html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: An Open Letter to my New Yoga Instructor

Monday, December 11, 2006

An Open Letter to my New Yoga Instructor

Dear strong, lithe, enthusiastic new yoga instructor:

I am enjoying your class very much and will keep coming back as long as you keep kicking my ass the way you do. Jesus, your classes are hard, and I am very much looking forward to seeing the results carved in my arms and back. I would, however, like to call to your attention a couple things that may not have occurred to you.

When we are moving from down dog into warrior one, the standard transition is to bring a leg forward between your hands, in a deep lunge. We see it here, in the 11th figure under Surya Namaskara B. I would like to do that posture as rapidly as you call it, and move smoothly into warrior one. I know that I am often lagging the class. But, that posture? Is impossible for me. Lovely svelte yoga teacher, I suspect that you are not aware of this problem, but my arms are simply not long enough.

LArms(shoulder to wrist) < LLegs(knee to heel) + LBreasts(ribs to nipple)

Additional strength or flexibility or body control or zen concentration will not solve this problem. I will always have to do some modification to that posture and it will always make me slow. Would it kill you to wait for me and the other large-breasted woman?

Also, last night you told me that I cannot hold the balancing postures because I am not fully in my body at the moment. As my mind wanders, so does my balance, you said. That is plausible; I know full well that I have a hard time clearing my thoughts. I have another explanation for my poor balance, though. I think that I cannot stand on one leg because I have rolled my ankles so many times that everything in there is too stretched to stabilize me. I would like to do the postures. With one hand against the wall, I am comfortable grabbing the arch of my foot and straightening both leg and arm overhead. I enjoy the stretch and showing off. But, if you don’t allow me to use the wall to balance, I cannot stand on one leg for any time. Since I do not slack in class and have some familiarity with myself, why don’t you ask me why my balance is so drastically more limited than my other physical skills? I might have some insight…

I suspect that detailed analysis of each student’s technique is asking too much of a local yoga teacher. I have large gains to make before I am even average in these hard classes. I’ll work on those, and on cultivating a peaceful mind. See you Tuesday.




Blogger Megan said...

Please don't tell me to do ankle exercises to strengthen my ankles. I am LONG past the point where that could help. There were two or three years where I rolled my left ankle every couple weeks. Now, when I roll it, I walk it off and it hurts but doesn't even swell any more. I think there is nothing left to be damaged. My right ankle is slightly less injured; it hurts even more when I roll that one.

My ankles are so loose I can pop them out of the sockets by rotating them with my hands. But that really hurts too.

This'll be fixed with surgery, if I ever bother. It is more likely that I won't, though.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I wear ActiveAnkles to play Ultimate. I used to wear the neoprene braces; I could try that again for yoga. But I get mentally dependent on them, and I want to keep away from that. I'm resigned to the situation now.

I always like your advice, LB.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Also, last night you told me that I cannot hold the balancing postures because I am not fully in my body at the moment. As my mind wanders, so does my balance, you said. " This is exactly why I don't do Yoga. What a load of crap.

Balance, at least as far as I've ever seen, can be improved with exercises. You have muscles that help you balance, you simply need to build them up. I know you said you've done enough ankle exercises. But, are you getting the balance muscles too, or are you just doing heel raises?

Gym exercises aren't always great, unless you really know what you're doing, and know how to hit everything. I've had this problem multiple times, where I really build up the major muscles, but miss all of the smaller muscles in the same area, and eventually end up in pain.

Blah blah, if you want to learn to stand on 1 leg, just start practicing it at home, I'm sure with practice, using the wall at first, then working to depend less and less on it, you'll get it eventually.


1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most people are horrible instructors -- even those being paid to do it -- and when you add in a group setting they become even worse.

Once or twice in my life I've seen a seminar or demonstration by someone who was truly a good instructor and it was always amazing. They make everything thing seem easy and obvious. Unfortunately they are pretty rare and (unfortunately for me) tend to charge what their services are worth.

My ankles are so loose I can pop them out of the sockets by rotating them with my hands.

