I have been known to offer what I call lecturettes in anatomy, physiology and biomechanics when teaching yoga classes. My feeling is informing students about the biology of yoga practice will give them the power to heal themselves. As students learn about customizing the postures for their particular health needs an exercise prescription can be formulated.
In my classes each student’s unique requirements for wellbeing is assessed, and strategies for working with injuries or medical conditions while performing yoga postures becomes an integral part of the process. As more students arrive to BIM Yoga Studios referred by their medical professionals or referred by a friend who had successfully overcome an injury while a student here, it is necessary for me to offer the appropriate information in regards to assembling an exercise prescription.
Information is something that must be acquired through study. All my life I have a passion for physical fitness, and have been involved in coaching and fitness instruction from the time I started high school to this day. Along with a variety of fitness certifications were studies in anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics, and I found that I loved to research almost as much as I loved to participate and teach.
There’s a need for yoga teachers to have a wide variety of tactics to approach the various challenges students present. Take back problems for instance. If a student has a bulging disc injury the protocol for modifying their yoga practice can be the polar opposite when compared with a student that has facet joint arthropathy. Understanding the nuances of a wide variety of back problems is every yoga teacher’s duty.
Scoliosis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, disc degeneration, end-plate fracture, bulging disc, herniated disc, facet arthropathy , and spinal stenosis are examples of different back problems that all require special considerations by teachers when developing an appropriate exercise prescription of yoga posture modifications to avoid exacerbating a student’s back problem. Studies in this, and many other areas of medical science, are part of the responsibility of being a yoga teacher. Yoga teachers are not physiotherapists, but every yoga teacher should know enough about the impact yoga postures can have on students to keep students safe.
I’ve deconstructed yoga postures and reassembled them in ways that enable students to participate no matter what restrictions they may have. Each modification or variation, along with prop use and alternative poses, are carefully considered for each student. Classes at BIM are unique in that there are multiple protocols practiced for each yoga posture with a wide variety of techniques occurring simultaneously. This can only work when student have been taught lessons in how to take care of themselves with proper biomechanics and the anatomy and physiology that applies.
It’s time for yoga teachers to do their homework. If a student is cued by an instructor to hold their toes in a forward bend and that student has a dorsal disc bulge and limited flexibility in their legs, the student will hyper-flex their spine to reach their toes and likely experience further back injury. Many medical professionals are willing to send patients to yoga class in hopes of supplemental exercise to aid in full recovery from injury. But if yoga instructors are not informed in how to modify yoga practice for each individual student then yoga practice has the potential to reinjure the student instead of aiding in injury recovery.
A major problem in today’s mainstream yoga industry is the ‘drop-in class,’ where new yoga students can find themselves doing yoga postures that seasoned practitioners can perform but someone new to yoga can easily become injured. Add to this scenario pre-existing injuries and you have a recipe for disaster. I want my students to be fully informed, both on risk and on solutions. In the chronological lesson sequence within levels of intensity I offer my students the empowerment of knowledge through education in good biomechanics, and an understanding of anatomy and physiology as it pertains to yoga.