Last weekend I participated in a yoga anatomy workshop at Inside Yoga in Frankfurt in order to finally get a better understanding of compression. I already watched the Yoga Anatomy DVD published by Paul Grilley and I was curious to finally do some tests within a group myself and get a feeling of how compression feels.
As our teacher Markus Henning Giess from Yin Therapy stated in the beginning of the workshop, there are four different things that might stop you of fully going into an asana:
- the nervous system
The good news is – we can work on the first three. We can calm our nervous system – Markus told us about an astonishing study of patients that have been much more flexible being under anaesthesia. We can also stretch our muscles and the fascia focusing on one or the other depending if we practice a more yang form of yoga (dynamic movements, stretching) or a yin (a more static stretch for several minutes). Where in yang forms we try to strengthen our muscles, the aim of yin is to stimulate the fascia and ligaments so they receive more oxygen and detoxify.
Our limitations are reached when there is compression meaning that for example the joints restrict an asana, when there is basically bone against bone or when there is soft tissue compression (for example when we cannot go further once our abdomen hits the thighs). Which definitely makes sense though the majority of us are still believing we might get to all advances poses, its just a matter of practicing. Well, as we had to learn on the workshop – it is not!
As an example we all tried to get into lotus pose. We were around 30 participants and only one of us was anatomically prepared to practice this pose in a safe way. The rest, me included, would only potentially harm our knees or other parts of the body trying to force ourselves into an asana we are not made for.
We could certainly force ourselves in some kind of poses (though we should try to accept that there are some we will never be able to get into) but the beneficial aspect would be definitely not accomplished and we could seriously hurt ourselves. So we should ask ourselves sincerely what the original function of the asana is letting our ego and aesthetic aspect of the asana apart. Coming back to the example of the lotus pose, it is a great asana for mediation for those able do practice it in a comfortable way as the spine is supported to be straight. For those feeling uneasy in this pose, another cross-legged position or even sitting on heels might be much more appropriate as you should be able to sit in this position for a longer period.
This is so important and yet not emphasized enough yet. Every person has more then 200 different bones and every bone is different in every person which means that a yoga pose will never look exactly the same. Even our two sides, for example the right and the left arm, will never look mirrored.
Instead of having one alignment method per asana, there theoretically should be a different one for every person – which of course is impossible. What we can learn from the workshop is to always have in mind that everyone is different and a pose that might be easy for one person could be physically impossible for another one. As a teacher, you can offer different ways to get into a pose or modify it.
For the students and our own practice, the important point here is to get to know our body, listen to its need and learn about our limitations. This might be frustrating on some points as we might learn that we will never do a headstand safely as our arms aren’t long enough to support the body weight on the head or the angle of our hips just will never allow us to do certain poses no matter how hard we stretch but its better to find out as soon as possible before hurting ourselves.
It was a really interesting experience and its also comforting to see that there are so many other people around who are restricted in some poses due to their bones and joints. The good thing is that – unless you are really unlucky – even so you might have a bad predisposition to do one pose, your body will allow you to go into another pose easier that others. For more information, kindly visit Markus (www.yintheraphy.com), Pauls (www.paulgrilley.com) or Bernies (www.yinyoga.com) website or have a look at the following books and DVD:
Paul Grilley: ANATOMY FOR YOGA
And to learn more about Yin Yoga: