By Corrie Pikul
These top yoga instructors share the eyebrow-raising, balance-throwing questions they get all the time from students.
"Can you look at my X-rays and tell me what's wrong with my back?"
Your yoga instructor will be the first to tell you that she is not a trained medical professional. Yoga expert Kristin McGee recently received a long, detailed email about a student's herniated disks and other spine problems. "I can show her what poses not to do: no backward bends if your spine bulges inward, no forward bends if it's bulging outward, because it can press on the nerves," says McGee, who is also an online instructor for CoachClub. "I can also show her modified lunges and suggest alternatives to twisting." But McGee can't provide a diagnosis or a cure -- and neither can any other yoga teacher.
"How much do you make a year?"
Like all dream professions -- actor, musician, balloon-animal-maker -- only those at the top of the ladder are paid well, says Clio Manuelian, an LA-based yoga instructor who teaches at Equinox, InYoga Center and YogaWorks. "I'm a full-time instructor, and I make close-ish to minimum wage," she tells us. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the median annual income for fitness instructors, including yoga teachers, was $31,090 in 2010. Teachers struggle even in yoga-mad cities like New York, where the words "Bikram" and "namaste" are practically part of the lingo. The founder of a yoga talent agency told the website Well+Good that while established New York yogis can earn up to $400,000, many teachers make around $35,000 or $40,000. Most instructors Manuelian knows have at least one other gig, she says: "They do massage therapy, work the desk at another studio or work at a store like Lululemon."
"Hey, uh... do you want to get coffee/have dinner/help me with my chaturanga privately?"
Every yoga teacher we talked to has been hit on by a student. (No surprise there: These people are warm, friendly and can rock the Spandex.) "I just say, 'Thanks but I don't date students,'" says Annie Carpenter, a Los Angeles–based instructor and the originator of SmartFLOW yoga. "However, I'd rather have two students meet and get together in my class than in a bar."
"Should I do yoga when I have my period?"
"I don't know of any medical recommendation that prohibits it," says Barbara Benagh, the founder of the Yoga Studio in Boston. And the topic doesn’t come up in her edition of B.K.S. Iyengar's Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika, widely considered to be the yoga bible (although she's seen the topic come up in later editions). Benagh says that the argument against practicing while menstruating may come from the idea that turning upside down may disturb the body's natural downward flow. However, she points out that digestion also involves a downward flow, and there's no rule that you must do yoga on a completely empty stomach. Benagh -- like most other instructors -- would tell you to do what feels right to you.
"Don't you get bored doing yoga 24/7?"
"I wish!" would be the likely response to this question. "Some of my friends went from doing yoga almost every day as students to practicing just twice a week because their teaching schedules are so packed," says Tiffany Russo, an LA–based yoga instructor who teaches at Exhale in Venice and Santa Monica.
"So, you sit around with your yoga friends talking about breathing all the time, right?"
Actually, yeah, says Manuelian. A friend from her former career in fashion once asked her this. "He thought he was being funny. Manuelian says that certain types of breathing help her hold challenging poses, while other types take a while to feel natural. (She's chatted with fellow yogis about how to increase the pause between an inhale and exhale.)
"Is working out without shoes some touchy-feely New Agey thing?"
Maybe people are afraid of picking up some nasty germs, maybe they're not used to working out barefoot or maybe they're just weirded out by the sight of their own feet, but many new students are loath to part with their socks, says McGee. "Your feet are your foundation. Being able to spread your toes will allow you take up more surface area and gain more stability."
"Why can't I do downward dogs like you can?"
Even though you're impressively bendy and have the balance of Gabby Douglas, your ability to do a pose is still affected by your skeletal structure, the length of your limbs, the injuries you may had in the past and other factors, says Manuelian. And concentrating too hard on one pose will compromise your ability to flow through a series of them. "It's so much more about where your head is at than where your leg is at," says Manuelian.
"Why do guys seem to sweat more in yoga class?"
Obviously, this one was asked by a woman who's tired of getting dripped on during vinyasa flow. It's probably because of the same reason men seem to sweat more in spin class or during a run: Their sweat glands are more active than women's. McGee also points out that women, with their wider, shallower hips and smaller skeletons, are usually more flexible than men, which means in class, they don't have to struggle as much or concentrate as intently to hold some of the poses.
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.