I Hate My Yoga Teacher

Day One. I hate my yoga teacher. Anyone could be that skinny if all they had to do all day was workout and shop at Whole Foods. That bitch talked me into an introductory month. Why did I spend an extra $15 to listen to some immature twenty-something tell me about the meaning of life?

Day Two. Look in the mirror? I am sure you looooove looking in the mirror, bitch, with your $200 haircut. The mirror is just there to stroke your ego. Well, let me tell you what, I am not looking in the mirror. That is not what yoga is about. People who are in tune with their bodies should be able to feel their alignment. That’s real yoga.

Day Three. I still hate my yoga teacher. I have nothing in common with this woman. Don’t talk to a bunch of forty-year old women about aging gracefully while we’re trying to stand on one foot. What does she know about life anyway? I am sure her daddy bought her that Subaru and she must live off a trust fund to afford those $70 yoga pants.

Day Five. This asshole told me today that if I couldn’t get my leg around the first time to try again. What the hell does he think he knows? I know my body. I know what I can and can’t do. And I don’t know why these teachers are all suggesting when to drink water and when to not. Like I don’t know how to drink after four decades on this planet? What a bunch of militaristic dicks. It’s all about the ego with them. All they want to do is control us.

Day Six. I don’t even know why I keep coming back. This can’t be good for you. The human body wasn’t made to do these things. And the room! It must be a haven for germs. It can’t be safe to have so many sweaty bodies so close together. What is she doing going over to the thermostat again? Is that bitch trying to punish us for falling out of Standing Bow?

Day Eight. I swear, I’m only coming back to get my money’s worth. I paid $30 for the intro month and I might as well get as much use out of it as I can. It costs as much as a month at the gym and this is the cheap month! The bitch at the front desk told me my goal was to stay in the room to get acclimated to the heat my first class. I knew she was an idiot after two postures. I needed to get some fresh air. I don’t know why anyone else stayed in there. I mean, yeah, I got dizzy when I walked out into the lobby and had to sit down, but I’m sure that’s just because she had the heat turned up way too high. There wasn’t any oxygen in there!

Day Ten. The bitch was all tired at the front desk today. I am sure she was out partying with all of her friends last night. When I walked in, she told me she was glad to see me. Yeah, right. Despite the fact that I hate my yoga teacher, I didn’t leave the room today. I didn’t even think to leave. I was too caught up in the poses. I think I’m starting to get some of them. And I never got dizzy. They must have turned the heat down.

Day Thirteen. HOLY CRAP! I got my leg around in Eagle today! I never thought I would do that. I mean, NEVER! He said, “Try one more time,” and I did and I GOT IT! He believed in me before I ever believed in myself. I don’t know what he saw or how he knew, but HOT DAMN!

Day Fourteen. After last night’s miracle, I got up the courage to try the front row. Now that I can see myself in the mirror, I realize my left hip is always twisting back. That’s the one that used to hurt me in soccer. When I bring it forward, holy smokes the stretch!!! No wonder I was avoiding it when I couldn’t see in the back row.

Day Sixteen. Okay, she doesn’t have a trust fund. She is a lululemon ambassador and she gets those expensive pants for teaching free classes at the showroom on the weekends. I didn’t realize that they are always teaching when other people are not working: early, late, on weekends, on holidays. Still, I tried to ask a question after class today, but all of her friends were lined up to gossip after class. I waited twenty minutes, but no one seems to care about my needs, so I just left without asking. Of course they have never heard of “customer service” at a yoga studio.

Day Eighteen. Son of a gun. I guess their “suggestions” work. I didn’t drink water before camel today and for the first time, I held it the whole time, both sets, and didn’t feel like barfing! The bitch told me I nailed my Triangle alignment “spot on”, too. What, does she think she’s from London now?

Day Twenty-one. I think I am addicted. I didn’t come yesterday and I felt “off” all day. The teachers always say the only class you regret is the one you didn’t take. They couldn’t be more right. Class today felt amazing! I felt like She-ra, Princess of Power. I guess rest does help your muscles heal. I got my kicking leg locked in Standing Head-to-Knee. I can’t wait to try it again tomorrow.

Day Twenty-two. I was listening in as she talked with her “friends” after class today. The girl was complaining of a sore lower back and how she was trying to stretch it out, but it wasn’t getting better. Queen Bitch explained how you can’t stretch out back pain and that back bending is what actually heals it. We sit and forward bend all day, so more of the same will only get you more of the same. I’m glad I eavesdropped. My lower back has been tender for a week now. I am going to try out what she said tomorrow.