This is why "flexibility" is an overrated concept. You generally don't want your joints to be overly compliant. Luckily, things like dynamic mobility and movement preparation are replacing "stretching" for many. Unluckily, it is a slow process outside of sports medicine academic circles and most people still think "stretching" serves a useful purpose for whatever it is they are trying to accomplish.

I think there is nothing left to be damaged.

Famous last words :)

1:52 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I don't think you're believing me, either. My ankles are shot and would need reconstructive surgery to get my balance back. I don't think balancing exercises can tighten those tendons and ligaments up. There is nothing for muscles to pull on to correct lateral instability.

Trust me, I do lots of full-body exercises and am limber and strong. The problem is mechanical...

1:54 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I've seen a seminar or demonstration by someone who was truly a good instructor and it was always amazing. They make everything thing seem easy and obvious.

I'm a good instructor and I paid incredible amounts of attention to individual student's technique. I am a fiend for technique and thought constantly about body angles and weight shifts and alignment. But I don't get to teach anymore and I miss it.

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But I don't get to teach anymore and I miss it.

Does someone have a restraining order against you or something? :) Surely you can teach something if you really want to. Stop doing ultimate and go teach some poor downtrodden inner city yeuts some TKD or something.

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Justin is right. I know you don't want this particular bit of advice, but I'll give it anyway. The ligments are stretched, that's why it rolls easily, but there are lots of subtle little balancing muscles there that can be strengthened. This was my advice from an orthopedist after my seventh major ankle sprain (plus lots of more minor rolls). On his advice, I did balancing on one leg as a strengthening method, and it did help me over the long run. Start with howver long you can go -- 10 or 15 seconds -- and work up. Over weeks if necessary.

Also, I've found it to be useless to go to the instructor you are talking about with a reason why you can't do something. As you found out, she'll just give you that New Age all-in-your-mind shtick. Don't let her push you around or annoy you. Just do whatever you're comfortable with, smile at her, and tell her to go away (politely) if she starts to get on your nerves. That's what I've always done, and they've been respectful of wherever I was at. I find the class useful because it really kicks my ass, but I know going in I won't be able to keep up fully and I'm OK with that.


2:02 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

The yeuts need me!

I should. I would be happier. Goal for 2007?

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I do get what you're talking about. I have friends who have similar problems with their shoulders. Some have had the surgery, I know 1 said it was a complete waste.

Though, they were told exercises could help tighten it up again. Even with ankle sprains, after it heals you're recommended to do 2 things, 1) stretch to get back range of motion, and 2) balance exercises to help prevent future injury.

If your ankles are really that loose, then just skip that part of the class. Though, I've always been the, there's nothing I can't do if I'm just willing to push myself hard enough, type.

Here, links I found before on Ankle sprains, not that they're very pretinent.


2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should. I would be happier. Goal for 2007?

Are you asking us? Then, yes, that's your goal for is only 3 weeks away so you had better get on it. Everyone needs a New Year's Resolution.

Just don't go all Mary Kay Letourneau on us when you start teaching again.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Megan said...


I never slept with my students until the semester ended. I have morals, you know.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know, I know you don't want to hear about ankle exercises. But when I destroyed my ankle, my PT made me balance on one foot with my eyes closed. I could do it for approximately .2 seconds 4 weeks post injury and 15 seconds 8 weeks post

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your competitive attitude towards yoga will hold you back. Progress will come when you embrace your teachers instruction and stop comparing yourself to others. We all have weaknesses, you've just discovered one of yours.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it a stereotypically male attitude to try to "fix" the problem? and stereotypically female attitude to ask for details and then sympathize? or is just stereotypically what women are looking for?

3:21 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

3:19 Anonymouse:
Sorta. I'll walk down that path with you a fair ways, and believe that my mental state influences my physical abilities in all sorts of ways. But then, I also think that skilled attention to technique would bring me deeper into the postures, and that requires attention to physical details.

3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yoga will fix these issues. Just have a little patience with yourself, and keep pushing forward.

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with roonie. I am sorry this is going to sound a bit wanky, but there's a lot of ego in your comments. Your yoga teacher isn't there to negotiate an outcome that is to your liking, just to facilitate a pathway for you that you must take alone. Oh dear, that does sound wanky. sorry.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Really? See, I would do/did do that for every student in my room.

