Yoga is great healer for the body, but it can also be extremely harmful if the postures are done incorrectly. Ahimsa, is Sanskrit word for "nonharming" or "nonviolence," it is the first Yama or moral injunction in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra.
As yoga teachers it is our duty to look after our students and to keep them out of harm’s way, and this means informing ourselves correctly before we take the lead and start putting our students into these very deep complicated postures.
It is important that we study body mechanics and keep our students healthy and help those who come to us with trust to regain their health.
I have been teaching for over 18 years around the world and during that time, I was fortunate to work alongside leading experts in anatomy such as Leslie Kaminoff the writer of the book “Yoga Anatomy” that is used in many YTT across the world, also Tom Myers who developed the concept of Anatomy Trains, the myofascial meridians of the body, who has shaken up the fields of bodywork, medicine and yoga as we originally knew it, and many other leading experts.
The growing clientele who have developed injuries from practicing yoga with inexperienced teachers and overzealous students is on the rise. So far here in Europe there are no standards to become a yoga teacher. You can do a yoga teacher training online, or in a few weeks on a yoga retreat and come out of the course a “fully qualified yoga teacher”. I am shocked when I have teachers pass through my classes and they do not even know what the psoas muscle is, or that the knee has to be aligned over the ankle. They do not have enough experience to see when their students are misaligned and yet the growing number of students seeking help from yoga as a recommendation from their doctor to help cure their back, hip and knee problems is rising here in Spain.
Would you ever go to a physio therapist who decided to open up their house with no qualification, who read a book one day about the body and decided now I am a physio therapist, or one that they received a certificate in a month on a retreat in Thailand? I am guessing your answer would be no. So why do people put their trust in yoga teachers over and over without checking their background, where they received their certificate and not only how long they have been teaching, but where and to how many students.
This baffles me over and over again. Yes, yoga is more than correct biomechanics of the body, but in Hatha Yoga we are working directly with the body in extreme positions, so it is important that we have some understanding, right? Especially with these people who come to us for help with acute injuries, and to keep those who are healthy to stay healthy.
Some teachers tell me, that they do not really teach any advanced asanas, they just teach basic and "relaxing" postures, to avoid any risk. But in fact, this kind of teaching can be even more harmful. You have to be really skilled yoga teacher to teach beginners, who have less body awareness than the advance student, who is more accustomed to listening to their bodies. If the spine is not aligned correctly in a simple forward bend, and this beginner student has the pathology to herniate their disk, just a simple fold such as Uttanasana can pop the disk out if the pose is not executed correctly. In fact most injuries occur in a beginner to intermediate level classes, for example torn rotator cuffs, bicep, hamstring tears, back problems and much more.
As teachers, it is your role to look after your students and educate them well in their bodies. Then we can layer on all the other many benefits that yoga has to offer, we are no help to our students if we cause more harm than healing.
As students, it is important that you educate yourself well and know your teachers background before you put all your trust in their hands. Let’s work together to raise the bar of yoga as a healing therapy.
Amanda Dee Smith