Dangerous yoga

Posted on our facebook site by Simon Borg-Olivier on March 13, 2009 at 5:14pm

I write this post in respons to Rick Bull’s post below – it is an interesting topic that I hope will generate discussion. I actually tried to pos it but facebook said the wall was unavailable to post – so that is another good reason to post a new topic on the subject.

First Ricks initial comments then my response – if you are interested or agree or disagree please comment:

Posted on our facebook site by Simon Borg-Olivier on March 13, 2009 at 5:20pm

Rick Bull wrote at 3:06pm on March 11th, 2009 : The techno/yoga tour continues. Just did a class in Seattle. Interesting. Basic ashtanga, but I thought waaaay too fast, with no real ‘releases’ of key postures, which was weird. Also back-bends without suggestion it may be unhelpful for some. And the meditation lasted around…2 minutes. Good, but I felt I could see the potential dangers in a hasty practice, writ large…x

My response:
hi Rick – interesting comments you make on your travels – i see and hear about a lot of this type of class when i travel to teach yoga. It seems to me that the western world is trying to imitate the essence of traditional yoga without appreciating that most westerners do not have traditional Indian bodies. Traditional Indian people have squatted all their life, they routinely sit cross legged and they often carry large weights on their heads. So it means they have very strong knees, flexible hips and a very strong neck. Hence many yoga postures Westerners think of as strong stretching of strength work Traditional Indians think of as just natural body movements. So yoga in the west is taught assuming it can be taught as it is in india and this means many people end up with many injuries. It saddens me that because of this i find myself (as a physiotherapist yoga teacher) defending the efficacy of yoga and my passion for it to many other therapists including doctors who think that yoga is dangerous and stupid, because it is generally so badly taught with little understanding of the nature of the physical body, let alone the deeper sheaths of the body. They of course think this because so many of their clients are actually yoga casualties. Sad isn’t it – honestly i see this where ever i travel in the world with only minor exceptions. If you find good teaching elsewhere do please let know so we can recommend it – you seem to know what is safe and what is not. Best wishes and have fun – keep on dancing! Simon

Posted on our facebook site by Ruth Weeks on March 14, 2009 at 6:01am

What you write is so true!
I think there’s also the fact that many of us are quite competitive in our lives, so it’s hard not to back off and admit a pose is not suitable. Before discovering synergy I practised Iyengar and Astanga Vinyasa. I sustained a couple of injuries practising Astanga that were partly the fault of the teacher, but also partly my fault for allowing my ego to take over!

I am so happy that I discovered yoga synergy before I had more injuries!

Posted on our facebook site by Simon Borg-Olivier on March 14, 2009 at 12:43pm

Hi Ruth, it is such a pleasure having in class. There is such a change in your approach to practice that has been happening over the years. But especially in the last year it is like you have taken everything in your yoga to another level. I think the most important factor in this is as you say real adoption of a non competitive approach. Please understand me here. i never saw you compete with others, but it is a fine line we all play when trying to balance ahimsa (non-violence) in our practice with tapas (doing our best attempt) and still not become competitive with ourselves either from past attempts or from future desires. Yoga really is finding a balance isn’t it.

Posted on our facebook site by Peter Satitpunwaycha on March 15, 2009 at 5:50am

When I began my yoga practice 2 years ago I looked around for teachers around my area and settled for the best I could for my circumstances. And I think this is how most people find and approach yoga nowadays: affordability, accessibility (close to work & home), with reasonably knowledgeable teachers. And I think for 90% of all practitioners this is the end of the road because as far as I/we/they know yoga is a mature product packaged and repackaged to be sold by this and that system. So what if there are some injuries? Injuries are common in all physical activies, so why not yoga? No pain no gain, as they say.

(A good documentary to watch is ‘Yoga, Inc.’ for the marketing and corporatization of yoga. There are brief segments available on youtube.)

Because for every need – stress reduction, need to sweat, spirituality, what have you – there is a packaged form of yoga JUST FOR YOU, most yogis/yoginis are not taught to dig deeper and explore the very large system of yoga and find one that works for them as an individual.

