IT'S NOT A COMPETITION
Seventeen people came to last night's ashtanga class at the health club.
This is a huge number for that club.
Especially in a class that's not exactly for beginners.*
Yet half the people were new to yoga.
Of course they were hiding in back.
"If she doesn't see me, I won't get in trouble."
Actually, if she doesn't see you doing the pose wrong, there's a good chance you'll get injured.
I asked the newbies to move to the front of the room.
Whenever I get people brand-new to yoga in my ashtanga class I say, "You've chosen a very challenging first yoga class. You're welcome to stay but please take it easy today. You don't have to do every vinyasa. Do the easy version of the poses. The person next to you may have been doing this practice every day for the past 10 years, so you don't have to keep up with them. In yoga we say 'No pain, no pain,' bla bla bla."
What I really want to say is, "What is it that makes you think that 'beginning yoga class' applies to other people but not you? Did you skip a few grades in school? Are you a CEO?"
Inevitably it's the new people in a health club ashtanga class who try to do everything and push too hard and do every vinyasa, while the regulars slack off and practice sloppily and skip vinyasas.
Then I have to say things like, "If you're an experienced practitioner, please try to do the [pose/hand position/vinyasa] correctly, because the new people are looking to you to see how to do it and you don't want to teach them bad habits."
Some people who are brand new to yoga -- about ten percent, in my experience -- take to ashtanga like they've been preparing for it their whole lives.
Most slog through it and if they like it, they come back. I always tell them that the first class is trial by fire, and after that it becomes familiar and starts to make sense.
But then there are the new people who struggle and push too hard. Many, but not all, are men.
They do the advanced version of every pose and try to fling themselves up into headstand even though their last one was in 1977 and my explicit instruction was do not go up unless you've done the pose in the past couple of weeks without causing injury to yourself or someone else.
Last night one of the new guys turned his head to look at himself in the mirror while he was in shoulderstand.
This combines two of my top pet peeves: the hated Looking at the Mirror (which turns the practice into a performance) with the dangerous Turning the Head in Shoulderstand (which can damage the neck).
So I said, "I guess it's OK to turn your head if you want to get back at your neck and hurt it. After all, it's YOUR neck."
What I wanted to say was, "If you're turning your head, ask yourself what makes you think that you are the one special person who's immune from damaging it in shoulderstand. "
Next time I'll just quote this Newsweek article about yoga and injuries.
The orthopaedic surgeon they interviewed says most of the injuries he sees occur when people try to force themselves into lotus position.
He says, "There are two scenarios I see frequently. One is that a group of girlfriends gets together, and one woman says to another, "Come to my yoga class." The woman who extended the invitation has been doing yoga a while, and the friend who comes along finds herself in a class that's too advanced for her. She ends up in our office.
"The other scenario is that people buy home instructional tapes and DVDs. If you've already been to yoga classes and understand the basics, that might be a great way to exercise. But it's not a great way to learn yoga in the first place, because you get no feedback. There's no one telling you how to do it correctly. People think yoga is not vigorous exercise, just stretching. But these are real injuries."
Next time I'll cite the article.
After all, who wouldn't listen to a male doctor -- even if he is channeled through a female yoga teacher.
(Actually after class I referred couple of people to the club's Iyengar, hatha and beginning classes).
*Ashtanga is a vigorous yoga practice that moves quickly from pose to pose and can be difficult to follow if you've never done the poses before -- or even if you have.