Day Twenty-five. No more back pain! I have been taking it easy in the forward bends and working my ass off in the back bends. I even get up during work to do a quick half moon and back bend once in a while. I haven’t felt this good in years. I thought that low-grade back pain was just something I’d have to live with for the rest of my life.

Day Twenty-six. I decided to stay after and wait until I got my turn tonight. My wrist has really been bugging me and it’s affecting my typing. After the back pain realization, maybe she can help me with this. I waited until 8:40 pm. Turns out, those people I thought were her friends are students waiting to ask questions about themselves. One women was even talking all about her dog’s knee surgery for, like, ten minutes. As I left the studio at 9 pm, my yoga teacher was walking into the laundry room to finish washing and folding towels. Her class ended an hour ago…

Day Twenty-nine. My intro month ends tomorrow. I can’t stop now. I am going to sign up for automatic billing. It really is the best deal. And this is like paying for the gym, therapy, chiropractic and a doctor’s visit all in one and I can come every day. I actually came twice yesterday. I got up to take the early bird and had such a terrible day at work that I needed it to de-stress before going home. The guy I used to call “the asshole” mentioned to the class what dedication I had book-ending my day with yoga. Me? Dedicated? I have always thought of myself as a quitter, but I guess I am.

And my wrist is feeling much better. Turns out I had my elbows bent in Locust and my wrist was twisted when I was lying on it. I thought it was more important to get them under, even though she said, “Be sure your elbows are straight.” I wonder how many other cues I’ve misinterpreted.

Day Thirty-four. I learned today that my yoga teacher had a miscarriage three weeks ago. She came to work two days later, tired at the front desk, but she still had a smile for each of us. She told me she was glad I was there. I remember, she even said,”Is that a new top? It really brings out the color of your eyes.” When will I learn, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover?

Day Thirty-nine. A couple of the people from yoga invited me out for tea after class this weekend. How cool. I didn’t realize I was making friends in the locker room, but I feel so comfortable around these women. We had tea and a delicious, healthy lunch after a killer class. I feel like I’m walking on air right now!

Day Forty-five. I thanked my teacher today. I know I should have done it earlier, but the weather was crappy and lots of businesses were closing early, and my teacher volunteered to stay so that those of us in the 9-5 grind could get a class in a the end of a long day. I know she had a long ride home on snowy roads. I said, “Thank you for being here.” “Happy to,” she said. Could she really be happy being in service to others? I needed that class today.

Day Sixty-four. I haven’t been posting much lately. I am too busy feeling good to complain. I am just so lucky to have found this studio, this community and these amazing teachers. I have become a better person just by taking classes here for two months. Who would have thought?

Day Sixty-five. And I forgot to mention: I love my yoga teacher.

sara and bella headstandSara Curry is a yoga teacher and studio owner in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through many years on the mat, she has learned to love each and every one of her yoga instructors from a wide variety of disciplines by first learning to love herself.

Why do some yoga poses hurt?

Yoga should never hurt.  

Your back is gonna hurt like hell.

Ask any teacher and they’ll give you a strong argument about why one of those answers is correct. With the myriad of bodies and experiences we see on a daily basis, a yoga teacher learns quickly that as we think there is only one right answer, we couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I like to say, yoga should never hurt you. It should never be damaging to your body. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt sometimes.

How do you know when yoga is healing or hurting?

We often confuse pain and stretching

Yoga is all about getting to know you.  Your body. Your mind. Your Self. Much of our daily lives revolve around ignoring the way we feel so we can get through the day and get our work done. We ignore our aching hips on the two hour commute as much as we avoid movements that remind us of what it feels like to live in this body.

When we first start to move every part of our bodies in yoga, the sensations are unfamiliar and we can frequently categorize the uncomfortable sensation of stretching or moving a joint through full range of motion as pain.

Backbending when you haven’t done it in twenty years hurts. Clearing mineral deposits from your elbows hurts. Tensing up when you are trying to stretch hurts. Bringing back full range of motion to a hip that only sits in a chair or a couch hurts.

Ask yourself, is this pain or the sensation of stretching?  As a general rule, pain means stop and discomfort means go.

