It is essential to build anything in life, first, from a steady and sound foundation. In the case of yoga, this foundation frequently is established from the functional points of contact with the earth (ie our hands, feet, pelvis etc). As we journey further into these poses, it can be easy to lose attention to those essential foundations. Even more common is for these foundations to dissipate and be sacrificed at the expense of aligning or increasing depth in the pose further up in the chain of joints.
It is standard in many teacher trainings to have a formatted series of ‘alignment’ cues that are applied in a generalized manner with assumptions that everyone aligns in the same fashion and, therefore, will benefit from those same cues. Besides lacking the appreciation that we are structurally different and require a vast array of options in which to align in the same pose, another key aspect often not addressed is the interconnectivity of the body. As Bernie Clarke describes in his book ‘Your Body, Your Yoga’, the vast interconnection of fascia and other tissues in essence makes us comprised of one bone, one muscle etc. The premise is that all of our tissues are united and, when we manipulate one joint, this aligning cascades throughout the entire body. To simply adjust and focus on a single joint (just because it is a standard way of doing a pose) and not take note of the relationship (cause and effect) it has through the rest of body is highly limiting both on the physical practice, but also on the more subtle practices within yoga.
A lack of attention to this interconnectivity can also be contraindicating (especially where we could do more harm than good when attempting to align a pose that appears to be potentially damaging). Example: a common misalignment in Warrior 2 pose is having the forward knee tracking inwards. The primary hazard is the unbalanced tension occurring from the four quadriceps that act on the knee cap (patella). The patella is essentially being ‘dragged’ into the lateral aspect of the femoral groove (a groove at the end of the thigh bone) by the outer quadriceps (vastus lateralis muscle). Over time, repeated drag in this manner can cause degradation of cartilage and cause inflammatory symptoms.
Therefore, the cue is to move the knee back over the center of the ankle and restore better tension balance of the four quadriceps on the knee cap. Question is: why did the knee track inwards in the first place (FYI – there could be many reasons why)? What if the reason the knee was tracking inwards was because the medial (inner) arch of the forward foot was collapsed? This would pull the ankle into pronation. The kinetic chain effect could lead to the shin bones and knee being pulled in medially (inwards). Simply moving the knee laterally back over the ankle would likely NOT correct the foundation problems and misalignment stemming from the foot. And very likely, without correcting the fallen medial arch, the ankle would undergo even more distortion (more pronounced pronation) as the knee moves laterally. For the sake of aligning the knee, the ankle and foot could then suffer. If we, instead, started with adjusting the foundation of the foot and ankle, it could readily translate into a more functional and automatic realigning of the knee.
Everything is interconnected. As we attempt to adjust, we benefit to ask ourselves what is the whole relationship involved. As the adjustment occurs, we again ask ourselves what is the cascading effect that has occurred and did the whole body benefit from this action. And within all these alignment explorations, always circle back to the foundations of the pose. Are we starting off well and appropriate in our unique foundation and are they being properly sustained as we journey throughout the rest of the body?
As part of our functional yoga anatomy and sequencing explorations, the 100 Hr Integrative Hatha Yoga Teacher Training in February by Senior Hatha Yoga Teacher, Anatomy expert & Kinesiologist Kreg Weiss from Canada, will apply these foundational and alignment principles and how to create multiple Hatha Yoga sequences with a solid and safe base to transition into a more fluid and injury-free flow.