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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is simply superb. After 20 years of working with the Alexander Technique I still have to remind myself to “allow” things to happen or not to happen. Thanks for the reminder, Cecile 🙂
Nice to hear from you again Rob. Yes allowing takes a life time to practice! But then again, it is not a popular concept so I feel drawn to spread it with my writing and teaching to a culture of doers we unfortunately are a part of and always be up to a certain point. Integrating AT concepts on any level though definitely gives us an advantage and helps soften our edges!
Many thanks for your great post and the link to the interview. I am an AT teacher/ massage therapist in the UK and sometimes feel to be so much struggling against the tide when all around us are people touting core stability. It’s good to have confirmation of my beliefs so concisely!
Best wishes and please keep up your blog and postings! Rachel Shaw Sent from my iPad
Thanks Rachel to take the time to give me your feedback. I also am both an AT teacher and a Thai Yoga massage therapist. If you like my blog posts, hope you join the blog so you receive the new one as I publish them (average once a month) and join my email list as I send tips of the week (not necessarily weekly). Till next time we communicate, be well. Cecile
Thank you so much for your feedback Rachel.
Am delighted to also hear from like-minded practitioners.:)
This is my favorite post that you’ve done to date! Excellent. I totally agree regarding the importance of learning from innate ‘body wisdom’ through “purely kinesthetic and holistic experience”. I’ve found that when focusing on the ‘bits’ and details of anatomy mostly gets me into my head and away from the kinesthetic experience. Very clear writing regarding the inner, postural muscles versus the outer torso muscles and written in a way that everyone can understand. I will share this with others. Thank you!