In this blog post, I go over some of my own experiences with combining Western science and yoga, but first we wanted to let you know that we’ve consolidated our blog posts to date into a free e-book. You can view this book here or by “liking” us on Facebook. Feel free to spread this useful information around the yoga community by sending the e-book link to your friends, students, and colleagues.
Also, click here to read Eryn Kirkwood’s account of using the Mat Companion series in her personal practice, and visit German instructor Ursula Wenzel’s blog detailing her experience with our work (and see her excellent asana practice).
On to the Post . . .
Folks sometimes ask what prompted me to analyze the asanas from a biomechanical perspective. Well, I’m of an inquisitive mind, and I like to know the scientific basis for why I do something. When I began practicing yoga back in the day, it was not as accessible as it is now. I would travel far and wide to take classes wherever I could. During this process, I noticed that the instructions for a given asana seemed to vary among different teachers and were at times contradictory. Sometimes both instructors were “correct” but for different reasons, which was confusing to me as well. Through it all, I met some great teachers and enjoyed the experience of yoga expanding throughout the world.
As I began to develop my own practice, I found myself having to memorize innumerable details for each pose in order to do the asanas “right.” So I explored the other side of the spectrum—systems that advocated applying a global set of alignment principles to all of the poses. My experience was that these principles were so global as to have little meaning to me for practicing the individual asanas, especially the asymmetrical ones (i.e., most of the poses). I wound up having to memorize countless details on how to apply these “global” principles to each individual pose. In other words, I was back to square one. It occurred to me that many of the instructions were two steps removed in their expression from what was happening biomechanically.
All the while, I was asking myself questions like, “If the back hip is extending in Warrior I, why not just say, ‘extend the back hip’?” Or better still: “Engage the buttocks to extend the back hip” (engaging the buttocks automatically extends the hip). I sought a more direct and efficient way to learn and teach the art—a systematic approach for applying general scientific principles to each asana. This differs from an individual approach to each asana or a global approach to all of them.
So I began to analyze the positions of the major joints in the poses—the hips, knees, shoulders, and elbows, etc. Once I understood the general form of the asana, I would shift my focus to the individual joints and the muscles that produced that form in the pose. For example, if the hips were extended, then I would intentionally engage the gluteals; if the elbows were straight then I contracted my triceps, and so on. This is key—focus on what the major joints and their muscles are doing and the asana will emerge. In a pose like Janu Sirsasana this might be as direct as engaging the quadriceps of the straight knee and the hamstrings of the bent one.
Lo and behold, my poses improved, enhancing the effects of my practice and especially Savasana. This direct approach was a revelation because it saved me from having to memorize innumerable alignment tips in the individual postures. I simply started engaging the muscles that created the form of the asana and found that the bones aligned automatically. This works because the muscle attachments (the origins and insertions) have evolved to move the joints perfectly. Put another way, the body is made for yoga, and yoga for the body.
These investigations led me to develop the Bandha Yoga Codex, a simple five-step process that can be applied to any pose to improve strength, flexibility, and precision—no matter what style of yoga you practice. You can learn more about this by clicking through the Mat Companion series on the right-hand side of this page.
Thanks for stopping by. In our next post, we’ll give some tips on how to integrate anatomy into your personal practice and teaching. Be sure to visit us on Facebook for your free Chakra poster.