Practising or Teaching Yoga? Ahimsa Must Prevail; Do No Harm…

One of my longterm students asked me last night in class why we hadn’t practised shoulder stands for a long time. I think of these things often, but for a few years now, my philosophy in a group class has been to teach something reasonably dynamic and doable that the most amount of people in the room will get some benefit from. A shoulder stand takes around 20 minutes to teach to a group. It can be dangerous -but that won’t stop someone who probably shouldn’t do it from trying it if the person next to them is having a go.

In my experience most – not all, but most – people don’t have the core or back strength to get into it safely without using momentum. Somebody potentially hurting their neck or back in my class is a lot of responsibility when that 20 minutes could be spent practising  safe things; things that will mean they walk out of the room feeling better than they did when they walked in. Will a shoulder stand lead to enlightenment? It’s unlikely.

When I began teaching I soon realised that the majority of people were quite limited when it came to strength, flexibility and range of movement. I altered my classes and have continued to do so ever since until I found the right balance.

Last night in class an attendee was in a significant pain and could barely move because a class they had attended elsewhere had included the up-dog, down-dog, chaturanga vinyasa over and over. She’d stuffed her lower back but wasn’t the first and is unlikely to be the last because, again, in my experience, most people – and often not even teachers – can execute this vinyasa safely, but yet it continues to be taught without proper instruction (generally it requires a workshop, not five minutes). If I am in pain while I am practising but continue on, is this yoga? If I am a teacher and look around the room to see that 95% of people cannot possibly do what I am teaching safely, am I teaching yoga?

Questions to ponder.

Here is a short sequence which gives you an idea of what my teacher, Simon Borg-Olivier tends to teach to groups these days – after 40 years of teaching and an incredible practise.

The most amount of benefit for the most amount of people in the room. Do No Harm.

And as for shoulder stands in class, I’ll keep thinking about it!