Fitness tip: How to measure the safety and value of your yoga class (with video)

EDMONTON – Once upon a time yoga in Edmonton was safe for almost anyone, says instructor Angie Ackerman of Breathe Yoga. Then in 2007 it became a crazy workout fad.

“Everyone wanted to try yoga and/or become a teacher,� she says. “A two-year training program became a four-week training program, and a handful of studios became more than 65.� (The standard of the Yoga Association of Alberta is still 300 hours of training the first year and apprenticing with a senior teacher the second year.)

“Yoga has huge benefits; it really is for any body, or should be for any body,� especially with our aging population and concern about health, says Ackerman, a certified yogi for 17 years.

But her observations in dropping by various yoga studios and taking in various classes regularly have led her to a disturbing conclusion. Ackerman finds it “a struggle� to find a safe class, meaning a good instructor.

She’s met instructors who took one yoga class and loved it so much they immediately signed up for training and a month later are teaching yoga.

“I also have met so many people who say, ‘I tried yoga once and I got hurt’ or ‘I’m scared because of it,’ or ‘I am not that flexible.’ I do believe there is a yoga style and teacher for everyone; however, that has been lost since yoga became a fad and big business. It is very disheartening for someone who loves yoga.�

Ackerman explains she visits other studios and classes because she likes to know what’s going on in the yoga community — something that is part of the standards of the Yoga Association of Alberta. “I believe we need to practise what we preach.�

Over the last few years, Ackerman has been finding teachers who aren’t instructing.

“They’re not telling people how to come into poses, they don’t ask new students if they have practised yoga before, if they have any injuries or health concerns. Often times they don’t introduce themselves or even open their eyes … that’s all part of our job as a yoga instructor.�

When students are treated like just a body in a class there is no connection between student and teacher, Ackerman says.

“With connection comes safety. You need to know who you’re teaching. If somebody’s skill level isn’t appropriate for the class you’ve created, you have to modify that so that every person can participate in some way. It should be multi-level; it should be accessible to anybody dropping into that class.�

Beginners first should be taught the yoga basics: how to sit, how to stand, how to do a back-bend, a forward bend, a side bend, how to breathe.

“All poses come from there; it’s the entry way,� Ackerman says. “Yoga is not a spectator sport. You’re not supposed to have to look at your neighbour to see what’s going on or to try to figure things out.�

To find a good yoga teacher, she suggests starting your research with family, friends or coworkers who do yoga and could recommend someone.

The Yoga Association of Alberta can also help you find a teacher.

Here are key things to watch for at your first class:

Does the teacher acknowledge your presence before class?

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