The shift in the yoga world over the last 30 years has been toward drop-in classes, which are run in a follow-the-leader approach. This is not the way yoga was practiced historically, but instead is a reflection of an increasing desire for everything to be instant. The unfortunate consequence of jumping into a yoga class without having a proper foundation can be injury. Understanding how yoga should be adapted for individual needs is essential for safe yoga practice.
Each individual yoga practitioner has unique anatomical structure. This means every student must have the freedom to practice yoga void of ideological dogma. Many yoga instructors today are insisting on students practicing yoga postures in ways that can wear out the skeletal joints. Often yoga is taught from the perspective of having ‘dancer-like’ lines in the physical form of postures, instead of teaching yoga for its therapeutic effect.
Heni, our administrator here at BIM, was trained as a ballerina for the National Ballet of Hungary, and as a child was selected due to her ability, but also her physical skeletal structure. Her body was meticulously measured to ensure her proportions fit the ideal form for ballet. Heni’s training and her body type makes her an ideal candidate to practice extreme yoga postures with ‘dancer-like’ lines; however most students practicing yoga should consider they will not have this same ability.
Complicating matters further is the ways in which skeletal joints articulate. Each individual who practices yoga will have unique arrangements in the way the bones are assembled. Angles of articulating surfaces of joints, the depth of joints, the shapes of bones, and the length of bones all factor in whether students will have restrictions in ranges of motion in yoga postures. If every yoga student is asked to do yoga poses the same way, because it is deemed the ‘correct way,’ those with mechanical advantages will thrive where as those who attempt to push past mechanical restrictions will impinge nerves and tear connective tissue, leading to painful injury.
The late T.K.V. Desikachar speaks of his famous father, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, in the book “The Heart of Yoga,’ and states, “What makes my father’s yoga techniques is his insistence on attending to each individual and to his or her uniqueness. If we respect each person individually, it naturally means we will always start from where each person currently is.” Krishnamacharya’s approach to teaching yoga has been my inspiration, as I came to the same conclusion having taught yoga from the perspective of a personal trainer. As a personal trainer for as many years as I have been a yoga teacher I have respected the individual needs of each personal training client or yoga student in the same way.
Research in the fields of anatomy, physiology, injury rehabilitation, biomechanics, and yoga are a responsibility I take seriously in order to provide the necessary learning environment for effective yoga practice. Students often remark how much they appreciate the individualized programming and considerations for their personal needs. Medical professionals regularly mention how pleased they are to know I have taken the time to study the way in which yoga can be modified to meet the challenges of each individual practitioner. Yoga is effective when taught as an exercise prescription; on a case by case basis.