Can't Do a Headstand? You're Still Good at Yoga!
Inversions are not everything, but some people sure act like they are, and this thinking can be damaging – especially to beginner students.
In most of the classes I have taken, and in my teacher training, we are not shown how to safely fall out of an inversion – we are only shown how to get into one. Let’s be real – inversions can be great, but also scary. You have the good and the bad, and the bad can be very bad – you can potentially break your neck, jack up your spine, or something else. I don’t say this to scare anyone, but I think this discourse isn’t out there in the “yoga world” and it should be.
Before I was a yoga teacher, I was a dancer for 13 years. Whenever we did partner lifts, we were always taught how to fall correctly – if the person holding us were to accidentally drop us. This was super important, because, really, who wants to get hurt? It would be beneficial if more yoga teachers applied this technique of safely falling out of a pose – especially an inversion.
The rhetoric I tend to hear from other teachers about inversions is: “It’s easy!” or “If you fall out, it’s ok!” It’s true – if you fall out, it is ok – it doesn’t mean you are loved any less. It doesn’t mean you can’t have meaningful relationships (as my lovely yogi friend, Veronica, says). However, falling out safely and just plain falling are two different things–the latter can hurt and seriously injure you.
Why the pressure to practice inversions anyway? I understand their benefits (improves blood circulation, relieves spinal pain, helps indigestion, etc), but some people can’t do inversions, and might never do inversions. That’s the truth. When I co-taught a dance/movement therapy class for adults with disabilities, the class had to be designed to accommodate their bodies, and what their bodies could do. These students were amazing, and no inversions (headstand/handstand/etc) were done.
Let’s make our students feel good about themselves – challenging them, yes, but not prizing any student over another for what their body can and can’t do.
I have been practicing yoga for 6 years, and I have been a teacher since 2010. I still can’t do a headstand without a wall. I still can’t do a handstand without a wall. Part of this is probably because I don’t practice them as much as some people do. Does this make me a “bad” teacher? No. Does it make me incompetent? No. I mostly teach beginner level students (and specialized populations), so I don’t teach inversions – well, not headstand or handstand. If I myself can’t do a posture, I won’t normally teach it, unless it’s something I’m working on, and I feel strong enough for myself and for my students to safely guide them into it. Does this inability make me “bad” at yoga? No. That’s the awesome thing about yoga – it’s not dichotomous. I could do the best, most impressive pose ever, and it won’t make me better than anyone else.