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Cuing + Technique vs Variability.

Updated: Feb 19, 2023

In dissection last week, Gill mentioned that he likes “big whole body textural words.” Whenever 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. More importantly, I like applying it. Maybe though, I should say working towards using 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 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. So when you create space in a yoga class or any class, 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?


I regularly hear the words "protect, safe + unsafe, risk, and prevent" cued during a yoga class. They imply what's correct and incorrect based on 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, it's 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: various load parameters + stress + strain + deformation/stiffness. In the context of a yoga practice, this can help us consider what is happening - the effects of force - in a pose at 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 the load or forces upon us constantly change as we shift around and move in 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? 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 + bodybuilding + powerlifting + sports - yoga isn’t specific or performance-based. Does technique matter then? As load, frequency, velocity + acceleration, duration, and direction change and increase - YES, it does. But I argue it does not within the context of a bodyweight yoga practice. 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 relate 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, and nervous system. If you had less than optimal variability, your systems/sub-systems would be rigid, unchanging, and less adaptable to accepting load + perturbations. You would have limited movement patterns and strategies to achieve your goal. This is not ideal. Imagine that it's different every time you perform chair pose - never identical to the repetition performed before. This is ideal. You want this. In fact, for most 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 in performing 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 the *perfect* technique at holding a random yoga pose ONE way under very specific circumstances in one controlled environment?


OR


Do I want to be able to do said random yoga pose ALL of the ways under any/all circumstances in any chaotic environment? Of course, 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 bodyweight practice such as yoga is a precious 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:


  • CNS, GRF, sensations, and tolerance are some of the many layers involved in their movement.


  • 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.

Form follows function - three words that can provide insight into how intelligent the human body is and why, depending on the 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 body's biological tissues have adapted to your loading + movement history. A prime example of why our bodies organize themselves based on the FUNCTION being performed. It's essential 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 to play and explore! And if you want to understand better some of what I noted above but are unsure where to start? Please email me! I can and want to help.

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