I Can't Fix You
The other day a yoga student who’d been to a few of my classes asked me, “Can you feel my ribs and spine to see if one side is ‘sticking out’ more than the other?”
To which I said, N to the O to the Hell NO!
Ok, maybe I didn’t say that.
I did say, “I’m sorry. I can’t confidently assess your skeleton. Are there any particular poses where your back is bothering you? I can totally help you with that.”
I’m bringing this up because this happens to me ALL THE TIME! My knees feel weird. I’m battling anxiety. I read that yoga will heal me. Can you fix me?
No, I can’t fix you.
Because you see, I’m not a doctor. I’m not a chiropractor. I’m not a therapist. I’m not a shaman.
I’m a yoga teacher.
I’ve studied in great detail both the gross and the subtle body. I’ve taken tests to label bones and know the origin, insertion, and shape of many major muscles in the body. I love biomechanics and try to bring in accessible anatomical and alignment details into all my classes so that my students can better relate to and work with their unique structure. I’ve studied philosophy and Vedic chanting. I’ve spent countless hours over many years of life on my yoga mat, on my meditation cushion, and doing my damnedest to live my yoga off the mat.
Even given all that, I’m not going to lay my hands on you and “fix you.”
I can’t fix you.
I can share the tools of yoga.
I can quote passages of the Bhagavad Gita. I can share tips for shoulder stability in Pincha Mayurasana. I can teach you at least 10 different ways to get into triangle pose. I’ll give you a good long time for Savasana. But I can’t fix you.
If your back is bothering you or your wrist aches, I’ll help you modify. I can give you poses to work with that may soothe your body aches. But I can’t guarantee it will work.
I can tell you a thousand times not tug yourself into a forward bend or throw yourself into a deep backbend. And you still might hurt yourself.
There have been articles. Students come in and say, “I read in the NYTimes that yoga is good for back pain.” “I saw on WebMD that yoga can cure my depression.” We throw around this word yoga like it’s something you can just hold in your hand and pass along to anyone who pays the right price. Yoga has become this magic salve that can cure all that ails you.
Unfortunately, that’s not how this practice works.
I think this happens in all sincerity because people want to be well.
And we as teachers, we want to help people be well.
THAT’S AWESOME. Yoga can definitely help people to be well. Yoga is a rich and deeply fulfilling practice, with layers upon layers of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual depth. We as yoga teachers should be aware that people come to us because they want to be well. We who share this practice, like doctors, take an oath, “do no harm,” ahimsa. It’s in the book, guys.
What does that mean for me as a teacher? Certainly, I’m not the end all be all authority on this, but here’s what I think it means. I think it means that I have a responsibility to myself and to my students to be honest about what I can share and what I can’t. I have a responsibility to work within the scope of practice of a yoga teacher.
Yoga can help people, and we can share the tools of yoga.
Don’t diagnose injury.
Don’t diagnose the roots of someone’s mental suffering.
Don’t prescribe powders and potions to instant happiness.
Share the tools of yoga practice.
Recognize that some people come to class in their most vulnerable state, whether that’s with physical or emotional injury. We need to support them but give them space to let the yoga work its own magic.
Yoga transforms lives, no doubt about that. The tools of practice when consistency applied can lead to greater balance, ease and contentment in daily living. Beyond that, sincere and open students will inevitably find treasures they never expected.
I’ve been practicing with consistency for about a decade now and I still feel like a little tiny yoga baby. Physically yoga has had just an insane impact on my balance, coordination, flexibility, upper body and core strength, you name it. Mentally I’m more focused and resourceful and at the same time more curious and open. Emotionally I feel steady, much more at ease in my own skin. I’m able to find comfort in the quiet and the still. I have greater compassion and capacity for emotional depth. And there are all these other ways: a deep satisfaction. A sense of knowing. I can’t properly articulate it but it feels a lot like grace.
I didn’t come to yoga with any goal or injury. I didn’t come to yoga to change myself. Yet somehow overtime I didn’t really change so much as I feel I’ve become more myself than I was before. I’m less afraid of vulnerability and failure. I’m less influenced by the swirling chaos of the human drama we are blessed to call life. I don’t need to have all the answers; I get to swim in the ocean of the great unknown.
I know with 1000% certainty that my experience of this practice cannot be replicated. There are mountains I’ve climbed and hours I’ve spent just sitting with my own damn mind.
I can’t give you that.
I don’t know everything about life.
I don’t even come close to knowing everything about yoga.
I can’t cure all that ails you.
Here’s what I can promise.
If you come to my public class, it will be well prepared and well articulated. We’ll tend to and root our attention in the pace of deep breath. You’ll get a nice Vinyasa flow with some technical instructions. You might have a little fun or maybe not. We’ll probably chant a little, sweat, and definitely spend some time being still.
I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.
I’m not going to reveal the mysterious source of your knee pain or your heartache.
I promise to do my best to share the tools of this practice with clarity and accessibility.
I promise to be sincere and say, “hey, you know, I don’t have an answer for that.”
I promise to create space for you as a student to get whatever the hell you want out of my class.
Just looking for a butt lift? Fine.
Need some advice about your inversion practice? Great.
Kids driving you crazy and you just want an hour for yourself? Awesome.
Curious about mantra and meditation? I love mantra and meditation!
Any good teacher of any subject knows you’re not just teaching the thing. If I’m a math teacher, I don’t just teach you the answer. How on earth would you be able to solve equations on your own? Teachers share strategies for problem solving. They unlock the resources so you can find the answer for yourself.
It’s my job as a teacher to welcome you and to share the tools of this practice as I’ve learned them from my teachers and their teachers before them and their teachers before them and so on forever. It’s our job as students to show up and listen, not simply to what a teacher is saying, but to what the yoga is trying to teach us. May this practice encourage you to listen to, find confidence in, and seek guidance from your greatest teacher, you.