It may have been sheer luck that I met Simon during his & my travels last year and was introduced to the synergy style, which is the hatha yoga form I continue to practice on my own to this day because travel to a YS studio is still a little bit cost prohibitive 😉 I still attend this and that yoga class just to try different things and to satisfy my curiosity and there’s always something to be learned. Because as much as I hate prepackaged food, I hate a prepackaged way of life.

Good on you Rick for trying all the different yoga classes in your travels. Keep the good bits, discard the rest.



Posted on our facebook site by Mikela Gabrielides on March 16, 2009 at 3:12pm

Hi Simon, Ricardino and Ruth – and nice to e-meet you Peter..

honest post inserted below:

Something happened to me in class the other day with Simon that made me deepen my realisation of how subtle yoga actually is…
Simon was teaching us particular ways to turn both correctly and deeply in twists. Now, genetics have it that I have a pretty flexible and twisty spine so I always felt I could twist pretty far anyway and maybe never listened to instructions properly in this regard. But that day, I twisted with absolute AWARENESS. Difference, big difference. It might have even looked the same from the outside but believe me it felt different. I ran to my dear teacher and friend at the end of class going “I get it!! I get it now!!”. Simon waggled his head a little and said, “Mikela, I’ve been saying this for years”.
Which is true! And we both laughed. But the actual simplicity in the instructions that day sunk in… (Don’t worry Simon, I ahve leanred other things along the way, promise – and I do listen… most of the time.. 😉
But what gets me most is how much we (all) RESIST teachings sometimes. It’s ego stuff. It’s in our unenlightened nature. But little by little if we can strip away the resistance we might actually learn something!
I feel like I learn something new everyday in my practice. And this will never, ever stop. I love this.
Also, I think that the fact that injuries can not only occur immediately but also over a period of time is very dangerous. If I was without YogaSynergy Ma only knows where my bendy back would end up!
I spent a good chunk of last year doing simple versions of postures only. And re-enrolled in classes I had already done years before. It changed my practise and my focus. An Aries and a Firery hearted Greek/Gypsy girl that I am it was HARD for me at first. I love a challenge. And I always thought the challenge was in the “hard” stuff. Now, don’t get me wrong, the “hard” stuff is amazing and great and we get there when we’re ready and I’m definitely not saying not to ever challenge or push oneself, that’s a part of it all too – but to pull-back and feel contentment in doing more simple versions, to be aware in my postures instead of just blindly doing things because i can, next to my fellow students doing the advanced postures was, in fact, liberating.
Yoga is certainly a journey. Hang on!!! 🙂


Posted on our facebook site by Ruth Weeks on March 16, 2009 at 3:25pm

Great post, Mikela!!! You and I are similar in some ways, I think 😉
I love a challenge too, and you’re right, it is very hard to back off and do the simple poses when our egos are in the way.


Thank you Simon for your kind words. Like Mikela, I have finally ‘got’ some of your instructions this year after almost 10 years of coming to your classes – all due to my inability to listen properly.
I am so excited to see what I learn in the next 10 years!!

Posted on our facebook site by Simon Borg-Olivier on March 16, 2009 at 7:48pm

Mikela and Ruth thank you both for great posts. Dont feel it is only you that has trouble listening. I am also a student and i know i am no different with my own teachers. While alive i guess we all are students learning to be better students. Every day I am so excited to learn more and when I learn more I try to be a good teacher and share it with my students. But my understanding is still not perfect and neither is my communication. This is also what i realised and still realise in my teachers. Sri Desikarchar once said to me that yoga is the communication between teacher and student. I guess since the ultimate guru is the one inside you this will always be true. So we are all helping each other. I am so happy we have the space to discuss stuff like this. We are together making yoga. X S

Posted on our facebook site by Ellie Coats on March 16, 2009 at 9:10pm

Hi everyone,

This is such a great discussion, and so relevant to me and my body. I practised a little Synergy when I was in Sydney, but for the most part my experience of yoga has been as you others describe above. Also interesting that it can take so long for us to truly hear instructions. Often too, if you are naturally flexible, you are encouraged to get more and more and more flexible to the point of injury with no thought that this might not be the best thing for your body. I am a teacher myself and now train with Elena Voyce in London whose extraordinary body knowledge and philosophy is wonderfully similar to that of Synergy. I hope to make it back to Sydney in the not too distant future and come to class!!

