Healing Journey Monday: yoga and form

I’ve noticed over the years that in every type of exercise I know form is very important, whether it’s yoga, weight machines, calisthenics or something else. And I’ve also noticed that a lot of people have trouble understanding why form is important. I’m going to speak of it in yoga terms, but when I belonged to a gym for some years I used to watch the trainers trying to correct people who looked bewildered by being told they needed to use proper form and would just keep on doing what they had been doing, so I think it applies whether you’re doing aerobics or weight training or something else.

Some of my students get a little impatient with my attention to form but I do think it matters. Part of what seems to be puzzling to some people is that doing it doesn’t immediately break a bone or tear a ligament or cause some dramatic injury and thus it doesn’t seem that form matters. Although a more dramatic injury can occur it’s not the main issue. There are two ways in which form makes a big difference: (1) if you don’t use the proper form you’re often not going to affect the muscle or muscle group that the exercise is designed to address; (2) doing a pose incorrectly over time can put stresses and strains on your muscles and/or bones so that somewhere down the road you’re suffering from a stiff neck or pain in your hip or back or some other structural injury. That realization of injury may occur years after you started doing the wrong form and you may not know what caused it.

Since I’ve suffered a lot of issues with my muscles and my structure and have done a lot of exercise and movement work for it I have a pretty refined sense of the feeling when I do a pose wrong and how it changes when I do it properly. If you don’t have a lot of body awareness you may not realize that something is off. I think it really helps if you can find a teacher who does pay attention to details and keeps class sizes small enough to pay individual attention to what students are doing.

My teacher made a lot of hands on corrections for us and he’d always ask us to note how we were feeling before he corrected and how we felt after he adjusted the pose. That’s been a great help to me as my body has kept changing with all the body work because I know when a pose feels right.  If my body has re-balanced I can feel the need to shift the pose to regain the proper balance.

If you’re fairly new to yoga or haven’t ever taken from a teacher who really pays attention to teaching form I highly recommend (1) that you avoid taking classes where they allow more than 10 students because a teacher really can’t keep an eye on what individual students are doing that well if there are more than 10 in a class. (2) Search for a straight hatha yoga class (the Kriya tradition is pretty traditional as far as the poses but not the only one) to learn proper form one pose at a time before you take classes that use vinyasas or move quickly through poses. It’s much harder to keep track of form when you’re moving quickly from one pose to another. If you don’t really know the correct form before you start it’s almost impossible to do vinyasas correctly.  Wait till you know the basics before you move on to one of the moving forms. (3) Do some research about teachers. If you don’t know someone who can vouch for a teacher giving careful instructions then look for studios or teachers that offer one free or reduced price class for people who are interested so that you can experience it for yourself. A good instructor should give lots of pointers on getting the poses right and also should be able to suggest modifications if you have some physical reason why you can’t do a pose all the way.

I’ve had quite a few people come to me after being injured in other yoga classes or after feeling uncomfortable and hopeless because of the lack of direction and the expectation that every student should do everything without regard to their own limits. Anyone should be able to have success at yoga if you find classes in which you are getting good instructions about how to do the poses correctly and within your capabilities. [Note:  if you live in the Chicago area, my teacher, Bill Hunt, now has the Yoga Centre in Oak Park]

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10 thoughts on “Healing Journey Monday: yoga and form

    • Yes, ick to the hot yoga. I will say that some years in I started buying and renting some tapes and DVD’s to vet for my students which led to owning some of the YJ tapes with a lot of vinyasa and, for myself, I like it–though I do many postures the way I learned them instead of by Iyengar and change portions that I don’t like– but I rarely do anything but the sun salutation for students. And I make them spend a long time learning the individual postures and one or two movement sequences at a time before they ever do the whole thing.

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