I’ll be brutally honest with you: when I did my first yoga teacher training, I didn’t understand the mandatory anatomy part. At all. For three long, painful days, I tried to concentrate really hard and write down everything the teacher was talking about, but to me it was a mountain of information in a foreign language (Latin! Even harder than Sanskrit!) that seemed overwhelmingly, impossibly vast. I have clear memories of muttering to myself, “Come on, Sarah, focus! You need to get this!” but to little avail. When, as a fully-fledged yoga teacher a few months later, someone asked me about their IT band, my stare was just this side of blank.
Anatomy and Accessibility
I felt badly about how little I knew, and guilty that I couldn’t do more for the students who had paid money for my teaching ‘skills.’ It motivated me to study on my own, so that I could better answer students’ questions and perhaps actually offer some guidance as to how to modify poses or take care of their bodies. The more I worked at it, the more all the pieces began to fit together into the shape of the human body. (But let’s be clear: this is a process that has taken several years, that is still ongoing, and that I expect will continue for the lifetime of my teaching career.)
I began to take more seriously the concept of “first, do no harm,” and recognize that not all poses fit on the myriad body types that come to class. I believe the real skill of a teacher lies not in how gymnastic their own practice is, but in their ability to give everyone something to do. “Just don’t do this pose,” has got to be the most frustrating thing for a student to hear, especially if they’ve come to class with special needs or an injury and are hoping you can help them.
Speaking of injuries: did you know that over 5500 yoga-related injuries were reported in the United States in 2007? Given that statistic is almost five years old, I bet the number has grown since then (and I bet there are even more unreported ones). And here’s this gem from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website: “Common yoga injuries include repetitive strain to and overstretching of the neck, shoulders, spine, legs and knees.” Isn’t that just pretty much your whole body at risk? It’s vital, then, that as yoga teachers we truly understand what it is we are asking of the bodies that have given themselves over to our instruction, and we make informed decisions as to what those bodies should or should not do.
[With that said, there will always be the student that ignores your advice and does handstand on their rotator cuff injury. If you have clearly explained why that would be a bad idea, and they do it anyway, I’m of the belief that you’re not responsible for any negative outcome.]
Helping Your Students, Helping Yourself
Here’s the bonus: the more you know, the better teacher you become. You build a reputation as the teacher who is informed and educated, and your students have confidence in the choices you present to them for their practice (and they in turn become more educated about their own strengths and limitations). This confidence will broaden the community that you can reach (and believe me, they’ll start to seek you out!) and you may even find that you’re interested taking your newfound knowledge into populations with special needs. It’s also entirely possible that you’ll end up loving anatomy so much, you’ll morph into the kind of bona fide yoga dork that teaches anatomy to other yoga teachers!
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[Reprinted with kind permission from Teachasana.]