Thursday, December 29, 2011

Yoga Ethics: Finding Safe Edges

I am an active student of life. I like to learn as much as I can. Sometimes I get lucky enough to teach what I learn. This is an opinion based on my own experience and study. I would love to hear yours.

I have been to different yoga studios. Every yoga teacher and studio does things differently. There are many beautiful styles of yoga and teaching. I would encourage most folks to try all styles and studios of yoga! Check out a slower moving Hatha class, a faster flowing Vinyasa class, a pose holding fast flowing Power class or a set series like Ashtanga or Bikram. I do believe there is one brief concept that every single yoga teacher and studio should follow.

Try to keep your students safe and teach to the least in the room.

Take this scenario. A teacher has a room where over half of the students are brand new to yoga. They want to please the teacher and try to get into the pose, or they are competing with a friend, a mat neighbor, or they simply want to see how far they can push their bodies. I know, I've been there. I have jacked up my right shoulder for a month because I wanted to do one more side plank and one more chaturanga to make my teacher happy that I was truly "reaching my edge". Part of a yoga guide's duties should be to teach modifications to the room to keep them safe. A brief mention of bringing a knee down would suffice. It is important to speak to the concept of not harming myself (ahimsa) while trying to give a posture my all. A teacher should be comfortable verbally or physically adjusting a student if they see something crazy out of whack that might hurt that student.

I am not saying yoga teachers should micro manage every posture their students are in. Not at all. What I am saying is that when a teacher has half the class dumping into their shoulders or low back while lowering through chaturanga, they should take a moment and explain the posture and explain modifications. I know great teachers that take the time to do this. It doesn't hurt the 10 year yogis to take a moment to listen to the explanation. It simply makes us all more aware of our breath, movements and intention...and isn't that the point anyhow?

When the class is in prasarita padottanasana (wide leg forward fold), and the teacher verbally suggest that folks can find their headstand if it is accessible, and a student falls out of headstand B variation of knees on triceps and knocks another student over...and then goes back into the posture with a humped back, elbows bent out to the sides, wrists twisted and dangerous head/neck is that teacher's duty to verbally or physically adjust to keep that person safe!

Likewise, students need to know that they have a right to refuse an adjustment. No, it is not okay for your teacher to physically pull you into a headstand or pincha mayurasana if you physically and mentally are not yet "there". This is especially dangerous if you have an injury they are not aware of.

Every student has a right to say no.

Some good teachers I know explain this every time they start a class. A simple "you may feel my hands on you and adjusting your postures to keep you safe or deepen you in, you can always tell me no or tell me that it is uncomfortable or painful and I will stop". While students have a responsibility to keep themselves safe, to stop when they feel pain and to not "cut themselves with a samurai sword," (as a great teacher always says)...teachers need to let students know that it is OK to say no! Teachers are in a position of power and authority and with that power and authority comes responsibility to keep students in a safe space.

It is the most ethically important thing to do...keep students as safe as possible. Teach to the least in the room to allow for modifications and adjustments. Have fun, learn, and experience but don't hack anyone apart and contribute to injury that could be prevented.

What do you think? Do yoga teachers have an ethical responsibility to keep their students safe, or, is it on the student? Are modifications and speaking to this point even necessary; can students simply "fake it 'till they make it"?

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