A University of Virginia Medical Clinic sees one or two patients a week for injuries from…of all things…yoga.
That’s an unfortunate side effect of the practice’s boom…20.4 million Americans do yoga and on average spend $500 a year on clothes and retreats.
In a downtown Charlottesville gym, I am surrounded by the standard yoga gear: a mat, two foam blocks, a strap, and a blanket, but for the first time in the ten years that I’ve taken yoga , a teacher hands me a coaster-sized accessory I’ve never seen before -- called a Flip-Chip.
“Good. From here we’re going to go to cat and cow stretch. For cat stretch, you’re going to round your back.”
That’s Nina Jackson. In her other job as a physical therapist, she saw patients injured by well-meaning yoga teachers. One might see a new student’s hips are too far forward and then reach to pull the hips back, not knowing the person had a previous injury there, for example. So, Jackson invented the Flip- Chip to improve student and teacher communication.
“I thought it would be really good to have the empowerment of the student to say, ‘No, I don’t want an assist!’ It’s not for me to decide everybody needs an assist.”
By showing the side that says “assist,” boldly repeated in a circle around the edges, the student gives permission for Jackson to touch her to demonstrate the proper position. Or the student can asks for the teacher to only whisper instructions by flipping the chip to the side with a flower drawing and the small words “no hands-on assist.”
“You don’t have to feel badly that you say don’t touch me – that sounds hostile.”
Student Adriana Vito has been taking Nina’s yoga class for a year and a half – and was nervous to start because she didn’t want to aggravate a previous back injury.
“Having the Flip-Chip just makes it so much easier to communicate. It takes away the whole problem with telling or not telling – you just flip the chip if you want to.”
Not just yoga students get injured.
“I’ve had injuries. Mostly when I was showing off in yoga class or not paying attention to my body.”
Swami Vidyananda has been practicing yoga since 1969 and now manages a 200 hour teacher training at Yogaville, -- one of the oldest training centers in the United States, located 40 miles south of Charlottesville. She says that today’s yoga postures were developed 5,000 years ago when yogis were sitting still.
“You really start to notice your body’s aches and pains. Looking at the animals around us the observed, they observed that when a cat gets up from a nap it stretches. It doesn’t stretch because someone told it to. They stretch because they feel good.”
Though Swami Vidyananda had never heard of Jackson’s Flip-Chip, she thinks it’s a lovely idea and supports the student taking power back over their own health
“One of the things I would say to yoga teachers right now, leave more quiet time in a pose. We are so fixated on details – move your toe 3 degrees to the left of the 42nd parallel. And the student is so listening to what you’re saying and trying to do it – they don’t have time to sink in and listen. So, letting them sit there and adjust themselves for a while by listening – that’s a really key part of being a safe and effective yoga teacher.”
Flip -Chips are in use by yoga teachers in 28 US states and even on a military base in Japan.