“Dangerous” Yoga does not exist. There is no dangerous asana in Yoga.
Then, why do we injure ourselves?
Because the practice is not good.
Because the teacher is not good.
Yoga is the victim of bad teaching.
An evolutive structured sequence
In a perfect Yoga world, the asana practice should be done and taught sequentially and structured. The practice should be able to cover the forward fold, lateral flexion, twisting, hips opening, back bending, balancing, inversions, calming poses toward shavasana. It should be an ever evolving, slow paced practice.
The asana practice is a slow process, could be fastidious but highly mandatory. The handstand should not be attempted in the infancy of your practice.
Time and preparation are a must to master such a pose. There is absolutely no reason of performing Shirshasana without mastering Salamba Sarvangasana.
Misleading students by claiming Salamba Sarvangasana is a very dangerous asana for the cervicales spine is wrong. It all relies on the teacher’s practice. For example: a teacher deduces that this asana is incorrect due to the pain arising in the cervical region. Therefore they conclude the asana is harmful, but simply put, they are doing the pose incorrectly. The body weight should not be on the cervicales but on the forearms.
Forcing the knees to reach Padmasana (Lotus pose) without any prior hip openers is a big mistake. The problem is not due to the knees but more about a lack of flexibility around the pelvic region. In addition to a lack of opening in the lumbar spine. Both are connected.
Practicing only forward fold in order to protect the lower back is also a mistake. You have more chance of developing back pain if you do not practice back bending as well. Trikonasana does not lead to a slip disc. It all depends on how your teacher is practicing, and from the manner they teach it.
Energetic flow class
Recently I attended a Yoga class in which there was no sitting postures, and I am a seated posture girl! All asanas were linked from Adho Mukha Svanasana. We kept the head down for more than 30 minutes. All the while doing transitions like knee to chest, to the left, outside of the arm, foot outside of the mat for Vasistasana, and raising the leg up for a standing split, knee to the right armpit, knee to the left armpit, knee to the nose, knee to the belly button, bending or micro bending the elbows, knee in between the feet, you name it, the knee was everywhere!
It left my wrist aching. The main goal was to create a “flow”, but none of the asanas were held for more than 2 breathes.
I witnessed shoulder blades lifting up to the ears, trembling arms, and weak legs desperately seeking the foundation of the floor (as was I about this time). But guess what? The students were happy. Sweating, laughing, but most of all very happy. They were encouraged to produce sounds with their mouth, some of them were expressing themselves pretty loundly with “Aaaaaaah”, “Yesssssss”, “Ooooooh”, “Mmmmmmmh”….
Expectations from the Students
Why the students were happy? Because the class was a response to their own expectations, they wanted to sweat, to “feel”, to cross their boundaries. The mojo of the course was to open the heart chakra. It is true that during a sequence, in which you are progressing slowly without any “crazy” asana, people tend to become bored. Because they don’t understand the essence of the sequence.
Without mentioning any series of the Ashtanga Yoga practice, it does exist in some classes where the vinyasa flow will be well structured and quite repetitive (such as Gérard Arnaud in France).
Teaching Pranayamas with caution
As a matter of fact the teaching and practice of pranayama should also follow certain rules. Teaching retention by using and contracting uddiyana bandha to novice students is quite dangerous. A perfect pranayama should be simple, we first observe the breathing and start controlling the inhalation and exhalation.
Before being introduced to kumbakha rechaka and kumbakha puraka the student should be able to lengthen the inhalation from 4 to 8 to 12 and so on (it takes around 3 months with daily practice before the introduction of any retention). As per Patanjali, in the eight limbs of Yoga, pranayama is coming after the asana. It might not be a coincidence. Let’s also be very clear about the activation of the Kundalini. It cannot happen without a perfect practice of Pranayama (long inhalation, long exhalation, inner retention, outer retention, bandhas, chakras, then Kundalini starts to rise up along Sushumna).
The problem isn’t necessarily coming from the student, more from the teacher. Seeking to go faster in the teaching process just to impress his/her students. It may also come from our society where we just don’t want to wait, where we would rather take a shortcut instead of walking slowing on the yogic path.
The yoga practice is a very slow process and that is the key of it, take your time. The yoga practice does not hurt people, if people get hurt while practicing it’s because the teaching is not good. As a Yoga teacher you’re not here to please your students. Creating crazy flows full of handstands over forward folds and skipping all the juicy asanas towards the end of the practice.
As a Yoga teacher you should not be projecting your fears towards your students. The mastery of a posture is different for each of us. We are all very capable on the mat at our own pace. For instance today I achieved my first drop back, as for others they may have done it much more quickly than me under my tutelage. As a Yoga teacher you should always keep an open view, as to understand and translate the body in front of you and the movement required of it.
When the baby is born he/she does not know how to walk. First he/she will be on the back, then will learn how to sit, then will start crawling, then will go on the knees, then will stand, and then will start moving one foot at a time. He/she might fall on the path but won’t be hurt unless there is a wall nearby.
Yoga is the same. It is an apprenticeship, a slow and long process. We learn the movement, the breathing, the Vinyasa.