Sometimes I spot a student wearing ‘the look’. She might be holding a posture beautifully, but I can see on her face the signs that all is not well. At this point, I remind the class: ‘Patanjali says that asana is a steady, comfortable posture – sthira sukham asanam.’ Then I go and stand by said student and say again, ‘Yoga isn’t competitive. Come out of the posture whenever you’re ready.’
But some people just won’t be told. They think they look tranquil, but I can see the tension creeping up their body, their teeth are clenched and there is a hint of panic in their eyes. They simply won’t allow themselves to release until everyone else has finished.
You can’t teach people what they’re not ready to learn. For some, the idea of listening to their body and stopping when they’ve had enough, even if others have not, is a hard one. Nor is this limited to ordinary classes; I’ve also seen this phenomenon at teacher training sessions, where we really should know better.
Then there are those who like to challenge themselves beyond the point that is beneficial or even safe. These are often the super fit, the strong and the flexible who can normally do everything asked off them. An off day isn’t an option. OK, so maybe they’ve twisted their ankle while out running: so what? Think that’s going to stop them holding Warrior II until they shake?
I regularly remind my students that if I ask them to do something and it doesn’t feel right, even if they can usually do it, then they should work gently and not push themselves too hard. But that man, for example, who has found out his blood pressure is, unusually, slightly elevated might not like to hear that he should keep his arms down.
There is no denying the joy of manoeuvring yourself into an asana you thought was beyond you, but it’s a fine line between exploring what your body is capable of and going too far. I can encourage safe practice and highlight the need for caution, but ultimately the individual is responsibility for his or her own wellbeing.
If I have a particularly stubborn student in a class who won’t heed my safety guidelines, I will say, ‘OK, folks, you all heard me warn her!’ I try to keep it lighthearted, but really what I’m saying is: ‘Please don’t sue me if you fall over!’