It seems like eons since the New York Times published an article about how yoga can wreck your body.
In the piece, yoga instructor Glenn Black warned that "the vast majority of people should give up yoga altogether," because they were likely to injure themselves.
As a brand-new teacher when this article appeared, I was terrified, to put it lightly.
Sure, we'd talked about insurance and other legalities when I went through teacher training, but the majority of our insurance plan was learning how to teach safely.
Who am I to keep all of these trusting yogis and yoginis safe, I wondered. I worried about people standing on their heads and falling on their faces.
What kept me afloat was a leap of courage, and trust in the training that I'd received.
I was deeply inspired to recommit myself to the safe teaching and the safe practice of yoga when I ran into this quote from yoga teacher J. Brown, founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY, commenting on that now-infamous article:
“The key to safe yoga boils down to the sensitivity and adaptability of the instructor, his or her capacity for dialogue with and responsiveness to a student, and the humble confidence of knowing what you know and what you don’t know.”
It is with this quote in mind that I challenge you to consider three key characteristics of a safe yoga class:
1. Observe carefully.
For yogis who are not teachers, it's in your best interest to pay attention to how well your instructor pays attention to you. Does she ask if it is anyone's first yoga class, or if anyone has injuries? Does she ask if the class has any special requests? If your instructor makes little or no eye contact with students, sounds as though she is reading from a script, or doesn't make herself approachable for questions or concerns, be honest with yourself about whether your instructor is truly being present for you and your practice. If not, find one who will make your safety her primary responsibility.
For those of us who are teachers, we need to be sensitive to the individual needs of each student, adapt to each new class as a new entity upon itself, and be present in every moment.
2. Ask questions.
Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions! Ask questions before class, during class, and after class. Write your instructor a Facebook message and ask him a question if one pops up. Write it down so you'll remember to ask him the next time you meet. The instructor's purpose is to guide you through your yoga class, so if you're confused about a cue or something just doesn't feel right, ask why. Ask how to fix it.
As an instructor, then, it's your primary responsibility to keep your students safe in the 60 or 90 minutes that they are in your class. Encourage your students to ask questions, and if you don't know the answer, make a real effort to find it.
3. Stay humble.
Friends, this is so important for both instructors and students alike! There's such a fine line between challenging yourself and accepting your own personal limitations. Honor your body where it's at in every pose, every transition, and every breath.
Your body will feel differently today than it did yesterday, and different in the evening than it did in the morning. Don't judge where you're at right now; accept it. Be thankful for it. Dive with your head and your heart in to each new practice, and into the realm of possibilities that each new breath, each new pose, and each new transition brings.
This key is even more important for instructors. Be confident in what you know, and humble in what you do not. Be curious, be thoughtful, and be honest with both your self and your students. Bow to the
eternal light and goodness within yourself and each unique and enlightened individual who shows up to practice with you.