Why sometimes you shouldn’t listen to your yoga teacher in class!

This may seem strange to you, but there are occasions where you need to listen to what your body is telling you more so than what your teacher is. It’s your yoga practice and no one else’s, plus you know your body better than anyone else does. Not sure what I mean? I’ll give you an example. Several years ago during a Bikram yoga class I was in Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada- paschimotthansana (standing separate leg stretching pose) which is a standing forward bend with the legs wide (other schools call this Prasarita Padottanasana).

The teacher in the class could see that my head was close to the floor so she stood there and urged me to get my head to the floor while everyone listened. I felt like I had gone far enough as I could feel the stretch down my whole posterior chain (especially my hamstrings) but I made the decision that the teacher knows best and to pull harder and get my head to the floor. I managed to get it to the floor but as I did I felt this ‘twang’ like a guitar string break and I thought this isn’t good. Turns out that in the process of getting my head to the floor I irritated my sciatic nerve and gave myself sciatica and I’ve had issues ever since…I am now very careful in that pose, and don’t force it too much. A lot of Bikram teachers have said to me the pose is good for sciatica when I have told them about this. Well that depends on what your symptoms are and how acute. If you have pain shooting down the leg, the pose is far too neural as nerves don’t like to be stretched (floss them instead) so this will just aggravate it. If your symptoms are just lower back pain, this may offer some pain relief since it decompresses the spine, but again you don’t want to stretch too deeply if this lower back pain is sciatica as you could make it worse the way I did. I believe this pose is beneficial for people who have lower back pain that is not caused by sciatica. That day, was a good reminder of Ahimsa (non-violence or non-injury) which is the first of the Yamas which are the moral and ethical guidelines for yoga practice. This is just one of the many examples of Ahimsa in yoga practice. No one else can feel what you’re feeling within your body, so if your yoga teacher urges you to go deeper or try a harder pose, don’t do it if you feel it is harming you. Yoga should be joyful, not painful! A good yoga teacher will respect the fact that it is your practice and no one else’s. Do what we say in a yin practice, go to that first edge of stretch that is within your natural range of motion, don’t force it further. It still happens to me in yoga classes that teacher urge me to go deeper or practice backbends in a way which I don’t feel is safe for my body, especially for my sacroiliac joint, and I politely say no thanks or I just don’t do the pose at all if I know that the teacher is quite pushy and won’t let me do a more passive backbend. However, most of the time yes please do listen to your yoga teacher, especially if she or he tells you that the way your practising the pose is not safe and that it could potentially harm you or that you’re not quite ready to stand on your head yet! More about that in another blog though. Namaste Liz