A NEW LOOK AT ALIGNMENT IN YOGA

Recently, the yoga community at large has taken up a more critical look at what the concept of alignment actually means in the context of yoga asana. This is a great conversation to have. So many of us have been practicing and teaching for decades now and are confronted daily by the ways that popular rules of alignment contradict one another and are often causing more problems than they solve.

Many of the problems we see in joints, muscles, and ligaments derive from our own mistaken assuredness that we have the answers for how we (and our students) should move. Most of our instructions have been based on the musculoskeletal system. We have precise rules, many contradicting one another, and still we have a lot of injuries, and witness a lot of wear and tear on joints of the longest time practitioners. Perhaps we have accepted a false premise. Let’s look at the term and its connotations:

align |əˈlīn| verb1 [with object]

  • place or arrange (things) in a straight line
  • put (things) into correct or appropriate relative positions
  • [no object] lie in a straight line, or in correct relative positions

alignment |əˈlīnmənt| noun1

  • arrangement in a straight line, or in correct or appropriate relative position
  • the act of aligning parts of a machine:oil changes, lube jobs, and wheel alignments.

 

Alignment as We Know It Doesn’t Work

How we think about things matters. The term alignment itself conjures up straight lines, correct angles, mechanical movement, and positional concerns. Both align and alignment clearly connote these qualities. Even if you know better, you will be affected by your ingrained understanding of the words. The idea of “straight lines”, “align [with object]”, and even “appropriate relative position”, miss the mark for considering what is healthy human support for movement.

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A LIFE OF INQUIRY | YOGA AND THE KLESHAS—Journey to Clarity and Freedom

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Ganesha—the Great Remover of Obstacles

The kleshas are the tendencies of individual consciousness, that when left unchecked, form serious obstacles to our evolving awareness. In his Yoga Sutra, Patanjali has encapsulated the basic patterns of mind that cause the most trouble for us in our embodied existence. The Yoga Sutra is very clear that all of these issues arise from the primary problem of lack of correct knowledge, lack of spiritual understanding of who and what we actually are. The Yoga Sutra is crystal clear that our main problem is, “Mistaking the Seer for the seen”. In this context, the Seer is the permanent and unchanging field of Awareness, and the seen is everything that exists in the field of form. Awareness and form are bound together to form all that exists in nature. This includes the personal ego, and all aspects of mind and body.  We make a big mistake when we allow our individual ego-mind to take on the role of the ultimate perceiver.

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RETHINKING HEALTHY HIPS IN YOGA

This article is specifically directed toward those of us who practice – and especially teach – yoga asana. So much is written about how to “open the hips”. Is that really what we want to be doing? The balance of stability and mobility is different for every person, and since “support” needs to precede any kind of action or opening, perhaps we need to be looking at integrity in the hip joints. Using a paradigm that is based not on increasing flexibility, but instead on increasing ease and comfort, needs to be looked at more carefully by all of us in the yoga community. What is flexibility anyway? What is tightness, for that matter?

Anatomy of the Hip Joints

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  • Acetabulum
  • Head of the femur
  • Articular cartilage
  • Labrum
  • Synovial membranes
  • Synovial fluid
  • Joint capsule
  • Ligaments

The Neighboring Joints

The neighboring joints work in concert with the hip joints. When all the joints are in balance with one another, forces will flow through them in such a way that each, with its individual qualities, will play its part in distributing force appropriately to its nearest neighbor and through the body as a whole. Forces that are restricted in one joint will be transferred to the next joint – often applying undue stress. The more peripheral joints of the feet, ankles, forelegs, and knees are smaller than the relatively large hip and sacroiliac joints. The peripheral joints provide a good amount of articulation. When they are not functioning well, they will put strain into the hips and sacroiliacs. The hip joints are highly mobile, but are importantly designed for greater stability than the more peripheral joints in the legs and feet. Stability in the sacroiliac joints is equally important, and the hip joint is far more mobile than the sacroiliac. Restriction in the hip will cause the sacroiliac to take stress.

