No Single Right Way to Do Yoga

Shoulderstand Variation

My way or the highway

The way I learned yoga was according to strict rules. After 10 years of the my-way-or-the-highway approach, I’ve spent the ensuing period deconstructing those rules and discovering my own body’s rhythms and requirements.

Along the way, I had to learn to get across an entirely different message in my teaching based on notions like these:

  • There is no single right way to do a pose.
  • Yoga is not competitive. 
  • Respect your physical limits.
  • Everyone’s anatomy is different; adapt a pose to suit your body.
  • It’s not about the appearance of the pose but how it feels in your body.

Sometimes my message doesn’t land so it makes an appreciable difference to the students. I wish it did, but we humans are ambitious. We do like to push ourselves.

Actually, my students probably heed my advice about as well as I do. When I was recovering from hip surgery five years ago, I did twelve days in a rehabilitation ward, learning how to walk again. The physiotherapists kept telling me to slow down, that I was pushing my body too fast post-surgery. Didn’t I understand that I was still in the very early stages of healing? One of the physios even wrote in her notes that I was dangerous after she saw the way I navigated the stairs. Okay, the word dangerous got to me, and after that, I did decelerate somewhat.

Exceeding your limits

There’s the old saying, ‘How do you know your limits? By going over them’!

Hopefully when you do go over your limits, it doesn’t create long-term grief – perhaps leading to an injury. Some of the common injuries are hamstring tears, knee compression, low back pain, and rotator cuff problems. 

Many injuries can happen when you do the family of poses we call inversions. As much as I love teaching the upside-down postures – forearm balance, handstand, headstand, shoulder stand – I’ve learned to slow down the presentation of these poses. This is especially important with beginners or older students. I ask my students to do the work to improve their strength and flexibility first, and for however long it takes. Then, when it’s time to do the classic inverted poses, they are ready to maintain steady balance in them.

What’s the hurry anyway? Yoga postures shouldn’t be approached as a to-do list. Whether you are doing yoga breathing, asanas, or relaxation, the practices are meant to be savoured, like sipping a fine wine or watching an extraordinary sunset.

Upside-down and almost upside-down

For those students who are not in the market for doing inversions, there are a host of alternatives or modifications. Here’s an especially inviting version of shoulderstand, for instance. Similarly to legs-up-the-wall (Viparita Karani), this exercise lowers blood pressure, moderates breathing and reduces tension in the body.

 Shoulderstand variation with chair


Because I’m passionate about teaching inverted poses, the preparations to them, as well as modifications and alternatives, I’m teaching a one-day workshop in March. Ginny and Greg Clark have kindly organised two sessions to be held in her lovely studio, details below.

If you are a keen student or teacher, come along and learn how to enjoy the therapeutic value of these poses, as well just have fun.

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