YJ senior editor Tasha Eichenseher shares how a teacher training she wasn’t sure she should sign up for has given her a new appreciation for her injury and the way it changed her perspective on yoga.
When the Yoga Journal staff decided to do a 200-hour vinyasayoga teacher training with Yoga Pod Boulder, I had mixed feelings about participating. On one hand, I could use a refresher (my last teacher training was in 2006), and it would be a great way to get to know my colleagues better. On the other hand, I have a lower back injury that prevents me from flowing in the graceful, liberating way that vinyasa encourages.
I thought my frustration with my injury and practice would be magnified by having to reveal the extent of my limitations to my co-workers, and I was worried about being disruptive during class as I set up modifications and variations, or sat out altogether. I admit to being scared, too. I didn’t know how being immersed in vinyasa would make me feel mentally. I’d have to test my comfort level with the fact that my yoga practice has changed dramatically over the last 10 years and no longer fits into the common Western perception of yoga as asana-focused. And I’d have to come to terms with the possibility that a less-than-mindful vinyasa practice had hurt me.
For all these reasons, I hesitated to sign up, but in the end, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to learn more about yoga and my own biomechanical dysfunction.
3 Things Doing YTT with an Injury Has Taught Me
1. The importance of maintaining a beginner’s mind
Because I basically have a totally different body than I did when I took my first 200-hour teacher training, I get to approach everything as if I am learning it for the first time. My injury has encouraged me to get curious about what exactly is happening anatomically, physiologically, and psychologically in yoga poses. I am more interested this time in the function, rather than the form, of asana. Why do we practice this pose and that pose? What is the overall goal of doing postures? How can a physical practice help me deepen my meditation and pranayama practices? And how can I evolve my yoga in a way that makes the most sense for me? I’m fortunate that while I am doing the Yoga Pod 200-hour teacher training, I am also embarking on a long-term teacher training with Viniyoga creator Gary Kraftsow, whose take on asana might be summed up with this quote from his book Yoga for Wellness: “In general, the whole movement of asana practice should be one toward understanding more deeply the mechanisms that are responsible for our present condition. … From this point of view, asana practice is a means of deepening our self-awareness—and self-awareness is the key to any process of self-transformation.” All that to say my injury makes me thirsty for knowledge, it’s helping me to be more self aware, and it helps me stay inquisitive, which is critical for moving forward in my yoga journey.
2. Every body really is different
My newfound anatomical curiosity prompted me to get another MRI. It turns out I have lost most of the disc between my 4th and 5th lumbar vertebrae, among other things. I can’t say exactly how that happened, but I have worked with several yoga teachers and physical therapists who’ve suggested I have compressed my lower back by repeatedly folding forward from my hips with an exaggerated lumbar curve and tight back muscles—and without much awareness of how I have, or have not, been supporting my spine. My Yoga Pod teachers have told me my injury is one they see infrequently; that back pain is often the result of the opposite problem—a flattened lumbar curve. It goes to show you that anatomy and alignment cues are not one-size-fits-all, and that as a teacher, you need to understand biomechanics, know how to read bodies, and give tailored advice about how to execute a pose, and more importantly, how to feel embodied. I asked SmartFLOW creator Annie Carpenter what she thought about attending a training with an injury and she responded by saying that as long as a student is willing to have a different experience and refrain from practicing sometimes, that having different bodies and abilities in a class is beneficial, especially if the teacher knows the student and his or her injury. “Students with injuries can be a ‘gift’ for the training, if they are open to it,” Carpenter says. “Last year I had a student in teacher training with back issues. We all learned a lot about working with backs, supporting people through injury, and keeping a feeling of inclusivity.”
3. Being a yoga teacher is a huge responsibility
I look back at what I have done to my own body, and possibly to the bodies of students, with some level of horror and regret. I took my first 200-hour teacher training without having a disciplined practice of my own. From there I taught up to 10 classes a week, before, after, and during my 50-to-60-hour-a-week day job, in addition to trying to maintain my own practice. My life was a blur, rushing from work to yoga, yoga to work, all on a bike carrying a heavy laptop. I cringe when I think about the example I was setting, and wonder if I led anyone else down a pain-riddled path. Just as I have had to slow down in my own practice, I see now how slowing down in the journey to becoming a teacher is so important. You have to be able to embody the teachings and create a safe environment for yourself and your students before you can teach. It is with that in mind that I’m starting to appreciate my injury and the way it has changed my perspective on yoga.