Thursday, October 25, 2007

Return of the Killer Shoulderstand

In the last week, two of my students have got sore necks from practicing shoulderstand. This means I have been remiss in my teacherly duties. It shouldn't have happened. As I was apologizing profusely to one of them this morning, she said to me,
"But I don't blame you: I wanted to do it even though I knew I could just do legs up the wall. And it felt good while I was doing it."
But. I am the teacher and I should have know better.

Which got me to thinking:

Kris over at Total Health Yoga recently posted this entry:

My friend currently attends a class with a very knowledgeable woman. We'll call her Mary. Mary has studied Iyengar Yoga with Iyengar and many of his senior teachers for 30 years. She leads a well-structured class and has a firm understanding of how to guide students. My friend feels safe in this class and appreciates how Mary is able to watch and ensure folks don't overextend themselves. Sounds great, right? The catch is that after class, Mary is a judgemental and mean person. This really bothers my friend and she's questioning whether-or-not to continue attending a class given by someone that she can't respect or like as a person. There is another teacher, in the Anusara style, that she can go to. This gal is very sweet and nice, but she keeps stressing the class to go a little further--take it deeper. I have heard this frequently in Anusara--constant encouragement to "take it to the next level." (A blog topic for another day.) My friend is concerned that she could easily get hurt in such a class.
And I posted this reply:

I wonder, does your friend not have other options by way of teachers? Because it sounds like neither is REALLY kind - pushing too hard in class is almost as bad as being mean outside of it.

I think, on balance, kindness is the most important quality for a yoga teacher. Even if you don't know what you are doing, as I feel I frequently don't, harm doesn't tend to arise with a kind, present teacher.
In spite of which, it appears that I have been the bubbly bully this week. I am sorry. Shoulderstand will not be making an appearance for a while. Nor will any other joint-threatening poses. Let's just hope I have learnt my lesson...


Karen Beth said...

My arms are not strong enough to do shoulderstand (although I wish they were!) and my teacher never pushed me to do it. I tried it anyway once and also made my neck sore.

It is a student's responsibility also to know their limitations. Any teacher who insists and insists upon them doing what they know they can't isn't a good teacher.

People should listen to their bodies and teachers should respect and know that and never push.


Karen Beth :)

Nadine Fawell said...

Great comment, Missred, thanks!

But I am thinking, perhaps the option shouldn't even be presented; then people won't try anyway - unless I am CERTAIN they are up to it. Hmm. Don't want to artificially limit people either though. Wish I knew the answer!

Linda (Sama) said...

"This means I have been remiss in my teacherly duties"

not necessarily, nadine. more likely your students don't "have the bones" to do shoulderstand comfortably. as Paul Grilley says, "yoga is all in the bones."

when I train with him and he wants to show examples of the "winners and losers" (and you have to know him to know that he really doesn't mean you're a loser!) we line up for certain poses and he looks at our bone structure. someone with "winner" bones can do a pose easily, the "losers" can't. the angle of the neck determines who can do a shoulderstand comfortably.

for shoulderstand, he has us drop our chins to our upper chest. now take a ruler or stick, place it on the back of your student's neck going up the back of the head and look at the angle. less of an angle (i.e., the more upright the stick is) the more uncomfortable; more of an angle (in other words, the top of the stick is lower), the more comfortable the student will be in shoulderstand, neck-wise.

and if someone never does shoulderstand, what's the big deal? we're so attached to our bodies, to the "forms" that we are "supposed" to do. why?

Linda (Sama) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda (Sama) said...

"The catch is that after class, Mary is a judgemental and mean person."

sounds like those 30 years of yoga study really hasn't done much at all...have they?

all the technical knowledge doesn't mean anything if it doesn't evolve the heart.

Nadine Fawell said...

Hey Linda!

I agree with you on evolving the heart, and the bones bit re: shoulder stand: awesome. Thanks, makes me feel better!

Total Health Yoga - Kris said...

I can completly relate to your concerns and questions -- is it appropriate to even introduce certain poses? The issue I find is in most classes there is a wide range of abilities. I don't introduce shoulderstand, handstand, headstand, or hand balances in a beginning class, because even if someone is flexible and strong it's the "awareness" that I stress when starting Yoga (and always). However, in one of my classes that's been going on for a while, we do shoulderstand sometimes--because their are folks really ready for it. In that same class there are folks really not ready. Ah, the dilema! I tell them what to look for (such as the Paul Grilley suggestion for the neck angle) to be sure they are ready. However, I do not play the parent. I literally say, "I'm not going to make you do or not do anything. If you want my recommendation, I will offer it, but I'm not going to make you come down." (I've only insisted once that a woman not go up--she has major neck issues. Regardless she says she does it all the time at home....)
This might not be the best approach, but it's the one I've taken to. Point is, I want to offer more challenging poses to people that can really benefit from them. At the same time, I offer info and guidance. But in the end, people will do what they want. "You can lead the horse to water, but you can't make them drink it." You offered alternatives (legs on wall), but you can't make someone not take it. Perhaps allowing each student to back off (and maybe bruise the ego a bit) 'on their own' is a lesson in and of itself.
Hope I'm not rambling too much....

Cupcakes & Yoga said...

Do you encourage the use of blankets in shoulderstand? There is NO WAY I can do it without two blankets to pad my shoulders and it helps relieves my neck too and gives you a lift.

Nadine Fawell said...

Thanks for the feedback, you guys!
Marilyn, in this case the lady was actually using a blanket, but like Linda said, bones is bones...

YogaSuzi said...

I teach shoulderstand using blankets (a stack of three if needed!), being very careful to keep people aligned so their shoulders are on the tidy edge of the blankets but their necks are free. Also, I sometimes use a supporting strap around the upper arms for people whose arms are weak, or shoulders are tight. Also, beginning students can do the pose with their knees bent to 90 degrees and the soles of their feet on the wall. Just some thoughts...

Nadine Fawell said...

Thanks YogaSuzi! Very useful advice - I like the wall variation too. Do you have a blog? I would love to read it.