December 9, 2014

I’m a Yoga Teacher but I Stopped Practicing Yoga.


A Yoga Teacher’s Shame

The reason yoga has been around for thousands of years is because it works.

Lululemon put it this way on a water bottle, “I Practice Yoga Because It Feels Damn Good.” This is truth.

My job is easy because yoga utterly sells itself. Anyone with a practice knows we are always thinking about our next fix. Myself, and surely others, become yoga teachers because we are burning to share what has been transformative and magical personally.

So it is with deep shame that I admit to you, I quit practicing.

I am blessed to teach a lot of private lessons. At the end of hours of teaching, I didn’t want to hear downward dog uttered even one more freaking time. I told myself my asanas (poses) wouldn’t get too rusty and my yoga booty wouldn’t fall since I went through the motions so often in demonstrating poses to my clients.

There were some extremely obvious holes in this rationalization.

Most importantly, a yoga pose without breath is like a body without a soul.

When I am teaching, I am talking, describing, and therefore certainly not rolling out a bunch of ujjayi breaths. Ujjayi, or victorious breath, is made by pinching off the back of your throat as though you were going to fog a mirror, while breathing in and out of the nose. It warms and energizes the breath as it enters the body and helps to create focus.

For me, this breath unifies the mind body spirit benefits of yoga. Without conscious breathing, our asanas at best scratch the surface. At worst, we get injured. The breath lets our body inform us of its longing to go deeper as well as when we should back off.

This brings me to something even more shameful. I was injured.

I was in so much pain I tried not to sneeze because of the jolt of pain that ripped through my low back when I did. People pay me to train and heal their bodies. So this puts me in the metaphysician heal thyself category.

For the most part, I’m an open, verging on TMI, sort of girl. But I guarded this secret closely.

How would my pain look to the people who trusted me to care for their bodies? I was deeply ashamed and afraid. My full time livelihood is physical, and if it got much worse, I wouldn’t be able to work.

Years ago, an acupuncturist physician I worked with suggested that some low back and hip tension I was experiencing was likely coming from an issue with a disc. I never got diagnostics. My insurance coverage was poor and I figured if I didn’t know there was a problem, I wouldn’t have to change my practice. In those days I was on some Ashtanga leg behind the head sort of jam. Brilliant thinking, right?

Through a combination of car accidents, stress, jumping into poses to demo when I wasn’t warmed up, and the atrophy of my own regular personal practice, this murmur of tension grew to very loud pain.

As the pain increased, I became more protective of the low back, hoping to not exacerbate what I feared was a serious progression of a disc injury. The more I hurt, the less I practiced, and then the more I hurt.


This moment may have contributed to my back pain.

So pretty much, there was a whole lot of not practicing what I was preaching going on for a while, and that was not working out well for me.

I had to face this hypocrisy when a student came to my class for her low back pain. Her doctor prescribed yoga for her to control low back pain related to a disc injury. He told her if she would faithfully practice yoga, in a few months her pain should be gone. As I watched her pain release and reduce with each of our practices, I became hopeful for myself.

I renewed my vows with hot yoga. It was so delicious to get back on the mat, and the heat helped.

When I teach, I am never really getting a good stretch for myself, as that’s not what I’m there for. So when I started going into the asanas with breath, intention and the depth that I needed, it worked.

My teachers always said our best teaching comes from our own practice, and this is certainly real. Yoga got exciting again. Down dog became evocative to my ears rather than tired. My shame and pain were gone as my own actions matched my teaching.

*Random shout out—but if this has inspired you to work with your own pain—I want you armed with all the tools I had. I also began juicing fresh turmeric root, which is a potent anti-inflammatory. Hot yoga + Turmeric = Miracle.


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Author: Jen Painter

Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Dan Davidson, Mark Byron

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