too many chaturangas

If you are a longtime yoga practitioner, you have probably complained about they way yoga has changed over the years. With yoga being big business these days, it appears that the customer is always right. In this case, the customer has demanded shorter classes with more chaturangas.

As J. Brown points out in his excellent blog post on the matter, “Decisions still often come from atop a pyramid. But now, the directives are based more on aggregated data than on the presumed authority of an ancient wisdom.”

Shorter, Less Spiritual Classes

It started with people rolling up their mats and splitting before savasana. Sure, we’re busy folks. Then, I suppose, there were complaints that savasana was too long. Add that to the complaints about chanting or Om-ing or too much spiritual talk and you have today’s fitness class called yoga.

I had been doing yoga sporadically for several years when I finally found myself in a location where I really liked my teacher and I had the time to dedicate to deepening my practice. I happened to be living in a tropical location, so I happened to (unintentionally) be doing hot yoga. When I moved back to the North Eastern US, I found I missed the heat, so I found my way to a hot Vinyasa class. This was back when you could still find hot classes with balanced flows, pranayama and spiritual lessons. I was in my element.

Enter the Yoga Business Model

Of course, yoga is business. The studio where I practiced got purchased by a franchise. The effects were immediate. There would be no more spiritual talk in class because “people didn’t like that.” People came to hot yoga for the workout. The teachers who taught more organic classes were asked to conform to the way corporate would have them teach and many left teaching there altogether.

So what changed? Somewhere along the line, the focus of hot yoga became strength conditioning and burning calories. As J. Brown says, “Yoga is regarded more as a paid-for service, comparable to the work of a personal trainer, where the expectation is not necessarily to learn the nature of the exercises so much as to be taken through the proper reps.”

Enter the world of the 1000 chaturangas

It seems as if executing as many chaturangas as possible is what yoga is all about these days. At a recent class, I realized that the teacher was hell bent on having us blow out our shoulders. Not only was she leading a ridiculous amount of chaturangas, but she never stopped to demonstrate or correct alignment. Of course, I modified my practice, but it is also the teacher’s responsibility to be aware and try to prevent injury.

As Jenni Rawlings wrote on her blog, “One of the main reasons people practice yoga is to create more balance in the body.  Chaturanga,[…] when done repetitively, actually moves us away from balance and toward imbalance.” I found myself inserting chest openers where I could to try to create balance.

But it’s not just balance, it’s repetitive motion injuries you need to look out for. I noticed students taping their shoulders before class. Here’s a hint: if you are taping your shoulders you need to take a break from chaturangas. Rawlings quotes Sue Hitzmann, a somatic movement educator, “the primary cause of chronic and sudden chronic pain is repetitive movements and postures, not aging or muscle tension, as many people believe.”

Of course, the student is responsible for listening to their own body and modifying where needed. Yoga peer pressure is real, though. As the saying goes, “check your ego at the door,” but new students don’t know any better. Without the teachings, new yogis only know they want a spot in front of the mirror.

Change is in the Air

Yes, things change and we must change with them. However, I’m not willing to do it at the expense of personal injury.

The silver lining is there are enough yoga studios that you can shop around (4 in my town alone). Find the right teacher. The one who still teaches the way you want to practice.

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