Seriously, if a student of mine were struggling with a throw, I would watch her carefully and discuss wrist movements, and squaring her hips and shoulders to her target, and where her weight should be moving to transfer momentum during the release. That's why I am confident I can teach anyone to throw a forehand. I think of that as a basic requirement for being an adequate teacher; being there to teach based on greater experience.

I don't have ego based on being me; I have ego based on being a student.

4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is probably very appropriate good teaching for TKD. You are teaching them to be able to do something.
Yoga is totally different. It isn't about being able to achieve a posture. If your teacher is telling you that the objective of yoga is to get your ankles behind your ears or whatever then I wouldn't rate them as a teacher. As far as the struggling you experience, that is good. If you struggle and don't give up, you are growing - your marginal benefit is increasing at an increasing rate. You are probably getting more out of it than others in the class who find it easy, their utility function is decreasing. I imagine your teacher knows this, and is probably delighted with you, even though you are so hard on yourself.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

See, also, I think that concept, of yoga being something that just fixes itself when your mind surrenders, isn't universally applicable. I will never do so much yoga or meditate so well that my breasts fit between my knee and my arms. I cannot get there by changing my mindset. I think a little more critical thought on the part of the instructors would alert them to stuff like that.

(For example, Chris told me, and this had never once occurred to me, Locust or Bow Pose really hurts your nuts and penis if you don't align right.) I honestly don't believe that most yoga teachers, who all tend to share a small chested, thin build, have thought hard about stuff like this, and I don't think that telling the practitioners to clear their minds should be their entire response.

4:12 Anonymouse:
I could struggle that hard at different levels of proficiency; 'cause yoga can always get harder. Why not observe and guide technique, so that I am struggling to get the form right, not struggling in bad habits?

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You continue to talk about getting it right, getting better technique etc - do you understand yoga to be about being at the margin - the level is irrelevant.

4:26 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

The level is irrelevant only if the postures themselves have no value. If there is value to the posture (creates a twist, opens hips, builds strength), then I want to be confident that my form is correct, so I can free my mind to finding where the edge of comfort is, or looking for unusual sensation, or checking my breath. I shouldn't have to wonder if I can't move at the pace the class does because I'm not strong yet (more yoga will change that) or because I have large breasts (more yoga won't change that).

4:34 PM  
Blogger Dubin said...

Don't worry about the boobs and just get there when you get there. Those of us who are competitive don't want to be behind the class, but I have tried to learn to do easier modifications if my technique is not up to snuff, even though it makes me feel like a retard in the big-kid class. In your case, if you're slower because of a handicap, well then you're slower.

About the ankles, however, it's different. I suggest talking to the teacher about it and then assessing her real attitude once she knows your whole situation. Then, there's either a chance she'll tll you to use the wall, or else she'll tell you to balance like everyone else but just don't raise your other leg as high. Either way has its disadvantages, since the first way you have less room to improve your balance, and the second way is less satisfying.

Some teachers give lip service to everyone's body being different, while they still want you to do it their way. Others really believe this and will listen to you and let you do what you need to do.

But remember, the boobs-slowing-you-down thing and the ankle thing are two different issues. The first is about ego, the second is about ankles.

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

do you understand yoga to be about being at the margin

No it's not.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Dennis said...

I agree w/ the Anonymouses, yoga doesn't lend itself well to competitiveness. Where you're at is just fine.

Whether you're stepping forward, or bending forward, remember something very practical I was once told in a yoga class: Forward is a direction, not an amount.

However, I was also once told that it is not possible for you to build up your muscles--it's only possible to break them down and burn them up by exerting yourself. Any actual "building" is done by the muscle-elves at night while you sleep, using materials you provide them by eating well, and following directions you send them by tiring yourself out.

I think there are similarly talented flexibility-elves and endurance-elves. (Not that I've been giving ANY of them directions lately.)

But getting hurt only sets us all back. So use that first rule more, and watch your body's progress happen (or not happen) at it's own pace. Including being nice to your ankles! If you lose those, who's gonna hold up your socks?

11:52 PM  
Blogger Noel said...

