On January 5, the New York Times Magazine released the controversial article â€śHow Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.â€ť Should you be alarmed? The fact that you can come away with injuries from repeatedly doing yoga postures incorrectly should come as no surprise. As Glenn Black says at the end of this article: â€śAsana is not a panacea or cure-all. In fact, if you do it with ego or obsession, youâ€™ll end up causing problems.â€ť
To avoid injury and deepen your own yoga practice, instructor and Teaching Yoga author Mark Stephens advises everyoneâ€”new and experiencedâ€”to approach yoga with a â€śbeginner’s mindâ€ť in the following excerpt.
New to Yoga
People first come to yoga with a variety of conditions and motivations. Most new yoga students have previously participated in group exercise classes and may have high body intelligence. But very few have experienced a physical practice in which they are invited to move and explore in the specific ways asked of them in yoga: consciously connecting breath-body-mind amid increasingly complex and challenging positioning of the body. With most new students starting off regularly scheduled classes rather than introductory workshops, they find themselves diving into a flowing stream surrounded by unfamiliar words, techniques, and challenges. Yoga teacher Max Strom (1995) recalls being â€ścompletely confusedâ€ť and feeling â€śanger and despairâ€ť when taking his first yoga class in 1991. Add a spiritual dimensionâ€”even chanting aumâ€”and many new students put up such defenses that complicate their experience.
Teaching new students is an opportunity to deepen our own practice of â€śbeginnerâ€™s mindâ€ť and to encourage it among others in class. In this mind-set, we open ourselves to whatever we are doing as if it is the first time. Although the body-mind knows from prior-experience where it is going and what to expect, the idea is to soften that preconditioned mind-set in order to feel what is happening more freshly and free of preconceptions. When we do this as teachers, it allows us to have a more empathetic understanding of new studentsâ€™ experiences, thereby making it easier to give them guidance and support it takes for them to do most they can.
What mindset do you take to yoga class? Do the benefits outweigh the potential costs of practicing?
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Teaching Yoga is an essential resource for new and experienced teachers as well as a guide for all yoga students interested in refining their skills and knowledge. Addressing 100% of the teacher training curriculum standards set by Yoga Alliance, the world’s leading registry and accreditation source for yoga teachers and schools, Teaching Yoga is also ideal for use as a core textbook in yoga teacher training programs.
An esteemed yoga instructor who has trained over 700 yoga teachers, Mark Stephens conducts classes, workshops, and retreats worldwide. The founder of Yoga Inside Foundation, L.A. Yoga Center, and the recipient of Yoga Journal’s first annual Karma Yoga Award in 2000, he lives and teaches in Santa Cruz, CA.