Sore muscles become stronger muscles

Muscles need stress to become stronger. One of the side effects of that stress is delayed onset muscle soreness. While it is certainly possible to over-exert yourself in yoga, DOMS is a natural part of increasing strength. This form of discomfort initiates within 24-48 hours of exertion and should resolve itself within three days.

Tolerable sore muscles mean progress. Don’t be scared.

Cramps

Our brains are designed to seek avoidance of anything that causes us discomfort. Cramps are no exception to this rule. Inadvertent and strong contraction of muscles in a cramp can be abruptly painful. It causes us to immediately cease the activity and often violently avoid the sensation.

There are three main causes of cramps, excluding medications and preexisting conditions:

  1. Dehydration. This is a serious condition and is accompanied by a host of other symptoms like the inability to uncurl the fingers, vomiting, confusion and difficulty breathing. Individuals who are dehydrated need immediate intervention. This is not the cramp you get during cobra.
  2. Mineral deficiency. These cramps are generally not experienced during exercise. Nighttime leg cramps can often be attributed to a deficiency or imbalance in calcium, magnesium or potassium. Talk to your healthcare provider about an appropriate supplement if you experience nighttime cramping.
  3. Exercise intensity. Dr. Martin Schwellnus proposes that as you increase the intensity with which you are using a muscle, it can take time for the brain and body to synchronize, resulting in over-contraction of the muscle. This occurs particularly when the muscles are fatigued. This period is known as “altered neuromuscular control” and was originally theorized because studies have shown no correllation between hydration and electrolyte levels with muscle cramping in extreme athletes.

The first two causes of cramping rarely apply in a  yoga class. This leaves us with muscle fatigue and exercise intensity. We often seek muscle fatigue to get a muscle to “let go” before stretching it, so the cramp is a sign we are on the right track, just maybe a little to far too fast. Deepening muscle strength through increased length or intensity of contraction can, at times, be accompanied by cramps.

As unpopular as this may make me, I am a fan of cramps in class. It means I’m doing something new. Going somewhere I haven’t before. Finding new depth or strength I didn’t know I had.

Keep your breathing regular and slowly decrease your intensity and watch that cramp melt away. In a nutshell, cramps in class are not dangerous. Don’t panic.

Rusty hinges, adhesion and scar tissue

After we finish development, it is use it or lose it with range of motion and flexibility in the body. In our adult lives, we sit or stand in the same position for hours at a time, sometimes a majority of our day. It is a rare individual that uses their body through full range of potential movement each day. Most people use much less than even half of potential movement.

Joints that aren’t used through full range of motion are the perfect place for calcium oxalate crystals to deposit. This is a painful form of arthritis. As a rolling stone gathers no moss, so a moving joint keeps surfaces clear from crystalline arthritis. Clearing mineral deposits from the joints is not always a pleasant process. Take your time. It will get better.

Muscles that remain tightened in the same position for long periods of time can form hydrogen bonds between the muscle fascia that get more dense with time. Stretching those long-bonded filaments of connective tissue, like moving a crystallized joint, can feel much more intense than simple “stretching”. Again, move slowly, but don’t be afraid.

Scar tissue forms when the body heals from an injury. Scar tissue cannot be eliminated, but it can be remodeled. Through movement and stretching, one can realign the collagen fibers in the lumpy scar tissue so that it is both stronger and more plastic. Through this process, the scar tissue begins to act more like the original, flexible tissue that was in place before the injury. The older the scar tissue, and the more trauma to the area, the more uncomfortable this remodeling process can be.

On the mat, the yogi should practice with awareness and patience. When we want to achieve yoga “goals” too quickly, we can cause injury. Take your time. Move with awareness, and be patient. Start where you are and build strength and range of motion from there.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the condition in which the protective cartilage in a joint is worn down, eventually to painful bone-on-bone contact within a joint. Osteoarthritis generally forms from uneven tissue-loading or repetitive movement. There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but yoga is a great tool to help strengthen the soft muscle tissue around the joint and reduce the amount of painful bone-on-bone contact.

In the practice of yoga, individuals with this condition should focus on precise alignment of the skeleton in poses and building strength around the joint. Range of motion exercises are helpful because they help palpate the circulation around the joint, maintaining and improving joint health. Individuals with osteoarthritis must practice to tolerance only.

Once the painful bone-on-bone compression is felt, going deeper will only exacerbate the wear and tear on cartilage and bone. This is not a pain to try to tough your way through. Through practice and attention you will find the places where you need to stop before you reach the pain.