  • Sacroiliac joints
  • Pubic symphysis (forming two joints)
  • Knee
  • Foreleg, ankle, and foot

Stability and Range of Motion—Support Precedes Action

The direction movements of the hip joints are usually very specifically delineated. They are flexion, extension, adduction, abduction, internal rotation, and external rotation. But rarely, in life are any of those individual movements made without at least traces of some of the others. The hip is a ball and socket joint with the possibility of a great range of motion. Movement doesn’t actually ascribe to the linear think of our anatomical analysis. Really, the joint moves pretty much any direction it wants, within its specific range of motion, which is highly variable from individual to individual. Most healthy motion in the joint needs to involve both bones – the ball and the socket – so that they are working in harmony to create the desired movement expression. As with any other movement, support needs to precede action at the joint. Support is a process that involves both bones working together to give the joint the stability that it needs to move with health.

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EMBODIED TENSEGRITY—FASCIA AND YOGA

The Fluid Body

“At the beginning of our life cycle, we are conceived in fluid, developed in amniotic fluid and born in fluid; our bodies are more than 70-percent fluid. New scientific discoveries demonstrate that the fascial system is a combination of a powerful fibrous web surrounded by a ground substance that is a fluid/gelatinous medium, and which is the internal and external environment of every cell in the body. Recent research shows there is a micro-fascial system (a tensegrity structure) within every cell. Inside the cytoskeleton of the cell lay microtubules of fascia that have a hollow core, which fluid flows through. Energy, information and consciousness flow within that fluid. Consciousness flows through every cell of our bodies. The fluid within and around every cell performs the important function of being the transport medium of oxygen, nutrients, chemicals, hormones, toxins, energy and information throughout our entire being, almost instantaneously.”
John F. Barnes, P.T., L.M.T.—Massage Magazine April 5, 2011

Tensegrity
“Tensegrity, tensional integrity or floating compression, is a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other and the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially.” Wikipedia

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Tensegrity is a term coined by Buckminster Fuller. The word is a contraction of two terms: tension and integrity. It describes a structural relationship principle that Fuller defined as stabilizing the shape of structures by continuous tension or “tensional integrity”, rather than by continuous compression, such as is used in a stone arch or a skyscraper. A tensegrity structure is composed of firm rods that do not touch one another, but are suspended and made strong by the simultaneous action of a network of balanced compression and tensile parts.

Kenneth Snelson Free Ride Home tensegrity 1974

Buckminster Fuller was inspired in his work by the innovative sculpture of Kenneth Snelson in which we can see how otherwise heavy metal struts are upheld with a sense of levity and ease when the tensegrity principles are applied.

While most buildings utilize simple compression in alignment with gravity—block upon block and into the earth—to support their form, tensegrity structures are different. They are self-supporting, absorbing and distributing forces omnidirectionally throughout their shapes, giving them the ability to yield increasingly, without ultimately breaking or coming apart. They allow for what would otherwise be heavy limbs and reaching projections to be far away from the center without toppling the entire system.

Biotensegrity
It wasn’t until fairly recently—the last several decades—that scientist have observed that these very same principles of self-inclusive support underlie the integrity of all biological structures.

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Tantra, Cellular Awakening, and Embodyoga®

cn16x24_6975Tantra and Embodyoga®
Tantric thought arose about 1000 years after the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali were codified. Whereas the Yoga Sutras of Classical Yoga address the objective of overcoming the obstacles presented by being in an embodied form, Tantra is the yoga of engagement and relationship. Tantra sees the body and the world as the foundations of yogic practice, far from obstacles that need to be overcome, as is so often the perspective in Classical Yoga. In contrast, Tantra focuses directly on the body. Tantric philosophy includes a direct study of the human body-mind-energetic system with the goal of recognizing the Unity of all of life and engaging in the play of a life lived fully. A person who lives life in fullness accepts and incorporates all aspects of the human experience and celebrates our embodied form as nothing more or less than an expression of the Divine. Tantra recognizes the value of experiencing the universal wholeness (of which we are all a part), while enjoying the play of differentiation and individuality, which we embody as human beings. By viewing each individual body-mind system as a miniature replica of the structure of the universe, Tantra teaches that by studying our selves and our relationships—through all the levels of our personal manifestation—we open to the Universal Reality that is equally within as well as without. The practices of Hatha Yoga derive from Tantra and are designed to assist each person in the process of recognizing the abundance of life force that plays out before our eyes at every moment. Embodied Anatomy™ follows the same techniques that are outlined in the Yoga Sutras.

