Like everything in this world, you have an amazing experience or you can have a horrible experience and either way it will leave a lasting impression on you and help you make decisions when similar circumstances come up. Unfortunately in the latter part, having a bad experience or working with someone who does not know what they are doing, could leave you hesitant to try again. Just as in the world of personal trainers there are hacks out there that get a low-grade certification and have no experience and put a shingle on their door that says personal trainer, the same unfortunately holds true for the sacred practice of yoga.
Fortunately for yoga, in order to actually teach you have to go through a 200hr teacher training so there is some hope that hacks are a little harder to come by, but then again, it is part of the fitness industry and there are trainers who think because they know what downward facing dog is, it qualifies them to offer yoga to their clients. Fortunately, these people do not get jobs in reputable studios but that does not stop them from duping you into believing, because they speak with a soft voice and say take deep breaths and do downward facing dog, that they are “professional.”
The reason that I am writing this today is because I have heard over the last few months from people who want to try yoga again or who want to try yoga in general have either themselves been hurt or a friend or family member has been hurt either by taking a yoga class at a local studio or gym or tried yoga with a personal trainer who was not professionally trained with a 200hr certification, but, knew a few of the “moves.” Which, if a trainer says they are going to teach you yoga moves, then you might right there hesitate to try it. Yoga postures and asanas are not “moves” they are a purposefully guided practice done with intention and for a reason. The fact that the people I talk with either have been hurt or know someone who has been hurt sets off red lights and I begin to probe a bit further into what actually happened. Usually it was one of three things. 1. The class they went to was packed full, they were brand new to the practice. Because of this it seems the teacher was not able to physically get around to personally give attention. 2. The new student walked into a studio or gym and talked to the person at the front desk who thinks all yoga is the same, and says, “oh yeah try this one it starts in 10 minutes.” Without knowing anything about the person who wants to join. 3. My personal favorite, my personal trainer told me to do these “stretches” because he/she did them in a yoga class and thought they would be good for me because they were challenging. (YIKES!)
As a yoga teacher and personal trainer all three of these bother me on MANY levels. The first scenario is a little harder to avoid. With yoga being a popular activity to do, many classes tend to be large and packed. Yoga studios are a bit better at keeping numbers small, but even this can be hard to do all the time. I personally love teaching big classes and going to big classes but at the same time, I keep my eyes peeled and make sure that I walk around the room to make myself accessible if necessary. It’s important that the instructor keep the practice about their students and not about them. It is easier to get hurt in a big class because it’s easy to get lost in the crowd, you may not be able to see the instructor or hear the instructor give cues. Maybe the instructor is subbing and is not used to large crowds and does not actively move about the room, giving you less access to the instructor to give you attention.
The second one is a little more irritating because getting hurt could have been more avoidable. This is especially true at small studios. It is the job of the studio is to inform their staff of the classes that are offered and who would be ideal for each class. It is the job of the staff member if they are not yoga savvy to grab an instructor or owner if they are unsure about a potential member going to a specific class. For example, I had the opportunity to meet a few people who wanted to give yoga another try but were hesitant because they personally had bad experiences.
Upon further investigation I found out that it was lack of information that caused them to injure themselves. One woman in particular had severely injured her lower back because she had arrived late to the gentle yoga class that she wanted to try. Being her first time, when she got to the studio she found it was full and already started. She asked the staff member at the desk when the next class would be. The staff member told her that there were no more gentle classes scheduled for the evening, but that she could attend the next class and she would probably be just fine. The woman insisted, “are you sure I will be OK? I have never done yoga before and would like to start easy.” The staff member assured her that she would be fine and to just try it. So thinking that the staff had her best interests in mind, she set up her mat.
The class began to fill and fill, until there was no space left. The door closed and class began, what she found was that no one in the class was beginner, she was in the back of the room and it was a heated fast paced power vinyasa. Not knowing any better, she tried to keep up with the others in the class and afraid to get behind, pushed herself too far and got hurt.
Now I know what you are thinking, “well, when she saw that it was not for her she should have left, or she should have asked for help.” But before we are quick to judge this woman, put yourself in her shoes. When was the last time you were insecure about something and stuck it out because you were nervous to look silly or get embarrassed? Ok, now that we are all on the same empathetic page, you can see why I would be frustrated by this situation.
First of all it gives a bad impression of the studio because their employees don’t know what is happening and how to properly guide clients.
Second, as a teacher it shows negligence of paying attention to her students. If a student is struggling, it is the instructors JOB to make sure they offer modifications, or gently go over to the struggling student and give them the OK to bow out or rest in child’s pose or another gentle pose.
As teachers we know who our regulars are even in a big class, we have a general idea of who is in attendance. If there is a new face its imperative that we as teachers acknowledge the newbies just as we chat and talk with the regulars. This could have been avoided with a simple introduction of I see some new faces this is a such and such class please feel free to rest if you need to or if you feel uncomfortable know its OK to try a different class another time.
The third scenario annoys me three ways to Sunday. Not only because it is irresponsible but because it is extremely unethical. The personal trainer who uses yoga without properly understanding the rational for having a client do it other than it was cool or challenging is not acting in the best interest of the client. This not only annoys me as an instructor of yoga but it also annoys me as a personal trainer. Yoga is not just another activity to spring onto your clients without understanding the principles of yoga. Each pose in and of it self is work of art that requires dynamic muscular actions and immense concentration. Proper alignment and understanding of why a pose is being chosen for a person can dramatically change the way the body responds to the pose. Just doing a pose for the sake of the pose is diminishing the value of the practice and puts the client at a risk of being injured. The potential injury to the client is where I find using yoga just because it is new or different or the “cool” thing to do, unethical on the part of the trainer. As a personal trainer our job is to make sure that we lead our clients through a safe, purposeful workout, with our clients best interests being at the forefront.
As a yoga teacher, because of the lack of education, ignorance, and negligence all for the sake of a dollar, makes it very difficult to explain to someone who has had a bad experience that not all yoga is the same. I honor this challenge because it shows potential clients/students that I care about their well-being. It is frustrating, I must admit, when I am constantly having to apologize for others lack of responsibility. However, I also welcome it as a chance to show people I am different and I am here to provide the students a class that meets their needs at all levels of their practice. My hope in writing this piece is to reach out to anyone who has had a bad experience and let me show them that the power of yoga is actually meant to be beneficial and preventative. My hope is that if you are reading this, you give yoga another chance. If you do here are a few suggestions that I would make to minimize another bad experience.
- Call the studio ahead of time or gym and ask to speak directly to the instructor or leave a message for the instructor to call you.
- If you are new to yoga; look for classes that say gentle, beginner, not heated.
- Go in to class with an open mind and know that child’s pose is ALWAYS an option.
- This kinda goes with #1 I highly recommend NOT talking to the front desk person about yoga class suggestions. Unless they say, “I teach that class” my personal opinion is to set up a time with the instructor before going to class to get a synopsis of the class level, demographic, and intensity.
I hope this helps you in your attempt to either give yoga a try for the first time or give it another try after a rough experience! When in the right setting yoga can and will be an amazing practice to add to your life!