Chronic Illness

Fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune disorders are often noted for unsourced, chronic pain. Practicing yoga with these conditions hurts. That’s the cold, hard truth.

The good news is that yoga also miraculously relieves the long-term pain. There is no clear explanation of why, but moving the body with awareness, increasing circulation, improving alignment and strength all help to eliminate the seemingly endless pain. Read more about Joseph Encinia’s inspiring recovery from RA.

Other forms of chronic illness are also notorious pain producers. Sometimes it is being unable to move for long periods of time or the way we hold ourselves in response to the illness that causes pain.

Take your time and move slowly, but get started with yoga. The body functions best when it is being used and yoga is one of the safest ways to find the limits of your body in any condition and begin to improve your health.

Chronic Misalignment

Duck-footed. Hunch back. Sway back. Ding-toed. Flat foot. Forward head.

These common misalignments are not in the original design template of the human body. “My father was duck-footed” is not a genetic precursor for you to turn your toes out. The human leg was not designed to be used in that way. We learn postural habits from our surroundings just like we learn syntax and social cues.

Some of these misalignments are caused by accident, injury or habit. You may have developed a habit of jutting the ribcage forward at the beach to appear thinner or have a forward head from working at a computer desk all day.

The most insidious component of chronic misalignment is uneven tissue load. Take this valgus, or abnormal rotation, of the heel below. Misalignment of the heel causes adjustment of the bones of the entire leg, hip and eventually the pelvis and spine. Uneven load in the tissues over time leads to failure of the muscle or tendon fibers. This flat foot might just be causing your migraine headaches.

As you work to change chronic misalignment, you may experience discomfort and pain. This is part of the process of realigning bones, strengthening muscles and healing connective tissue. With this type of pain, it is important to have a strong team of therapists helping you through the process to ensure you stay safe, progress at a rate appropriate for you and practice with a depth and attention to alignment that is not causing you further damage.

A good team includes experienced and educated yoga instructors, massage and physical therapists, maybe even a chiropractor, doctor or sports medicine specialist. Check out Dr. Mike Evan’s video on chronic back pain for more information on diagnosing chronic pain, creating a team and developing an attitude that will help you to heal.

You have bad alignment in class

I know it. You wanted me to say something nice. You expected something more supportive, and all you got was tough love. Get ready for more real talk.

Your alignment sucks.

I hope that is bold enough to get you to make a change. Your teacher said your foot should be pointing straight up over the top of your head in Standing Bow. Yours is pointing over at a boat moored across the river in Kittery and you are surprised your sacroiliac injury isn’t getting better?

You want to go higher in floor bow, so you leg your legs spread three feet wide. Yoga must be bad for knees.

You want to come down lower in half moon, so you turn your chin, twist your spine and collapse your chest. I guess yoga causes neck injuries.

You keep losing the grip, so you use a towel to augment your hand strength. Ah! It’s yoga, not tennis that causes rotator cuff injuries. Phew!

Or are your ready to take responsibility for your actions and use yoga to change your body and your life? There are very specific reasons for the way your yoga teachers cue the postures. The sequence of the cues is critical. The words we use intentionally to create specific actions in your body to keep you safe, and to help you maximize the therapeutic benefit of your practice.

Here are the steps to achieve a healing practice.

  1. Frequency: You have to show up. Regularly. Not once a week you show up and work so hard you pass out, puke twice and have to go home and take a nap. Regular, consistent, dedicated practice. You are worth it.
  2. Accuracy. Alignment is the first priority in any pose. Even if you can only move one inch into the pose. With no alignment, there is no therapy.
  3. Intensity. Only when you are showing up regularly, and executing the postures with accuracy and precision in your alignment, do you add the intensity and depth. Intensity is the privilege of the mindful practitioner.

Intensity is the privilege of the mindful practitioner.

Injury

Injuries happen in life. We slip on the ice, aggravate a shoulder playing tennis or get too aggressive in a pick up basketball game. With few exceptions, a modified practice can be continued with an injury, but pain will be an important guide.

Last year, we had a student practicing with a broken leg. She did her practice in a chair for the standing poses and elevated the leg on the floor. After two weeks, her doctors told her the leg was ready for weight-bearing. After four weeks, the fracture was invisible on an x-ray. Her doctors were blown away by the speed of recovery for a woman in her fifties.

One of the main reasons yoga helps you to recover from an injury is blood flow. Increased circulation helps support and speed repair and rehabilitation. The tricky part is not letting a misguided ego tell you to go for it in floor bow even though your shoulder bursitis is bothering you.

