I have heard a lot of alarming stories recently about Yoga related injury. Many of these injuries are unfortunately serious spinal injuries which can be avoided. This is concerning as the Yoga movement becomes even more widespread and more people include practice as a part of their daily lives. I have been training teachers for over a decade now and as a Yoga student and teacher, my first priority in practicing is that I maintain the health of the spine and avoid potential injury to any part of the body. The spine is where we experience the path to liberation, the sushumna nadi. By maintaining correct posture and alignment, the energy flow through the spine is correct and we can avoid injury. However, I often witness in myself and in my students a lack of proprioception, a sense of where one’s body is in space, the ability to control movement, position and the effort one needs to move the body in an effective way. It has motivated me to discuss it in this Blog and also explore it in an upcoming workshop (February 18-19 To book click here).
In my teaching I usually stick to the same precise script when it comes to the spine. I ask a class to forward bend, a simple Uttanasana by stating “keep the spine long, ground the four corners of the feet, micro-bend the knees, hinge from the hips to fold forward, keeping the integrity of the spine long, neck and head in line, and breathe.” This precise script however, let’s just say, gets varied results. If you would like to create suffering for your teacher and ultimately physical suffering for yourself, by all means don’t listen to any of those instructions and do just opposite! Floppy feet, locked knees, don’t move the pelvis and round the spine forward letting your head hang off your neck as if you are willing to lose IQ points as it falls off and rolls across the floor with your integrity. Moving in this way is a good way to end your relationship with Yoga, this rebelling or not listening or understanding how to move is a great way to create suffering and bring long term damage and pain. Keep choosing bad alignment and you will keep doctors, osteopaths and other body-based therapist employed!
Consider this point that illustrates the need for a bit of anatomical enlightenment; We have a conditioned nervous system that is in charge of creating the patterns of movement we experience. We get this from our genetics, inherent characteristics from parents and beyond. We model from our first impressions learned from all who were around as we grew up. We shape these patterns from our activities, like dance, cycling, martial arts, training our bodies to be able to do the physical exercise we partake in. Our injuries effect and influence how our body moves. However, we can change this conditioned pattern by practicing Yoga or Cognitive breath-centric movement therapies where you create an awakening and retrain the mind to create intelligent movement, releasing old patterns of held physical, emotional and mental movement impressions.
This awakening refers to a condition people experience called “sensory motor amnesia”. The idea is that there is an ineffective pattern of muscular activation, or, lack of, that are so habitual, you can’t sense nor control them. In Yoga, we become sensory (Prana) junkies as we want to feel energy moving in all tissues. We use the sensation to move us to this experience of breath, body and mind union, using the intensity of stretching to ascend the mundane world. However, if we are in bad alignment, we not only feel the intensity of the practice in all our tissues, we will also cause future (or immediate) suffering as a slow degeneration of the joints occurs or worse, tendons, ligaments and muscles can tear.
One of the main causes of chronic pain is either a lack of a variety of movement or an excessive movement of the body. By re-educating and re-acquainting ourselves with our neurological conditioned movement patterns, (through Yoga) we can deviate from the path of chronic pain and find balance and good health. It is said that one of the definitions of Yoga is an artistic expression and a science which benefits us differently, however it is a discipline of the body, the mind and the breath. By awakening the mind and informing it with basic anatomy and learning how to intelligently move the body we can be freer to experience the body and breath to draw us into greater states of Yoga.
This is where I encourage you to seek education. Yoga done incorrectly can be dangerous. By learning basic applied anatomy and physiology to your yoga practice you can make sure you will not become injured and can carry your practice with you for a lifetime.
My objective in practicing and teaching yoga is to restore pain-free movement by resetting postural alignment in stillness and in dynamic movement. The goal is that we don’t just have amazing alignment on the mat, but that we keep this yogic-bodily awareness as we carry ourselves off our mat. One of my teachers (Doug Keller) calls this idea “Tensegrity (= tension + integrity)” healthy neurological connective tissues that hold the bones in space to find balance, strength and flexibility. In my upcoming workshop we will focus on the evaluation of posture, methods of assessing problems with movement issues, the three diaphragms and we will also discuss the myofacial planes. We will assess techniques for dealing with Flexion and Extension Syndrome, while putting a special focus on understanding the focal points of weakness and stability and how they are affected by our lifestyle and genetic predisposition. Seems like a lot of intense and advanced stuff, but it really isn’t. This workshop is appropriate for all levels of Yogis and especially beginners as creating healthy movement early in your Yoga experience makes it easier to maintain healthy movement throughout your life.