Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

Is Yoga for Everyone? Yes...and No.

Many of you know me as a violist/yoga teacher, which often leads people to think that I want everyone to do yoga.  This is not true, and here's why: Yoga is not a magical therapeutic movement modality, as many people seem to think it is, and many "traditional" poses can be quite injurious. Yoga still has the power to be a transformative and amazing movement modality, but not all yoga practices and classes are equal, nor are they all beneficial for musicians (and normal people).   Side note, the initial conception of yoga was multilayered, not just consisting of poses.  There are other limbs of yoga that are fantastic and worth exploring, they just don't always come up in the context of a one hour class.

 BKS Iyengar shows off a HUGE range of shoulder mobility here in downward facing dog, which is not necessarily how the pose should look or should feel on anyone's body.  (Nor should everyone try downward facing dog at all!)

BKS Iyengar shows off a HUGE range of shoulder mobility here in downward facing dog, which is not necessarily how the pose should look or should feel on anyone's body.  (Nor should everyone try downward facing dog at all!)

Yoga asana, as taught in the west, is undergoing a revolution of thought, in that for many years, teachers and students have perpetuated the notion that "any pose is possible if you practice diligently."  This is simply not true, nor is it a helpful notion if you're working with restriction or past injury.  Every single body is different in terms of bony restriction, muscles, etc., and not every pose is right for every person.  I will most likely never get my foot behind my head, and I'm totally fine with that.

You may have heard comments in a classroom like "find your edge" and "push your limit" juxtaposed with contradictory statements like "listen to your body."  What the heck does that even mean?  If you're a musician with wrist issues or shoulder issues, those comments are not helpful, and don't help to find individual limits.  In addition, a majority of traditional yoga poses will put extra weight on the wrists (in extension, no less), and put the shoulders into extreme ranges of motion.  There is often a praising of people who can do the "hard poses" which often demand a lot of flexibility, often in extreme ranges, which shouldn't really be the "goal."  I've been in many a yoga class in which a difficult backbend series was called out, and the most bendy person was used as an example for what You or I might achieve if we work hard.  This is not necessarily true, and not necessarily in line with my goals as a movement practitioner.  For that reason, I've been re-evaluating my yoga practice and changing how I teach movement and yoga over the last few years.  I no longer seek out intense, end-range glorifying yoga classes, and I have a lot less attachment to specific complex poses.  I'm happy to never be the "demo" body for deep or complex poses, and I'd rather do my own thing in the back.  I love slow, down-regulating practices, that allow me to mindfully move with my body.  I also do other movement practices besides yoga, and don't expect yoga to be a complete body workout/movement plan.  Here are some considerations for starting yoga or just rethinking your yoga practice.

1. If you're interested in trying yoga but have a history of arm, wrist, or shoulder injuries, look for a class that has gentle, hatha, yoga therapy, slow, etc. in the title.  Even if you're healthy, it's great to start with the basics, even if you're a health and active person.    The more dynamic styles (flow, vinyasa, ashtanga) are difficult to jump right into, and often don't offer a range of accommodations for traditional poses (such as plank, chaturanga, DFD).  There isn't always time to break down poses either, as it is assumed that one is already familiar with them.

 Kino McGregor is a famous (and pretty darn flexible) ashtanga teacher.  I have ZERO interest in getting here, nor is that really even on the radar for me.  If you can do it, great, if not, you can still live a happy yoga life without it.

Kino McGregor is a famous (and pretty darn flexible) ashtanga teacher.  I have ZERO interest in getting here, nor is that really even on the radar for me.  If you can do it, great, if not, you can still live a happy yoga life without it.

2. Doctors often tell patients to practice yoga if they have back pain, or tell them to strengthen their core.  This is not the most helpful advice, as there isn't necessarily a correlation between core strength and back pain.  More importantly, there are a million styles of yoga, and many would in fact be challenging for managing back pain.   Meeting with a teacher one on one, working with a yoga therapist, going to class aimed at back pain ...these will help more than a general class.   Group classes are not always a great way to get specialized attention, and one on one is infinitely more helpful, especially if you come in with injuries or a pain history.

3.  Read the biographies of your teachers or possible teachers.  Look for teachers with anatomical knowledge and experience who can tailor movement to you.  The last thing you want is a teacher who can't help you with form or modification, or who has no experience with shoulder or wrist injuries.

4. Try not to think of yoga as your workout.  When we think of yoga in this way, we often gravitate towards hot room/hard poses/move fast, which can often cloud our integrity of movement, especially if we're vulnerable physically.  If you're healthy and have never had a problem with hot room vinyasa/bikram, that's great, but for a beginner or sensitive person, I would say start slow and at room temperature!

5.  Ask yourself why you're doing yoga, what you like about it, and what your goals are.  (To be more flexible, to learn how to breathe better, to combine mind and body, whatever).  Make sure that the class you're attending serves that goal, and if not, try a different class, or a different movement practice.

6.  And lastly, only do as much as you can with integrity.  This is something I try to apply to most movement practices (crossfit! weight lifting!), but only do as much as you can with integrity of movement, good alignment, and feeling like you can breathe.  If a teacher or class is pushing you to a place you're not comfortable or able to go, don't do it.  I've skipped MANY a teacher cue, and done just fine.

At the end of the day, I like many things about yoga, and I dislike many things about yoga.  (That's a rant for a different day and a different blog).  I also like walking, swimming, jumping, lifting weights (yes), pilates, and trying different movement practices.  As a teacher, I also want my students and colleagues to be strong, mobile, and pain-free.  If another movement practice takes them there, that's great.  It doesn't have to be yoga.

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