I am Not a Doctor

I am also not a physical therapist. I am not nurse. I am just a yoga teacher.

I heard rumors prior to teaching that yoga instructors receive requests for diagnoses and are met with the assumption that we can address every injury in a group class. I just didn't realize the extent to which this is true.

At my very first class I received a verbal laundry list of injuries and complications from my students. I was shocked. My mind started racing, "How do I address this?" "Can I provide modifications for everyone?" "Which modifications should I even offer?" "Oh my gosh. Am I going to break these people?" Add this to the already long list of anxieties that accompany a first class, and I was a mental wreck.

Six months later, the medical questions only keep coming in. From new students, old students, friends, family. It's wild, honestly. Why is it wild?

I've only received 200 hours of training. This includes basic yoga philosophy, sequencing, the breakdown of a handful of poses, meditation techniques, breath work, business practices, teaching methodology and VERY BASIC anatomy and physiology. And while 200 hours sounds like a lot, it breaks down to 25 8-hour days. That's three and half weeks of work in which we have to cover a lot of information with about 30 of those hours dedicated to anatomy and physiology.

As a opposed to a doctor. Or a nurse. Or a physical therapist. All of whom undergo many YEARS of education. 

Don't get me wrong: biomechanics are so important to understand as a yoga teacher. And my training was thorough, practical and very beneficial. But it certainly was not enough for me (or any yoga teacher, for that matter) to help diagnose or treat your injury.

I have heard the opinion that teachers shouldn't ask if someone has an injury. Before I was a teacher, I was horrified at that sentiment. Why shouldn't the teacher care? Why shouldn't they need to know? But now?

But now that I teach and am faced with a laundry list of injuries, I totally get it. I don't ask, because outside of helping you find a comfortable space in the pose, I will not treat your issue. Rather, I will encourage you - and everyone - to listen to your body. If a pose doesn't feel good, if you know a movement will aggravate the issue, don't do it. 

So, if you're a student with an injury (because, secret, we all will be a student with an injury at some point), what do you do? Tell your teacher or don't tell your teacher, but, most importantly and regardless of an obvious injury, listen to your body. Do what feels right and, if you have a question, ask your teacher at the end of class. I - and I'm sure others - are certainly very happy to address making the yoga practice work for you and exploring options. But I encourage you to consider scheduling a private session with your teacher, as it's very difficult to address individual needs in a group setting.

And if you're a teacher on the receiving end of a yoga prescription request? I've learned that the best thing you can do is provide high level modifications and clearly state:

Please listen to your body. If the issue persists, I encourage you to see a doctor.

Or, dare I say it? Try this:

I don't know, as I'm not a doctor. But please do what feels good for you today.

And take a deep breath. You do not have to know everything. You are a yoga teacher - and likely a fantastic one at that. You don't need to be a doctor too.