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How my yoga instructor caused an injury that I had to get surgery for

Feb 12,2021 | Miss Balance

featuring Motoko Gollent (@motokoyoga), former yoga instructor who severely underestimated yoga until she completed her first class

If you’ve read the Founder’s Story, you may think that Ting’s story sounds like a one-off freak accident that only happens to the unluckiest of the unluckiest. After all, a good many of us go for classes at fitness studios all the time without anything bad happening to us. I wish this were the case. Unfortunately, her story is a lot more common than you think.

I’ve been practicing yoga for nine years now and have attended more classes than I can count, but there is one teacher I will remember for the rest of my life. It started as a class with him, but ended with me in the hospital for surgery. And the ironic thing was that I wasn’t even attempting a difficult pose. You tend to be more aware of your body if you’re doing a difficult pose as compared to an easier one. In my case, I was lying on my mat, in a totally relaxed state, when he came over. He took one look at me, remarked, “You can go deeper!” and before I knew what was happening, he carelessly made an adjustment that would change the next one year of my life. He was right; my shoulders are quite open, and I could have definitely gone deeper. But given that I was relaxing, my body wasn’t prepared for the adjustment he introduced out of the blue and naturally tensed itself in a lock. The adjustment he made, together with this resistance from my body, an automatic attempt from the body to protect itself, resulted in me tearing the ligament in my shoulder. The pain that followed was sharp and blinding. I instinctively knew that something was terribly wrong, even though I’d never experienced any injuries prior to this.

It took me a year to recover. Six months passed before I realized I had an injury that wasn’t going to heal naturally, which forced me to opt for surgery. Three months after the surgery, when I could finally engage my shoulder again, I had to rebuild it from scratch with rehabilitation exercises that I poured all my time and energy into.

I was very, very upset with this teacher. My shoulder may have experienced a good recovery, but it will never go back to the way it used to be. It’s still flexible, but I’ve lost a bit of mobility in it. The worst part is that these fitness instructors don’t say sorry. They never say sorry because apologizing implies admitting fault, which they may get sued for. When I told him that I thought there was something wrong with my shoulder after class, he merely suggested I get it massaged or perform a different type of stretch. He even suggested I eat more turmeric because he reckoned there was probably something wrong with my diet. Of course, what he said made me even more pissed off, but I had to tell him I was hurt, even if I didn’t get anything from him. If I kept it to myself, he could very well injure somebody else, maybe even more seriously than he had injured me. I couldn’t live with that.

I never pushed my students when I used to teach yoga, especially if I didn’t know them well. Trust holds many relationships together, including student-teacher ones. The student has to be comfortable enough with their teacher, and the teacher has to be both familiar enough with their student’s level and knowledgeable enough to know how to safely make adjustments. Even then, at the end of the day, you know your body best, not your teacher. So why don’t people simply disregard what their fitness instructors tell them to do, especially if they don’t feel good? When people hire a professional, they assume that this professional knows better than them, especially if they are not well-versed in fitness themselves, so they’re more likely to listen to this professional and not the pain in their body that’s screaming for them to stop. That’s what happened to a friend of mine, who hired a personal trainer to help her with weight training at the gym. When she told her PT that she felt pain in her shoulder, her PT simply replied, “You can do it! Push yourself!” This reads like a bad movie plot, but she ended up having to undergo a surgery on her shoulder as well.

To be honest, I’m still very angry, but I try to forget about it. It’s already happened; all I can do is learn from it. This incident may have hurt me, but yoga has given so many other beautiful things, like the ability to accept and move on from such traumatizing episodes.