Idealizing Inversions: Where Yoga Goes Wrong

HP_216_SalambaSirsasana_248
2778-56

Inversions are not everything, but some people sure act like they are. In most of the classes I have taken, and in my teacher training, we are not shown how to safely fall out of an inversion--we are only shown how to get into one. Let's be real--shit can happen in inversions; good and bad, and the bad can be very bad--you can potentially break your neck, jack up your spine, or something else. I don't say this to scare anyone, but I think this discourse isn't out there in the "yoga world" and it should be.

Before I was a yoga teacher, I was a dancer for 13 years. Whenever we did partner lifts, we were always taught how to safely (correctly) fall--if the person holding us were to accidentally drop us. This was super important, because, really, who wants to get hurt? I think more yoga teachers need to apply this technique of safely falling out of a pose--especially an inversion.

The usual rhetoric I hear from other teachers about inversions is: "It's easy!" or "If you fall out, it's ok!" It's true--if you fall out, it is ok--it doesn't mean you are loved any less. It doesn't mean you can't have meaningful relationships. However, falling out safely and just plain falling are two different things--the latter can hurt and seriously injure you.

And why the pressure to practice inversions anyway? I understand their benefits (improves blood circulation, relieves spinal pain, helps indigestion, etc), but some people can't do inversions, and might never do inversions. That's the truth. When I co-taught a dance/movement therapy class for adults with disabilities, the class had to be designed to accommodate their bodies, and what their bodies could do--and these students were amazing, and no inversions (headstand/handstand/etc) were done.

With my yoga studio that I have created, Luna Yoga, I am planning to create a more accessible space for people who want to practice yoga, but have felt they couldn't previously. I plan to teach people with disabilities (developmental and physical), and will I teach these people inversions? Of course not. That would be a disservice to them. Not that I don't think some of them could do it, but there are more important postures out there, so let's work on those. Let's make our students feel good about themselves--challenging them, yes, but not prizing any student over another for what their body can and can't do.

I have been practicing yoga for 6 years (only seriously for the last 4), and I have been a teacher since 2010. I still can't do a headstand without a wall. I still can't do a handstand without a wall. Part of this is probably because I don't practice them as much as some people do. Does this make me a "bad" teacher? No. Does it make me incompetent? No. I mostly teach beginner level students (and specialized populations), so I don't teach inversions--well, not headstand or handstand. If I myself can't do a posture, I won't normally teach it, unless it's something I'm working on, and I feel strong enough for myself and for my students to safely guide them into it. Does this inability make me "bad" at yoga? No. That's the funny (and awesome) thing about yoga--it's not dichotomous. I could do the best, most impressive pose ever, and it won't make me a better person than anyone else.

Not to be all new-agey, but I really believe that each body can do amazing things, and we should continuously thank out bodies for the amazing things they can do--not what they can't. Challenge is good, as long as your ego doesn't take over and make you a competitive mess.

If you can do a handstand, congrats, go you! If you can't, congrats, go you! You are fun and lovable--either way.