The ability to discern between what will improve our quality of life versus what is a detriment to us is not as easy as it appears. In the book of yoga philosophy called the ‘Yoga Sutras,’ written two millennia ago by the sage Patanjali, the idea of ‘correct discernment,’ known as Viveka in Sanskrit language, is a skill to be practiced. Through Viveka many of life’s lessons can be learned painlessly.
Every time we get on the mat to perform yoga postures we have the opportunity to include Viveka as part of our practice. Good decision making in the way yoga is practiced will keep us from harm. Considering the high incidence of injury in yoga classes reported by medical professionals, which was researched by William Broad in his book ‘The Science of Yoga,’ we know yoga has the same risks as any sporting endeavor. The stats are clear in Broad’s book, and although some in the yoga world would like to deny Broad’s research, there is no arguing the facts.
The Breathe Into Motion Yoga System has a proven track record of helping students to overcome injury, and the standard of care I offer students has been described by medical professionals as exceptional. Part of the reason for this is my emphasis on students learning discernment. I insist on lessons for each pose taught that include demonstrations on alignment options for a variety of challenges, considerations for medical conditions, instruction in the use of supportive equipment called yoga props, and a host of variables to meet the individual needs of each student.
In contrast the ‘drop-in,’ ‘follow-the-leader’ class is yoga practiced void of discernment, and has a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach where there is a presumption that everyone should do the yoga postures in the same way. Without cultivating discernment yoga students are simply following along in a copy-cat scenario that will often result in injury. This is especially dangerous if the yoga teacher is more interested in showing off their skills than teaching yoga students to discern what is appropriate for each student’s particular needs.
I meet folks who have been hurt in the ‘drop-in,’ ‘follow-the-leader’ classes coming to BIM from other studios, and they are always surprised at the very different approach taken at BIM. I personally have memories of attending drop-in classes where I noticed so many students struggling in pain to keep up with the instructor, and I’ve witnessed instructors (with inappropriate physical force) push students into advanced postures. On occasion I have even seen instructors adjust students when there is absolutely no need for adjustment based on the student’s particular physical attributes. There is no such thing as a perfect form of a yoga posture for all; there is only the necessity for the posture to be modified for the unique needs of each individual practicing it. This requires discernment.
If you observe a ‘drop-in,’ ‘follow-the-leader’ class you will notice students cannot perform yoga postures without frequently looking up to see what is going on. This morphs the yoga postures, which are not designed to have eyes on the instructor, out of recognition. Injuries can occur to the neck and shoulders simply because a student is looking up instead of down. While looking up and trying to see what is going on alignment will be out and students will often stop breathing properly. If you are participating in a ‘drop-in,’ ‘follow-the-leader’ class, you are already not doing poses correctly, because if you have to look to see then there is no way you can be performing the poses properly.
These are some of the reasons I have chosen to do it differently at BIM. I didn’t want my students to feel like they had no idea what’s going on, struggling while trying to ‘copy the teacher.’ The inspiration for teaching yoga to me is simple; yoga is about healing. This requires students to be taught as individuals each learning exacting skills that pertain to them. It requires discernment.
I spend a fair amount of time speaking with students about how to stay safe through making the correct choices at the beginning of a session of classes. I don’t offer ‘drop-in,’ ‘follow-the-leader’ classes, as I don’t even see this as a legitimate form of yoga. It is unrecognizable when compared to the way yoga was taught for hundreds of years. Historically yoga was taught in a ‘step-by-step’ manner as an exercise prescription to improve health, as support for injury rehabilitation, and as a method of easing the symptoms of medical conditions.
If the environment for healing is to be nurtured discernment must be taught as part of the practice. Making good choices that are personalized has to be included in the instruction. This requires yoga teachers to know about the contraindications of yoga poses, and have knowledge in how to adjust yoga postures to accommodate all challenges that students present. It is not the students’ responsibility to know what might be harmful to them; it is the yoga instructor’s responsibility to teach students what is appropriate. In this way the student receives an education in discernment.
I see yoga in the context of a bigger picture. It is not about being a contortionist. To be practiced authentically yoga needs to include the concepts of the Yoga Sutras such as Viveka. This must be transmitted through proper yoga instruction. Students can stay safe in yoga class. The BIM Yoga System has come to be known as support for injury rehabilitation by our local medical community. I am so very pleased that this is the type of reputation we have earned. I have found one of the most important foundational philosophies for safe yoga practice is to build a keen sense of discernment. Discernment is possible when you already know what’s going on; it’s impossible to discern when there’s no choice but to follow along.