The most important action to take when you have an injury is speaking. Talk with your doctor or physical therapists when they analyze or diagnose you. Ask questions like, what types of movement should I avoid? And, what movement should I do to rehabilitate from this injury? Many students bring in a printout of the poses they have questions about. Get specific and don’t leave without an answer. You may be the first patient they have had who really wanted to know.

Talk to your teachers. Any well-educated teacher has yoga therapy and yoga for the infirm in their training profile. They can’t help you with your whiplash if they don’t know your neck is bothering you. You are not a yoga expert, so you may not realize that forward folds are aggravating your herniated discs.  You might be great at aerodynamics or flag football. Let your teachers share their expertise and experience with you.

I can’t tell you how many students have complained that an injury was not healing and when I asked them to take it slowly or avoid a particular movement temporarily have replied with, “Well, I like to push,” with a cheeky smile. Apparently, you also like to stretch a six-week recovery out to eighteen months.

Bones take four weeks to heal. Muscles take six weeks. Connective tissues can take up to eight weeks. The average woman recovers from a common yoga injury to the hamstrings tendon in eighteen months. Talk to your providers and listen to your body so you don’t end up in unnecessary pain for years.

Over-Aggressive Practice

This could be a sub-section of the injuries category. Like all physical activities, you can create injury in yoga. Yoga has tremendous therapeutic potential. It can also cause harm.

We see it and want to achieve it. We know if we work hard, we can pull ourselves up by our  bootstraps yoga mats and live the American yoga dream.

I hope you listen to what I am going to say next.

Too good is no good.

More is not always better for the human body. You might not be strong enough yet for headstand. Your body may not be genetically designed for full wheel. You can cause wrist injury by misalignment in handstand. Shoulderstand is not for people who have osteoporosis.

This kind of pain is the devil in the world of yoga. This kind of pain is not the walk-through-the-fire-and-emerge-clean kind of pain. This isn’t the suffering that leads to redemption. This is the antithesis of yoga: disunion of mind and body.

When you are in the posture, with healthy alignment, to the best of your ability today, that is the ultimate destination of yoga. It is meditation in it’s purest form: the mind in the body, one second at a time.

Take your time. Ask questions. Be patient. When we approach pain with awareness, we realize that in the words of the great Emmy Cleaves, “Pain is a gift.”

sara headshotSara Curry is a Bikram Yoga studio owner in Portsmouth, NH. A lifetime of back pain lead her to yoga at the turn of the millennia. The freedom and recovery she gained from yoga drives her daily practice and her determination to bring yoga’s healing potential to as many people as possible.

#findthe44percent

In 2012, Yoga Journal published the findings of their yoga market study revealing that over 20 million Americans practice yoga. This number represents less than 9% of the US population.

An astonishing 44% of Americans consider themselves aspiring yogis, or people who want to try yoga.

9% of Americans practice yoga. 44% want to try.

From this information was born the #findthe44percent project. After watching Kim Kardashian try to #breaktheinternet with her derriere, yoga studios all over the country decided to put the same effort into bringing awareness of yoga.

Driven by the therapeutic potential of the practice, yogis all over the country are using social media to try to #findthe44percent who haven’t found the time, the location or the courage to give yoga a shot.

Studios are running #findthe44percent promotions and posting articles on the web targeting new students.

Individuals in other lines of business have questioned the logic of competing yoga businesses promoting in tandem. Proponents of the movement beg to differ.

One of the foundational principles of yoga is aparigraha or non-grasping. By not trying to hold on to ideas, materials, wealth or possessions, one brings abundance to their life. “I have always believed that more yoga anywhere means more yoga everywhere,” says #findthe44percent founder Sara Curry. “I don’t care if it is at my studio or another or what discipline speaks to someone, as long as people are finding a way to a practice that can help them feel better and enjoy life more.”

“Maybe it is a little selfish, too,” said Curry. “People are a lot nicer after a good class. Can you imagine what traffic would be like if it was 50% post-savasana yogis?”

You can help, too. Ask your local studio about their 2015 #findthe44percent promotion.

Bring a friend to yoga and check in with #findthe44percent at your favorite studio.

Post an article you found suitable for fledgling yogis and tag it #findthe44percent.

Talk your mom into finally trying a class. Maybe you could win a month of unlimited yoga. #findthe44percent.