Dear yoginis and yogis,
Two fascinating books I recently discovered reflect a “new trend” in yoga teaching: having studied the human anatomy closely, some teachers are now moving away from “sacred” alignment cues such as “keep your knee right over your ankle in lunges” or “middle finger points straight ahead on the mat in downward facing dog”.
I am currently devouring “Your body, your yoga”, by Bernie Clark, as well as “Brightening our inner skies, yin and yoga” by Norman Blair.
“Your body, your yoga” is a tough read, as it goes very deep into the anatomy side of postures – joints, ligaments, fascia, muscles and bones… and even brain waves! Clark uses this information to show why “assuming that everyone is the same makes teaching yoga simpler but, unfortunately, not safer. (…) An alignment cue that works well for one yoga student may be quite harmful to you”, as Paul Grilley explains in the foreword to the book.
Last June, I had a first-hand experience of this, thanks to yin and anatomy expert Mirjam Wagner, who taught a packed yoga therapy class at a festival in Germany. She made us practice 3 sets of push-ups with 3 different hand positions: fingers pointing outwards, then straight ahead, and then slightly inwards. The difference in my performance was amazing! She explained that this has to do with our shoulder joints. Depending on how they are formed, one position will suit you well, whilst the others will cause bone compression and restrict your movement. You may wish to try it!
How about starting to experiment with a slight adaptation of your hand, foot and knee positions in other asanas? Tune in with your body and check what messages it sends you. Is that tightness really in your muscle, or does your joint simply not rotate any further? As Norman Blair writes, urging us to slow our practice down: “It is not the asana, it’s the awareness”. Isn’t that what yoga should be all about, anyway?