Fitness Magazine

Jill's Favorite Post: When Red Flags Should Be Raised (Yoga Snake Oil)

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Jill

Jill's Favorite Post: When Red Flags Should Be Raised (Yoga Snake Oil)

Ochre and Red on Red by Mark Rothko*

As yoga grows in popularity, it also breeds abundant misconceptions and snake oil claims. The love and light aspect of many teachers and classes has gone increasingly haywire and has reached unfortunate proportions, leading many into despair and not for good reasons. After hearing so many promises of just three weeks to this or a weekend for that, anyone can think they’ve been pushed out of the human category by not responding as claimed. But when a yoga teacher says something will be a quick fix, our red flags should automatically go up because everything worthwhile takes time to be absorbed and digested.

When I was in my 20’s I was stricken with chronic pain. My gut felt like it had a burning hot knife in it that was twisting and searing all the time. I went from one doctor to another for over 13 years, endured 12 minor and two major surgeries. I also attended countless yoga classes and practiced on my own every day, often for a couple of hours.

And I was the person in class who wept into her forward-bended legs when the teacher I had at the time said this pose will heal this, and this pose will heal that, but only if we did them faithfully every day, for x amount of minutes each time. I was practicing these postures, but I was still in pain, my intestines weren’t functioning, and I was not at all well. Why were these postures not working for me? What was wrong with me? I was haunted by these questions for many years.

In hindsight, I see the error of my questions, not the error of my practice. There was nothing inherently wrong with me, but there was a lot wrong with the teacher’s pronouncements and claims. Nothing cures everyone, and yoga postures are not the be and end all, in spite of what many people enthusiastically think. Old age, sickness and death eventually befalls every one of us, and yoga poses will not change that. 

There are many styles and schools of yoga practice, which is great as we can choose what suits our body and minds the best. Even so, there isn’t just one way to practice, experience or pursue anything, and if we are told that there is, we should look for the closest exit. 

How to choose then, what to listen to, follow or engage in? The Buddha suggested that we not follow his or anyone’s advice unless we have directly experienced its sanity and truth for ourselves. I think this is a sensible rule to abide by. If you are told that any pose will fix or change something and it doesn’t, do not think it is you! And, question the source—what is the benefit in saying something is going to help everyone or that there is the only way to do something? Whoever utters these grand pronouncements needs to experience an injury or illness, or just to spend a little more time on the planet. It is humbling to be in pain, to have your body not behave or look as you would like, and as for aging, well, let’s just say it is very leveling.

Personalizing a yoga practice should begin with deeply listening to your body, noticing how it is feeling that particular moment or day. Turn towards your heart, ask yourself how you are feeling emotionally that day, and check in to your mind to notice its state at that time. By checking in, you automatically begin to set up a union of body, mind and heart. You begin a dialogue, and the more you listen, hear and quietly reflect and experiment, the more your wisdom will flow. Here's a short video by me that you can use to learn to check in:

All this isn’t to say that we don’t need teachers—we most definitely do. But choose your teacher wisely by trying his or her suggestions, and if they work for you, build on them by experimenting at home by yourself and conferring with your teacher when there are questions.

Fortunately, I eventually healed, beyond medical expectations. I did this by meditating deeply in my body, listening, checking in, trying things slowly, practicing over and over, not rushing or pushing or striving and by being very, very kind to myself.

Nothing is wrong with us, any of us. And we can all find beautiful, wise, and compassionate teachers and practices—especially when we walk away from those that don’t help us to feel our best.

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