More for the crowd than Megan, as I think her ankle problems are beyond easy solutions:

Jim, an ultimate player, lays down the science on ankle braces. He comes down to Active Ankles or lace ups.

Here's a great review on treatment options for ankle sprains.

Justus speaks the truth on flexibility: You can be too flexible, and dynamic stretching is more useful than static stretching in many situations. In particular, the advice I've read is that dynamic stretching should be performed before athletic activities, and static stretching afterwards. Static stretching relaxes your muscles, making then less powerful. You don't want that going in to an Ultimate game, for example.

The thing I got from yoga was a bunch of multi-joint stretches (cf the single joint stretches taught commonly taught). I don't buy the philosophy, which doesn't leave much to gain from yoga beyond chasing flexibility. As for "seeing the results carved in my arms and back", the static holds in yoga will develop some isometric strength, but isometric strength has limited applicability, and there are more efficient ways of losing fat and gaining strength.

I hope that's of interest to some!

2:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

noel - sportsinjurybulletin is one of my favorite websites :)

9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Noel, thanks for the pointers!

I have this in common with Megan. My ankles roll super easy. I tend to turn them about one per six months bad enough to remember it. They never have equal range of motion because one is further along in healing than the other.

Those studies are great. I think that I'm going to look into the lace-up braces to wear while hiking. Although, using hiking poles has been a great boon and seems to allow me to recover from my ankle starting to turn without injury or falling.

The best prevention that I've found (to injury, my ankles seem to roll anyhow) is my "fall reflex." If I sense that my ankle is rolling, I take all the weight off of it. Then the ground comes up to say hi. :-)

The finding about when ankles turn was great. I totally see this. When I walk normally, my feet are significantly plantarflexed before touchdown. This means that any unevenness in the surface causes my ankle to roll. It seems that the muscles that would stabilize my ankle are too loose and don't get the message until the roll has gone too far for them to stop it. However unevenness is not necessary, one of the worse sprains that I can remember happened on a perfectly flat parking lot. I almost had to crawl home, and missed classes for a day or two.

I've wondered many times if I could somehow relearn my foot positioning and simply keep my feet more flat before touchdown. Maybe a lace up brace will encourage this.


9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Get a stiffer boot, something with a really stiff sole. Most heavy back packing boots, and mountaineering boots will fit the requirement. It's much harder to turn your ankle in boots like that.

All of these except the GTX have carbon fiber shanks in them, giving a very stiff platform to stand on. It's like trying to roll your ankle wearing ski boots with boots like these on.


12:29 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Oh but Justin, when you do roll your ankles in hiking boots, it is such a severe roll. Trust me.

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, good luck rolling your ankle in those. You'd likely have to snap your shin bone first.

Seriously, they're like ski boots.


2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should consider looking for an Iyengar yoga teacher--their method is all about adapting postures for individual limitations due to injury, inexperience or body type. People who say that's not your teacher's job are wrong. Bad instruction is part of the reason yoga injuries are so frequent. A teacher who takes on so many students that he/she can't deal with them individually is irresponsible.

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are "weak ankles" related to "round heels"?

(You only have to slap me gently on this one...I don't think mine are particularily weak, but I know well the agony of having them "roll over" and still walk gingerly over a weak later)

1:53 PM  
Blogger Abby said...

Ankles: Having a soft but really really fixed gaze on an unmoving point (not your fellow classmates who are wobbling) helps a lot. It may not fix the problem, but it will get you as far as you can go without a wall. Also a great teacher will tell you exactly what to do with your toes that will help stabilize the rest of your body. It is amazing what a shift in toe spread can do...

Boobs: You do know that you can nestle your knee in your cleavage, thereby gaining a few inches? Also, keeping your heart forward helps with the aim and positions the boobs well, even though it is tempting to arch the back to make more room, I don't think it actually helps.

6:45 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

I do too know about a fixed gaze (and even know how to use a reference point to spin without getting dizzy).

Using the cleavage is helpful, unless you require a sportsbra that doesn't leave room for cleavage. Still, these are exactly the practical suggestions that I think a yoga teacher should be making. Thanks.

1:15 PM  

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