FOCUS ON BONY ALIGNMENT IN YOGA
Let’s face it. There is so much to learn about anatomy and alignment in yoga and it is overwhelming for yoga students and teachers! Asana practice undoubtedly provides benefits to all aspects of the human body such as the cardiovascular, digestive, lymphatic, reproductive, and nervous system. However, as yoga students and teachers can we really expect to learn what most medical professionals are not able to cover in their graduate studies? The exciting news is that a solid understanding of bony alignment in yoga serves as the key to bringing all of the systems into optimum alignment and therefore optimum function. You can practice (or teach) yoga asana that optimises all of your systems with a solid understanding of the bones of the body -- and that is certainly within your reach!
Here are THREE KEY REASONS why it is most important for yoga students and teachers to focus on the alignment of the bones during asana practice:
1. Bones Create The Framework
The bones are the center of the body. If they are aligned, the soft structures around them will be aligned. Consider the construction of a house. The foundation is first poured and the house is then framed out. The earth and/or yoga mat is the foundation for your asana practice. Your bones are like the two by fours that create the frame of the house. In a similar way that many nails are used to hold the wood pieces together for the frame of a house, your ligaments hold your bones together in all of your joints. Without the wooden frame, there would be no support for the other materials of the house. Without your bones, the rest of your soft tissue could not maintain a strong posture. For alignment in yoga practice, start with your bones and the rest of your body will follow.
2. Bones (and the joints they create) Provide Awareness
Proprioception may be greater in the joints. Proprioception is described as “sensation of body position and movement using sensory signals from muscles, joints, and skin” (Bear et al, 2007, p. 810). There are numerous neurological receptors that communicate information about where your body is in relationship to other body parts and your environment. Most of the receptors are embedded in the ligaments, joints capsules, and tendons, all of which are connected to the bones at the joints. Therefore, when you focus on aligning your knees over your ankles, you bring awareness to your own body through activation of the many sensory receptors in your joints. In other words, the alignment of your bones provides access to an awareness and awakening of where you are in this world!
Reference: Bear, Mark. F et al (2007). Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain. (3rd Edition). Baltimore. Lippincott Williams, and Wilkins.
3. Make Practice Easy
People know where their bones and joints are. A three-year-old can even sing “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes” and point to her bones and joints. In my own practice, I often check if my ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders are in one line (particularly in tadasana and chatarunga). And if they are, I am confident that I am engaging the appropriate muscles to engage and relaxing the appropriate muscles to relax. It is that simple. I can provide cues to my students to seek similar alignment. “Stack your shoulders over your hips. Bring your knees over your ankles.” In my experience teaching, these words land on students with ease. There are so many muscles in the human body. Even after years of studying and teaching anatomy, it can be difficult to remember exactly where each muscle is. Ask yourself, is it easier to follow the instruction to “straighten your knee” or “contract your quadriceps”? Also, consider that there are several ways to contract your quadriceps. (See What Muscles Work in Yoga?). Do you know which type of contraction to use? If I focus on my muscles, I am still not sure what to do. However, if I focus on bending my knee, it is obvious. My knee is either bending or it is not bending. Muscular activity is vital to human movement (and to maintaining a yoga pose), and it can easily be achieved through focus of bony alignment.
Dr. Trish Corley is a Baptiste certified yoga teacher, a doctor of physical therapy, and a functional anatomy professor. She leads regularly scheduled yoga classes at New Angle Yoga and leads yoga teacher trainings and workshops globally.
Discover More About Bony Alignment in Yoga!
Do you want to understand your bones and how they move in your yoga practice? Check out New Angle Yoga's Anatomy Workshops. Our 2 Day Immersion provides an overview of anatomy of the human body. Get a clear understanding of the musculoskeletal system in relationship to yoga asana. Dr. Trish Corley will make it fun and easy to learn anatomy and for you to be able to apply what your learn directly to your practice and your teaching. This training is accredited by the Yoga Alliance for continuing education in Anatomy & Physiology.