When analyzing the human body there are many things we could discuss. The Thirtieth Edition of Gray's Anatomy runs to nearly 1700 pages. And that is just a description of body parts. Textbooks on physiology easily go into the thousands of pages. But what is most immediately relevant to Hatha Yoga practitioners is "How does my body move?" or even more precisely "Why does my body not move the way I want it to?"
The first article in this series asked the question “How does my body move?” Before we could examine this question in any depth we took the time to review the Taoist ideas of Yin and Yang. We are now going to return to the original question or rather the question most relevant to Hatha Yoga practitioners: “Why does my body not move the way I want it to?”
In our last article we elaborated why we should make a distinction between Yin and Yang tissues. Yang tissues should be exercised in a Yang way and Yin tissues should be exercised in a Yin way. Muscles are Yang, bones and connective tissue are Yin. Yang muscles should be exercised with rhythm and repetition. Connective tissue or bone should be exercised with long periods of stasis or stillness. The rhythmic contraction and relaxation of weight lifting is the proper way to train our muscles. The long, sustained pressure of braces on our teeth is the proper way to change their alignment.
Exercise is now common place in our culture. So common in fact that it might shock people to remember that people who ran marathons in the first part of the 20th Century were considered of questionable sanity. In the 1950s and 1960s it was common for athletes to be cautioned against lifting weights as such practice would diminish their physical skills by making them “muscle bound” and “slow”. How ironic that as of Spring 2005 there is a major scandal in professional baseball about players using steroids. Many of the recently achieved records in hitting homeruns are being examined to see if they should be disallowed because steroid use has made modern players “too strong” and given them an “unfair advantage”. So in just a few decades the popular mythology of weight lifting has turned 180 degrees. What used to be considered detrimental is now considered essential and athletes from the high school to the professional level are coached and encouraged to train with weights. A few decades ago well equipped weight rooms were hard to find and now hardly a high school in the country doesn’t have one.
The purpose of some Yoga postures is to stress the joints in a beneficial manner. This article explores the different forms of stress that can be placed on a joint so that a Yogi can make the appropriate choices when practicing.
Some yoga postures are designed to beneficially stress the joints of the body to stimulate their strength and flexibility. There are two fundamentally different types of stress: tension and compression. Yogis should learn the difference between the two.
When working a joint the first thing a yogi or yogini must decide is whether she intends to work muscle or bone. She must decide if she wishes to strengthen the muscles that stabilize the joint or stretch the ligaments to increase range of motion. In this article we explore the second option: stretching the joints of the spine.
Two layers of the joints
A fundamental insight of Taoist analysis is to see the body as at least two layers. For different needs the body could be analyzed into many more layers than two but for a discussion of joint movement two is enough.
Some yoga instructors insist that students avoid curvature of the spine by insisting on tucking the pelvis. But any healthy movement can be overdone. Rather than insist on always having the pelvis tucked encourage your students to utilize the full range of pelvic motion in their practice.
Bad News Ballet?
The idea that a “tucked pelvis” is good for you comes from ballet. Ballerinas are taught to tuck their pelvis so they can spin on a straight axis. It is difficult to spin multiple times if the pelvis is not tucked. Ballerinas are also taught to tuck their pelvis so they can maximize the height and appearance of leg extensions. Many yoga instructors are former dancers and it is habitual for them to remind students to tuck their pelvis.
Help your students get the most out of Shoulderstand—even if that means achieving a pose that's not textbook-perfect.
Shoulderstand, or Sarvangasana, is a wonderful pose that stretches and strengthens different sections of the spine. But many people struggle with this pose—either to get vertical or to clasp their hands behind their back. Some simple tests can determine whether either of these goals is possible for a given student. These tests involve three different body segments.
A stretch by any other name…
Sometimes health professionals gnash their teeth when they hear a yogi say they are “stretching” their ligaments. They scream loudly that ligaments don’t stretch. We could quibble and say all biological tissues stretch but that would be avoiding their legitimate concern. Compared to muscles ligaments don’t stretch. But to keep ligaments healthy they must be subjected to stress by pulling on them. So what word might be better than stretch? A more appropriate word might be stress. We could say a yogi wants to regularly stress their ligaments to maintain their length and strength. This is similar to a body builder stressing his muscles to keep them strong.
There are many myths and rumors about joint cracking. The two most common being our knuckles will get bigger if we crack them or we will get arthritis. Neither of these is likely but there is some truth to the idea that some forms of cracking are undesirable.
Two types of cracking.
There are two reasons why our joints crack and creak. 1. Bones are rubbing together. 2. The bones of a joint are fixated. We will examine these one at a time.
Students who struggle with squatting poses may have limited range of motion (ROM) in one or more of three important joints. Learn how to assess your students' ROM and help them modify their poses.
There are three major joints to consider when teaching a Squat: the hip, the knee, and the ankle. If any one of these three joints is limited in its range of motion (ROM), then any of the squatting poses will be awkward and uncomfortable. You can do some simple ROM tests with your students who are struggling with these poses.
Students who struggle with Downward Dog may have limited range of motion (ROM) in one or more of four important joints. Learn how to assess your students' ROM and help them modify their poses.
Long Dogs and Short Dogs.
There are many subtle variations of Downward Dog but they can be approximately divided into two standard variations: Long Dogs and Short Dogs. Long Dogs are done by stepping further back with the feet. The arms and shoulders bear more weight in Long Dog.