Monthly Archives: January 2015

Core Strengthening Language Part 2: How Helpful is the Focus on Anatomy?

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An increasing number of yoga training courses and teachers feel the need to focus on anatomical data as if the quality of their skill depended on it. Does it really? There is nothing wrong with acquiring knowledge especially for those with the right mind to enjoy learning this kind of information. However, how many doctors are being helped in their own body by the anatomical details they know? How useful is it to them or to most yoga teachers and practitioners?

What matters more with yoga is to discover the anatomy of movement and stillness as a purely kinesthetic and holistic experience which is being lost in translation when the focus is all on anatomical details. What follows about core strengthening is supported by anatomy specialists (we do need them) but is expressed in a way everyone can receive and start practicing.

imagesCORE STRENGTHENING

Beyond anatomical data, do you know how core strengthening happens in an organic way?

Like the core of an apple, your core refers first to the inner muscle sets of your torso which work partly intertwined and always in harmony with all other muscles to keep you up and together. Core Strengthening happens organically when you allow the outer muscles to release while engaged in a whole body activity.  When your outer muscles cooperate rather than take charge of maintaining your skeletal height, your core muscles can step up to the plate and get strong in their own deep and quiet way.

Torso muscles cannot remain efficient when engaged all at once. Like the arm or leg muscles flexing or extending in turn to allow movement, your torso muscles are part of a similar dance; while some engage, the others need to quiet down. Their way of working feels different. Postural muscles for instance quietly do their supporting job and give you a sense of effortlessness. Outer muscles however have a presence which can easily be turned into body stiffness when no distinction is made between necessary muscular tension and unnecessary muscle tension.


Releasing excess tension is neither going limp 
nor decreasing how much strength you are building. 
It is preventing building body stiffness while you are building strength.

Bracing yourself with muscle tension thinking it will give you core stability is a myth and only leads to body stiffness
as you can hear Peter O’Sullivan explain in his 2013 interview.

LANGUAGE INSTRUCTIONS AND DISTINCTIONS

Verbal instructions to get into a pose must reflect this duality of functioning to be efficient. The verbal instructions you still follow yourself or use to lead others into poses have an enormous impact on how those poses are performed. Experienced yoga teachers who actually did make some language changes felt the difference in themselves and in their students as a result. It comes down to making important distinctions.

Outer Muscles need Space to Release 
for the Inner Muscles to Efficiently Strengthen.

Yoga pose using block
The purpose for the block used in this pose is to keep the skeleton properly aligned,
not to squeeze it with all your might creating body stiffness in the process.

“Holding” makes you grab your skeleton for dear life instead of letting your postural mechanism take care of your balance.  “Staying” in a pose gives you space to release without loosing the pose kept by the skeleton. As a result, you can build strength without building body stiffness in the process. When releasing unnecessary muscle tension into what is supporting your body weight, you are activating your postural mechanism and it can do its job which is to handle your postural balance and coordination using an appropriate amount of necessary muscle tension.

“Allow the spine to lengthen” / “Lengthen the spine”. When allowing something to happen, you are less likely to overdo. When you think of lengthening the spine, you are likely to work at lengthening the spine, stiffening your mid back in the process and getting the very opposite of what you think you are doing as the woman in the picture below.

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Arched mid back, hips tilted forward, sits bones pointing back, upper back leaning back.

“Do not allow the back of your neck to compress as you look up” / “Look Up”. Your spine must remain an open channel all the way to the top. Compressing the back of the neck just because you can go that far into a pose is not helpful to create an integrated pose where all body parts work in harmony.

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The woman in black has a beautifully integrated pose.
Her spine (including the neck part of it) and her arms are all part of the same curve started where her knee is supported.

“Allow your whole body to expand into its full space” / “Lift this or pull that to get taller”. The goal is the same but how you get there is different. Of course, you may not have been taught how to trust and experience your innate body wisdom. Just know it is possible, safer and more efficient to work with your body wisdom which is different from listening to how a specific body part or muscular area feels. 

“Listen to your whole body, not your body parts”. When always listening to your whole body at once, you will be aware of individual parts in need of attention as well. Keeping your attention on body parts to check how they feel makes you loose connection with your whole body wisdom. You may help one part of your body at the expense of another.

