Yoga Heals, Mostly

This entry was posted on Feb 9, 2021 by Charlotte Bell.
Reclining Pose

Some years ago, a yoga teaching colleague related a story about a student at her studio who suffers from a rare neurological condition that causes tremors. Yoga, with its ability to smooth out your nervous system ought to be the perfect solution. Yoga heals whatever ails you, right?

In this case, not so much. The student’s condition had actually been worsening, causing suffering for herself, and distracting her fellow students. The fact that she was exploring yoga as a possible way to alleviate her symptoms is certainly positive. But when my friend told me that the symptoms were actually worsening, my first thought was that maybe yoga wasn’t the answer. Or maybe a different kind of yoga practice was in order.

Yoga Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

As teachers and practitioners, we can too easily get attached to the idea that yoga is a cure-all for whatever ails you. Yoga certainly has the potential to be a powerful healing force for a vast array of imbalances that we all experience from time to time, but it is not a panacea for every person in every situation. And not every type of yoga is going to work for everyone at every stage in his/her life.

For example, a fast-paced, sweaty vinyasa is probably not a good choice for a person with a nervous condition. That type of class is far more likely to aggravate a nervous condition than, say, a Restorative class. Likewise, a regimented, alignment-based practice might not be appropriate for someone who spends her days in living in her head. On the other hand, a person with a hypermobile body structure could learn a lot about keeping her joints healthy in such a class.

Yoga Heals, But So Do Other Modalities

The bottom line is to be aware and sensitive enough to know when a practice is not working for you. A practice that was powerful and transformational a year ago might be injurious or out of balance for you in this moment. No matter how much you love your teacher or the yoga community that surrounds her, it may be that the yoga she’s offering is not the best for you at this time.

If she’s a mature, experienced teacher, she will understand this too and have your best interests at heart. But do let her know if you decide to seek another type of class. A knowledgeable teacher will likely know what other options might be helpful.

So if your yoga isn’t working, what do you do? Try something different, of course. For my friend’s student with a nervous condition, practicing Restorative yoga exclusively for a few months helped. But the practice was just one part of her student’s therapy, which also included Western medical intervention and some other body work modalities.

The continuously changing nature of our bodies and minds in relation to our practice provides a great opportunity to practice the second yama, satya (truthfulness). As practitioners, we can practice satya by being honest with ourselves about how our yoga is affecting our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. As teachers, we practice satya by recognizing when what we’re teaching may not be the solution for a student who’s experiencing physical difficulties.

Most yoga teachers endeavor to teach because we appreciate the positive effects of yoga on our own bodies and minds. We want to share this. Yoga heals many conditions, but as teachers, we can be of even greater benefit if when we offer our students the freedom to try other modalities as well.

About Charlotte Bell
Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice, published by Rodmell Press. Her second book, Yoga for Meditators (Rodmell Press) was published in May 2012. She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to schools and to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.