Lovely to meet you all, Ellie x.

Posted on our facebook site by Mikela Gabrielides on March 17, 2009 at 4:36am

Simon, I love the way you always refer to yourself as a student and a beginner… Some people would watch your practice and dispute this, I am sure. But I really do agree with you and feel that in yoga we are the eternal student – to the Guru inside, the Guru that is the universe itself. And when we are fortunate enough to find a Guru or Teacher that can guide us into new places that we may have been fearful to tread in, that is such a beautiful blessing.

I actually think these days as yoga grows and grows into a more popular fad that some “teachers” don’t feel they are students anymore and neglect their own practice. Therefore, how can they possibly serve their students who come to them for knowledge and wisdom? I think we are all teachers and students every day in our lives in some respect. And if the certified yoga teachers of the world don’t continue their own path of practice and learning then what will beome of yoga as we know it? This is dangerous yoga, to me. Blind and arrogant teaching. It’s sad. Patanjali said – don’t just believe my words! Test them! Practice them! and HONOUR them! Live them! And then decide for yourself.

I feel blessed to be at Synergy with you and Bianca. For it’s a place where yoga is not just a word, a term, but an ACTION..


Posted on our facebook site by Anonymous on June 18, 2009 at 6:09pm

Great topic and conversation!

I tried my first synergy class last week with my gf’s who practice at synergy. I learnt many great new things and like the verbal cues on technique as well which I think leads to a much safer practice.

I am still a yoga newbie, having fallen in love with the practice that is yoga just over a year ago and now practice ashtanga yoga. It’s a great physical practice although the mysore style generally doesn’t have any verbal cues which I think go a long way to fostering a safe practice. I am fortunate that I have a great teacher and I feel that this makes all the difference to having a safe practice.

Like Rick, when I travel I like to drop into different yoga schools and am always curious to see different approaches and styles. I have enjoyed a great range of classes across sydney, right through to Byron, Gold Coast and Singapore. Being curious and having an open mind I enjoy learning new approaches and techniques from different perspectives and have enjoyed my experiences in dropping into the different classes.

I have however also come across a few classes where the practice was not taught safely, with sufficient guidance or an appreciation for the level of experience or understanding amongst the students.

What really impressed me about Yoga Synergy is that the teachers take the time to speak to each new student, to discuss their experience and background with injuries or otherwise before the class (providing options where necessary or beneficial to the student). This attention and care is invaluable and not only promotes a safe and great practice, but adds a nice personal touch which is rare to find. great work 🙂

What comes through in the conversation above, and what I have also found in my own practice over the past year, is that there are so many layers to the practice, so many layers to our own journey of inquiry and self discovery within the practice and beyond, that we are always growing, evolving and learning new things. Whether it’s the joy of having a totally new experience because we have experienced a pose with new awareness like Mikela, or whether it is in finding that fine balance between ahimsa and tapas, trying your best but always practising with mindfulness and safety.

In my travels/various yoga school visits, I have found that this may mean sitting out of poses and not following the instruction of the teacher or the rest of the class (which can be counter intuitive on a logical level, for example I am often inclined to follow the rules and ‘do as the teacher says,’ so I have had an interesting journey in learning to listen to my own inner wisdom and have learned to sit out of practices or poses that do not support my ability to practice safely). This can seem daunting at times and takes confidence, to sit out (in spite of what the teacher might say) but sometimes it is the right thing to do….and ahimsa in practice.

Learning to tune into and listen to inner wisdom is one of the great qualities which yoga fosters. So many things to learn and so many opportunities to grow.

It is very inspiring to come across such great conversation, thank you for sharing.



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