yoga industry today is an instructor’s unrealistic expectations of participants. Partly this has to do with a discrepancy between skill levels of instructors versus students, but obviously a lack of sympathy is the underlying factor.
As noted in the excerpt from The Globe & Mail article, yoga adjustments can go very wrong. Adjustments should be the last resort for a yoga instructor and not the go-to technique it has come to be. Yoga teachers are not physiotherapists. One of the most common stories I hear when a student arrives to my class for the first time is they were hurt at another studio due to improper or aggressive postural adjustments by an instructor. Yes I do offer adjustments from time to time. However, adjustments given are never aggressive, always done in a respectful manner, and from the frame of reference of my long-time experience as a yoga teacher.
Yoga styles can be very formulaic in their presentation, and this will lend itself to students becoming injured or aggravating a pre-existing condition. I chose to draw from many styles in constructing the Breathe Into Motion Yoga System, so you might call BIM Yoga a hybrid of sorts. This is by design, so that I can offer many variables within a framework of the syllabus of BIM. When students practice physical yoga or Hatha Yoga in styles with rigid dogma many times the underlying problem is actually Hatha Yoga styles not suited for the participant.
It is interesting to note how yoga students with certain body-types will gravitate toward particular styles of yoga. This has been a personal observation of mine over the 34 years I have practiced yoga. I never quite understood why a yoga student was expected to adapt to the style of yoga instead of the yoga practice being adaptable to each student. Each student has a unique skeletal make-up. Soft body tissue pliability ranges greatly from individual to individual. With such differences between students' physical body characteristics yoga classes can go very wrong when there's an instructor’s lack of acceptance that participants are different in their physical make-up.
All in all, yoga practice can go wrong when instructors do not offer appropriate standard of care. The problem in yoga classes today all boils down to an instructor’s lack of experience dealing with injuries. Personal Trainers certified with the Certified Professional Trainers Network are required to study anatomy, physiology and exercise for special populations. This should be the expectation of yoga teacher training but unfortunately these areas are often not emphasized. In our yoga school at BIM teacher trainees are asked to make anatomy, physiology and exercise for special populations the cornerstone of their training. I’m a CPTN member and hold a certification as a Personal Trainer with Merit, but I also hold a Post-Rehabilitation Conditioning Specialist Certification and a Yoga Specialist Certification with CPTN. As I CPTN member I understand how important it is to offer the same standard of care whether as a personal trainer or as a yoga teacher.