In dissection last week Gill mentioned that he likes “big whole body textural words.” Each time he said it I would start singing “I like big butts and I cannot lie….” While it is no lie that I do like big butts, small and medium ones too; I also like knowledge + information as well. More importantly I like applying it. Maybe though I should say working towards applying it because I have had a bunch of random thoughts and ideas surrounding these subjects based on recent experiences; so who knows how this post will go. You’ve been warned.
Yoga is known as a mindful practice designed to help bring awareness and understanding to each individual's body + movement. However, this doesn’t come easy for everyone in the room. Especially living in this ‘hyper-body appearance + fear mongering movement’ focused society. When you create space in a yoga class or any class really, your language + cues support that experience. With this in mind I pause to challenge cuing from a place of safety + protection "don't do this you'll hurt yourself" by asking: could it have a more negative impact than positive?
The words often used with this way of cuing that I regularly hear are: protect, safe + unsafe, risk, prevent. They also imply what's correct and incorrect based off of anatomical position. I find that annoying considering that EVERY one B O D Y in class is uniquely different. What works for Jane won't necessarily work for Jack or Jill. This language may be used due to style preference and/or personal esthetics but usually its from not having a clear understanding of biomechanics. What is biomechanics? Force (internal/external) and how it affects human biology. There are different ways to measure force: variety of load parameters + stress + strain + deformation/stiffness. In the context of a yoga practice, this can help us consider what is happening - effects of force - in a pose in that moment. It is NOT alignment or joint position focused aka doing the pose the "right or correct" way.
The human body is not static, it’s living, which means that load or forces upon us are always changing as we shift around and move positions and directions. I pause again and ask: How can there be definitive black and white answers when it comes to the human body + movement as these cues imply? This is a big reason I advocate instructing or cuing less and teaching more about managing loads through exploration and sensations formed around biotensegrity. As teachers this allows us to support each person while THEY create a practice based on what they are experiencing + how they are responding to, producing and transmitting force. Rather than us telling them where to place limbs/feet/hands, point pelvis, what range their spine should be in, position shoulders and head.
Technique vs Variability. First I want to define how I'm using technique = alignment based - necessary to avoid injury - usually used in line with safety + protective and correct + incorrect cuing. Unlike resistance training + body building + power lifting + sports - yoga isn’t specific or performance based. Does technique really matter then? As load, frequency, velocity + acceleration, duration and direction changes and increases - YES it does. But within the context of a body weight yoga practice I argue it does not. I was thinking: to elicit change in how we cue why don't we replace technique, as I am using it here, with variability 🧐 What is variability? It's a common characteristic of human movement. Normal variations within all biological fabrics that relates to motor control + learning. Ideally you want your movement to be efficient, adaptable and flexible having multiple degrees of freedom of the body, joints, muscles, nervous system. If you had less then optimal variability you would find your systems/sub-systems to be rigid, unchanging and less adaptable to accepting load + perturbations. You would have a limited number of movement patterns and strategies to achieve your goal. This is not ideal. Imagine that every time you perform chair pose it is different - never identical to the repetition performed before. This is ideal. You want this. In fact for the majority of us this is happening whether we realize it or not. You can take it a step further by performing a different variation of chair each time. This helps train the action + skills involved to perform the pose while adding to your overall variability. If you are questioning this, I suppose you could ask yourself: Do I want to be highly skilled with "perfect" technique at holding a random yoga pose ONE way under very specific circumstances in one controlled environment?
Do I want to be able to do said random yoga pose ALL of the ways under any/all circumstances in any chaotic environment? You are also free to skip the silly and slightly sarcastic questions and do some research to fill in any blanks.
Low load = a lower risk of injury. This is why I feel that a body weight practice such as yoga is a sweet opportunity to facilitate an environment where we as teachers can practice how to update our cuing AND allow the students a unique opportunity to learn some super cool things:
the many layers involved in their movement - CNS, GRF, sensations, tolerance.
managing loads - lower limbs, midline, upper limbs, visual + vestibular.
maximum voluntary contraction (MVC).
self organization & exit strategies to include regressions + progressions.
how to explore and manage pain.
feeling empowered, strong + capable by deciding what works for them in the moment.
Form follows function - three words that can provide us some insight on how intelligent the human body is and why, depending on context, safety + protective cuing isn't always proactive or necessary. We understand that the nervous system will only feel safe producing as much force as it can accept stress = importance of variability. To date your bodies biological tissues have adapted to whatever your loading + movement history has been. A prime example of why our bodies organize themselves based on the FUNCTION being performed. Its important to keep in mind here that this is ALSO what your future capacity and variability will be unless you get wild and crazy kids 😉 aka load progressively + gradually (bone, muscle, tendon, ligament, other connective tissue) to stimulate more growth and increase tissue capacity and do so with as many variations as possible.
SO! without throwing caution to the wind I encourage you all to play and explore! AND if you want to better understand some of what I noted above but not sure where to start? Email me! I can and want to help.