The way people approach life is the way people show up on their yoga mat. And yoga teachers are no exception. Some yoga teachers may lead with a sense of aggression and competition while others will promote a feeling of safety and peace. I’ve noticed that depending on your own personality type you’ll be attracted to a teacher or style that tends to emulate your own tendencies, i.e., if you are hard core, you will like hardcore yoga.
But in the practice of Ayurveda, a Hindu system of alternative health and medicine, people who have core characteristics in their personality, like intensity and fire, should work on balancing their energy by engaging in activities that promote the opposite effect. If you are competitive and ambitious, a gentler, softer practice would benefit you. If you are sluggish and tend to be more sedentary, you should work toward a more active or fiery yoga practice. It is about creating balance. In Ayurveda yoga, the intention is to adapt the yoga to the individual, not the other way around, as you may be unconsciously reinforcing negative tendencies.
Yoga is a bag of mixed nuts. You never know what you’re going to get, and not all yogic experiences are created equal. There are some darker aspects of yoga that people often don’t talk about, what I call the negative side effects of yoga. Here are some to be aware of and how you can remediate them.
Negative Side Effects from Yoga:
1) Injuries: In 2010, the Consumer Products Safety Commission reported that yoga-related injuries in emergency rooms and doctor’s offices rose to 7,369. Yoga injuries are very common. The most common yoga injuries include neck, back, knee and shoulder injuries. This includes torn muscles, herniated disks and carpal tunnel. Poses like Chaturanga, an upward push-up with bent elbows, can cause extensive damage to wrists, elbows and shoulders.
Remedy: Listen to your own body. Don’t assume that the yoga instructor knows your body better than you do. If you experience pain or extreme discomfort, modify your pose or tell the instructor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you have any body pain or injuries, inform the teacher at the beginning of class so that he/she is aware and can help you modify. Remember that the teacher is there for your health and safety.
2) Exhaustion: Do you feel like you need a coffee or nap after yoga? You may be exerting too much effort and strain during your yoga class. Heat exhaustion from hot or power yoga classes may be stripping your body of electrolytes and sodium. If you experience dizziness, fatigue, weakness, or nausea, you could very well be suffering from heat exhaustion. Fatigue is a sign that you could be over-working your body or doing too much yoga.
Remedy: Move at your own pace. Hero’s pose or child’s pose are excellent restorative postures to recoup your energy. Don’t be afraid to take breaks or even leave the studio room if you need to recover your breath or energy. If you have soreness or lactic acid build up, take some days off yoga to rest and recover. Drink plenty of water and be sure to get enough rest and sleep.
3) Competition: People come to yoga class for different reasons; some people want six pack abs while others want inner peace. Many people come to yoga as a form of exercise and approach it with the mentality of competition. If you feel pressure in your yoga class to perform or over-exert yourself, you may be picking up on the competitive energy in the yoga room. This kind of environment does not feel safe or nurturing. Competitive environments are conducive to over-exertion, injury and exhaustion. It is often influenced by the tone the yoga teacher sets in class.
Remedy: Fortunately or unfortunately, anyone can become a yoga teacher these days. A few thousand dollars is all one needs to become certified. Teachers are human too. Yoga instructors can over-assume by over-adjusting or pushing their students beyond their boundaries. You’re not there to please the teacher. If you feel you are being pushed into pain or strain, it’s important to speak up and communicate what you’re experiencing. Saying something as simple as “that hurts” is enough to get a teacher’s attention.
4) Rigidity and stagnation: Do you practice the exact same sequence over and over again? Or possibly the same yoga DVD? If so, you may be limiting your ability to grow and gain flexibility in other areas that aren’t being exercised. It’s possible to stagnate or even create rigidity in your body due to repetitive movement. Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Remedy: Mix it up. Challenge yourself by moving out of your comfort zone. If you like a fiery practice, combine it with a gentle practice every now and then. While discipline and commitment can pay off in your yoga practice, don’t get stuck on a particular yoga style. Some people get very rigid and harsh in their practice. People get so hung up on alignment, they cut off the vital chi of flow through the body. Be careful about being a yoga nazi. A true yoga practice promotes an attitude of fluidity, flexibility and harmony.
5) Spiritual delusion: Do you sometimes show up to yoga class wondering if it’s really about yoga? Or do you question the teacher’s integrity? Shit New Age Girls Say got 1.4 million views on YouTube. It’s a parody on spiritual “fake-ism.” Anyone can use spirituality to justify their actions. It’s called spiritual ego. Yoga teachers and sex scandals are infamously common. Some teachers have been known to abuse their power by touching their students inappropriately and getting involved with them sexually.
Remedy: Use your intuition to see if a teacher or class rings true for you. Refrain from putting your teacher on a pedestal. Ask yourself what you most want to receive from your yoga practice. If your B.S. meter is going off, pay attention to it. Is your yoga teacher being honest, and living in integrity with what he/she is saying? Does your yoga practice add to your life or subtract in some way? Follow what feels right for you.
The purpose of yoga is liberation, not bondage. The postures prepare you for meditation so that you can sit in stillness and realize the truth of your being. Staying in your truth and practicing integrity is essential to having a balanced yoga practice. Try out different styles and teachers until you find one that most resonates with you. Be mindful. Listen to yourself, and trust in your own experience. If you feel negativity, pressure or pain, take time to examine it and see what loving actions you can take to create a healthy yoga experience.