Embodied Anatomy™ takes us on a journey into the varying textures and densities of our form and structure. We consciously inhabit and become intimate with the family of cells and functions that support our very existence. In this process we begin to recognize the intelligence and awareness that is at the basis of each and every part of our body. Through Embodied Anatomy™ we actively explore ourselves in space from our densest structures to the most ethereal and spiritual.

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LAYERS OF SPINE AND CORE—YOGA

Spine is core, and as such, has many layers of reality, from the most subtle expression of empty radiance, through all the colors and manifestations of individuality. When we take on an exploration and inquiry into spine in Hatha Yoga, we are seriously embarking on a journey into deeper and deeper layers of core. All of our layers are evident in the spine, and since spine is the home of both the subtle and anatomical nervous system Hatha Yoga has pointed us directly toward this inquiry.

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Kosas
The inquiry and exploration of embodiment that we use in Embodyoga® is modeled on the kosas – the sheaths of awareness manifesting from the most subtle to the most obvious, or gross. The kosas are our layers of manifestation from the most subtle to the most obvious and dense. In Embodyoga® we continue to inquire through all of the layers – always knowing that deeper truth is just awaiting our realization.

Atmamaya Kosa – pure unmanifest awareness – no element – no form
Chittamaya Kosa – individual awareness – no element – no form
Anandamaya Kosa – blissful awareness – space
Vijyanamaya Kosa – wisdom and heart, Buddhi mind – air
Manomaya Kosa – intellect, thinking mind – fire
Pranamaya Kosa – emotion, feeling – water
Anamaya Kosa – the anatomical structural sheath – earth

We understand that each of these kosas exists in every particle and space within us. Everywhere. Always. It is from this basis that we explore and navigate inward to recognize our fullness, our humanity and our divinity, and how it is manifesting through us.

The structure of spine and what it means in the body-mind.
Spine is a multi layered core structure with many levels from the subtlest to the grossest. Since Hatha Yoga is a spinal based practice it is important to consider the spine thoroughly. Our vertebral column is core in relation to the rest of our skeletal structure in that it is our central axis. It’s obvious that in yoga the spine is more than just the vertebral column. It is home to the central nervous system, which of course, is continuous with the brain. It also houses the three main nadis – ida, pingala, and sushumna. Sushumna nadi is our personal conduit and connection to Universal Awareness and can definitely be considered to be the core of the spine, or the core of core.

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HOW DOES EMBODYOGA® WORK?

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Embodyoga® is a radical and inclusive approach to the ancient science of yoga. It is an evolving tapestry woven from the deeply healing, therapeutic, and spiritual essence of yoga and cutting edge studies in the field of body-mind-consciousness. Embodyoga® fuses the emergent wisdom of Body-Mind Centering®, which was developed by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, with Hatha Yoga practices and Tantric Yoga philosophy.

Embodyoga® begins with the premise that our entire personal self—body, heart, and mind— is a sea of vibrating creative awareness. Practitioners of Embodyoga® recognize that each aspect of our physical, and energetic form is an expression of awareness manifesting through, and as, individual qualities and traits. We experience these aspects of self as gradations of awareness, all made of the same stuff, all having equal value and importance, and all interwoven to form a system that is perfectly equipped and primed for self-realization. In other words, through the gift of human consciousness we are able to witness our very nature as it is: creative, bright, alive, and self-aware.

When we practice Embodyoga®, we harness the powerful forces of curiosity and desire to guide our exploration of the body-mind system. Our inquiry initiates and leads the journey. Whatever route this inward journey takes, it leads to the revelation of the unity that underlies all form. Even as we are obviously individuals with our personal qualities and traits, we are also universal in that all that we are is awareness at its source.

Embodyoga® practice provides us with a direct experience of unity – the unity of recognizing the universal and the personal as one integrated and inseparable system. This perception of the inseparability of the universal and the personal, remains with us on and off the yoga mat, manifesting through our relationships with self and others.
When we have had a direct and profound encounter with our inner, true self, we can then effortlessly share this experience as an offering in all our interactions. A sense of love and responsibility for the wellbeing of all humanity expands outward from our self, through our family, friends, community, and beyond. This outward expansion results directly from our ability to perceive our essential self more deeply.

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