This Month on the Mat

There are many cases in yoga where form and alignment are important. Not because there is “right way” or “wrong way” but because how you move in and out of a yoga pose and how you hold yourself in that pose determines the effects it has on your body – both short and long term, positive and negative.

Because you come to the yoga mat to move your body and to feel good, it’s helpful to notice what actions enhance your practice and which ones might be leading to unwanted pain and strain.

Parts of you that move affect all the other parts that are moving or perhaps not moving. Over time you will get stronger is some areas of your body while others become weak and/or stiff. Asana practice invites you to create balance and harmony in your body.

While practicing on your mat, observe how and where you are moving well and where your movements are coming from.

Try this at home: Uttanasana

Uttanasana is a standing forward fold. The key joint you should be using is the ball and socket joint of your hip. However, you may be directing a lot of your movement through your spine and not really moving well through your hips.

Check it out for yourself. Start in Tadasana or Mountain Pose. Stand sideways in front of a mirror with your ankle, knee, and hip joints stacked vertically.

Bend forward to touch the ground, letting go of any notion of any alignment points you have learned for a standing forward fold. As long as it doesn’t hurt you, go ahead and bend your knees and round your back.

Have a look at your pose and notice how it feels. Now come back up to Tadasana or Mountain Pose.

Try it again, this time keep your knees straight and tilt your pelvis forward at your hip joints. Be sure to keep your torso lined up with your pelvis. Your torso will lean forward relative to your legs and the floor, but it is upright relative to your pelvis.

Stop moving once your feel like your pelvis is no longer able to tilt forward from your hips. This will show you how much of your forward bend is occurring at your hips and/or how much you rely on your back to round or knees to bend when you touch the floor in Uttanasana.

If you have a tendency to keep your knees straight and touching the floor, you may notice a lot of movement in your spine. If you have always kept your knees bent in order to touch the floor, you may notice a sensation of tightness in your hamstrings if you try to straighten your knees. You most likely combine moving too much in the spine and not enough in the hamstrings. And, yes, it is possible to be “tight” in one area and too mobile in another. What is true for you?

Explore this movement over the span of a week and notice if your old patterns in Uttanasana start to change. Bring the same awareness of folding forward from the hips into other relevant yoga poses and into other activities. For example, I pay attention to the forward fold of my hips when I’m on my bike. This allows me to protect my back and to use my core more effectively.

Biomechanists tell us that no movement is inherently bad. And, your body adapts quickly to what you do most often. Getting curious about how you move is worth the investment of your time and effort.

Until next time, move well and thrive!