Post #6 in The Elliott Lexicon of Satisfactory Yoga Terminology
Sadly, when the phrase “Death by Yoga Not Okay” occurred to me some 25 years ago, I didn’t rush right out and buy the URL. In my defense I didn’t know there were URL’s to buy, but about five years ago it crossed my mind that I ought to go fetch it. Of course it was too late. Gone. However, this told me that as yoga has exploded, so has death by practicing it.
I’ve never been a fan of “No Pain No Gain”, and even have a t-shirt that sports Bozo the Clown and the words “No Brain No Pain.” My first wake-up call to how this machismo manifesto can render even an intelligent person a member of the 40-watt club came in the early 90’s.
A new student rushed into the studio well after I had begun instruction on headstand. We were already in the pose when she took her place at the wall. I watched her closely given her entrance, but she appeared to know what she was doing and up she went.
The next day I received a call from her. She didn’t want to do yoga any more and wanted her money back. Seems her neck was bothering her after class. She wasn’t forthcoming beyond this initial information but I pressed her. Turns out she had broken her neck a few weeks prior. I’m sure she heard the look on my face through the phone. I asked her why she would go into headstand with such a dangerous injury. Her response?
“Well it hurt but I thought it would be good for me.”
There you have it. No Pain No Gain, and the genesis of the phrase Death By Yoga Not Okay.
I have worked with students therapeutically utilizing yoga for decades, and often what drew a new student to yoga was the hope the practice could help with a condition or injury sustained in another field. But by the time I opened the Taj, more often than not the injuries were incurred through yoga, and “Yoga for rehab. Rehab from yoga” became the tag line of the studio.
Teach yourself to like the pose
I’ve learned a lot from overdoing it myself and I guess the consolation prize is at least I figured a few things out. Let’s say I see a dog and want it to come to me. “Here, puppy, puppy, puppy”, I call, coaxing fido to my side. However, when the dog finally arrives I whack it with my hand and yell “what took you so long?” What are the chances that dog is going to trust me next time I call? Dogs aren’t dumb, and neither is your body. If you constantly bully yourself by going too far too fast and ignore alignment for the sake of a perceived workout, the poses won’t come (or progress) and neither will your enthusiasm. Forcing is the fastest way to not get “there.”
“The Sensation Continuum” is a concept I’ve developed to help both me and my students become aware of how much we are feeling. “On a scale of 1 – 10, where are you?” Or “Do not go above a 6 on the Sensation Continuum. The higher you go the harder it is to understand the feed back from your body.” This simple trick of quantifying the sensation can disrupt the often subconscious tape of No Brain No Pain and the possibility of injury.
“Facing” is a related term. If you are recruiting your eye brows, teeth or other facial parts to help do a pose in a grimacing, eye-popping look, you are likely over-doing it and it shows in your expression. The little Squeeze Martian toy pictured, with eyes bulging and brains extruding from it’s ears is an amusing visual teaching aid that helps get the point across. Whoever created that toy completely gets it.
I like to kid my students on pushing too hard and often use the phrase “only go as far as you can and still want to do the pose again tomorrow.” Invariably we all laugh, recognizing the old No Gain message is alive and well in our heads. It may be a challenge to work at lower degrees of sensation, but the payoff is huge: not only do you still get the coveted yoga butt, you also set yourself on the path to get that other thing long sought after through the practice of yoga — wide brain. You can read more about it in “Wide Brain and Poodles,” Post #3 in “The Elliott Lexicon of Satisfactory Yoga Terminology” series, or “In an Anything Goes Yoga World, What’s a Teacher to Do?“
Postscript: In fact-checking this article a friend of mine discovered an error. The URL “DeathByYoga” was indeed gone, but DeathByYogaNotOkay” was available. I wasted no time in purchasing it.
copyright Theresa Elliott, 2017
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