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If you want to learn more about the Alexander Technique or Off-The-Mat Yoga (Alexander Technique based Yoga), check my workshop and class schedule by clicking here. You can also follow my blog by signing in on the home page to receive tips of the week right to your inbox.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Core Strengthening Language! Part 1: Pitfalls

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Some like it slow, some like it with flow, some like it tough while others like it gentle and the varieties go on and on. How do you like it? Do you practice yoga to relax, to stretch and strengthen, or to restore? Do you use props or no props? Do you stand for naked yoga, or against it? Do you travel to practice yoga on every beach you can get your feet to or do you like the regularity of going to your yoga studio?

Yoga has become a popular trend and yoga studios are still flourishing everywhere. On some level, it makes sense, different body types, different personalities, different awareness levels, so attraction to different forms of yoga! It certainly has also become a lucrative business for many. Yet, on a deeper level, it seems like people are missing something in their everyday life and they are searching that missing thing in yoga and its community. It is an amazing phenomena and it is beautiful in many ways to witness this drive some have to satisfy their deep yearning. And it is wonderful when it becomes a family activity that brings families doing something positive together.

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However, in most adult classes, there is also some confusion in the teaching and practice of yoga due to various historic factors but most recently, due to the influence of the core strengthening and muscle stretching language which has created unfortunate pitfalls.

In most yoga studio, whether students are encouraged to do this slowly or fast, you can hear instructions relating to body parts to be controlled in one way or the other: pull your shoulders back, roll your shoulder blades down, lift your chest, tuck your chin or tuck your pelvis, squeeze your legs together, position your feet this way or that way, push this and hold that. This way of practicing yoga is made up of numerous muscular adjustments imposed on various body parts. 

If you add to the equation that most teachers have their own understanding of what those instructions mean and all students in a class have their own interpretations and corrupted translations, how is it even possible to teach without expecting trouble sooner or later? It is a way of working that has presented definite benefits but lots of unnecessary challenges as well which were not part of the original intention of yoga.

images-8Most people in this picture stick their neck forward in an effort to do a pose they are not ready to do in a healthy way.

Yoga postures as described by Patanjali are meant to be a balance between steadiness and comfort. Steadiness in various poses encourages your body to build up strength. Comfort allows for your strength to remain flexible. Yoga postures are all about this balancing act. However, our sense of balance and coordination, our ability to move fluidly and to enjoy good postural balance is the job of our postural mechanism which works with the body as one whole coordinated entity when not interfered with. For more info about this, go to: https://offthematyogablog.com/2013/12/18/what-are-postural-reflexes/

Neuroscience along with disciplines like the Alexander Technique also understand body functioning as a coordinated whole, where each part affects the whole and the whole is connected to each part in a synergy of its own for each individual. That is why in countries where people use themselves in a more natural way, you won’t find pulled shoulders and tucked bellies, you witness ease of movement and flexible strength with a smile!

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So for yoga lovers to get the most out of their yoga practice and prevent injuries, there has to be a change in the way language is used in the yoga class. Developing an understanding of how the postural mechanism functions to make it part of every stretch and every strengthening practice is an amazing way to turn things around in a fairly easy way. Yoga teachers instructed in this way of teaching have reported clear changes for the better in their own practice and in their students practice.

Like these teachers and students, you can discover how to build body strength without building body stiffness in the process. You can learn to trust your innate body wisdom instead of second guessing it and working against it with unnecessary muscular control. It can transform not only your yoga practice but your daily level of well-being. How do you go about it? Look for an Alexander Technique teacher, preferably one with yoga experience so they can speak your language (although any good teacher can help you with this).

The Alexander Technique seems like the perfect tool to negotiate this balance successfully within each pose, and best of all it translates into less muscular tension, improved posture and better coordination On and Off the mat. For more info about this, go to: http://www.alexandertec.com/what.htm

More details coming up in Part 2 and maybe 3.

In the meantime, to learn more about how to use the Alexander Technique as applied to yoga to get the most out of it and prevent injuries on and off the mat, find an Alexander Technique teacher in your neck of the woods or if in the Boston area, sign up to Cecile’s workshops and classes or keep reading her blogs. You can also, follow the blog to receive tips of the week right to your inbox!

https://offthematyogablog.com/schedule