Yoga Explorer Foundational Knowledge. Part 2 – Technical Aspects
Here it comes, the second post in the series of Yoga Explorer Foundational Knowledge! Today you will explore:
the important technical aspects to master for deepening your practice
why are they so important
few tips on how to acquire the knowledge
There is so much to discover. And how to know what exactly is important, and what to focus on in the first place? In this post series I try to give some overview and structure to show you the road to put your first steps on.
1. Pose alignments
Why is it important to know the alignments?
To know what actions should be performed by which muscle – knowing the basic rules of the game allows us to modify smart and make the practice our own
To avoid mistakes like curved back in the forward fold – meaning, not getting the benefits of the position and learning wrong habits,
To not hurt ourselves, by creating and repeating wrong patterns, for example locked knees in the triangle pose where the leg muscles are not working but we are supported on the knee joints. Most yoga injuries come from wrong repetitive movements that we do every day.
We learn position alignments by doing the poses, listening to the cues of our teachers, observing them, reading the books. It is all in the process. Be mindful, listen carefully, pay attention, apply to your body and internalize this knowledge.
B.K.S. Iyengar’s “Light on yoga” book was helpful for me to learn the alignments, and is one of the most important pieces in written yoga teaching. A fun way to support your studies is the Yoga App by Muscle and Motion. Each asana is broken down into several chapters, including step by step instructions to do the pose, variations, muscular activity, and common mistakes.
As I mentioned in the previous post in this series, it is not necessary that we do the poses according to the prescribed alignment, but we should treat it all only as a recommendation. Nonetheless, we have to know the basics: to grow our own style, we need to start growing from firm roots.
Why is it important to learn anatomy?
To understand why some of the postures don’t work for us, or how could they work for us better.
For example some muscles are too short, or we have a little range of motion in certain joints. Knowing this, we can target these potential development areas with specific poses and exercises to relieve the tight muscles or increase joint mobility, thus making our practice advance.
To be able to modify smart as needed.
When we, or our students, feel pain or discomfort in certain areas, we can modify the pose to avoid the pain in a knowledgeable way to still get the benefits of the posture
To have a better mind-body connection, to get to know our bodies better.
Knowing what are the muscles and joints doing in a certain asana gives us additional mind-body connection and allows to explore our own bodies on another level. It is like a new, deeper level in a relationship – you get to know each other better. You are able to decode better the sensations arising during your practice.
Very helpful in learning anatomy for me were the following sources of knowledge, two of them you can find on my Resource webpage:
Yoga App by Muscle and Motion
Yoga Anatomy book by Leslie Kaminoff
Yoga Injuries Management and Prevention course by Jason Crandell
Anatomy is very complicated, and you don’t need to acquire all this knowledge all at once. Take baby steps, set your goals, enjoy the process and stay curious about your own body, and you will get better every day. I keep repeating to myself when goals like that seem overwhelming to me: consistency is the key! Just keep being interested consistently and systematically, and after some time (weeks, months, years), you will get there.
When you observe a typical yoga class day by day, you start to notice that there are repeating patterns in each one of them. That there are clusters of different types poses that usually go together, or close to each other in the sequence. That there are always some poses that appear directly after another ones (e.g. counter-poses). That in many classes the whole introduction is a preparation for a certain, more difficult asana (puppy, dolphin and core work as a preparation for forearm stand for example). It all has its logic in it.
So why should we learn about sequencing?
To be able to create your own flow based on individual needs
To make our flow balanced and well rounded, targeting different areas of our body, including stretching as well as strengthening movements
To prepare our body well for more difficult posture, gradually increasing the heat and mobility
So that you class is logically progressing and your students don’t feel lost or confused, but trust you as a teacher and move fluently through the class, creating the sense of flow and ease. This is contributing to meditative and relaxing aspects of your practice.
Most of the sequencing knowledge I have for now, I honestly absorbed from hundreds of yoga classes that I took with other teachers. I mindfully observed the flow of the class, and in the end it became natural for me to build my own sequence without thinking about class structures or pose successions. Although for learning, before your teacher training, I recommend checking out your favorite teacher’s blog. I went to Jason Crandell’s blog and Ashley Hagen’s YouTube channel.
We first start studying the sequencing for our own private practice, when we feel like we need a personal flow for our specific needs. At some point, there is the place when we start to play with the sequences and experiment to find our own style. When the time comes to wear the teacher’s hat, we share out sequencing skills with others.
4. Sanskrit asana names
As a beginner you learn the asana names in your own language (e.g. English, German, etc) from your teachers during the practice. You hear them repeatedly many times and they settle in your head and connect with the physical postures. Sanskrit names of poses are slowly being introduced as you advance in your practice. However, some of them are appearing pretty early, like savasana, corpse pose. Some of the teachers during advanced classes use exclusively the Sanskrit names.
Sanskrit is the sacred language of Hinduism, an ancient language used in South Asia from 200 year before Christ until AD 1350. There are no native speakers of this language nowadays. Because of the cultural heritage and where yoga comes from (about which you can read in the next article in this series), original asana names are in Sanskrit.
Most of the modern language names are more or less direct translations from Sanskrit. As an example:
adho mukha svanasana
“downward facing dog”
adhas – down
mukha – face
svana – dog
asana - pose
Easy, isn't it?
This is also where the name of my website comes from :)
"owl pose, Sovva's pose"
Sovva – is my nickname, meaning “an owl” in polish,
asana - pose
Most asana names in Sanskrit, I learned from just listening to my teachers during yoga classes. In the books that I mentioned in the chapters above, there are names in Sanskrit along with their translation into English. These are also helpful if you struggle to remember the names. They are broken down and explained, as I did in the example above, which makes it easier to understand. You can also use some online flash cards as a learning tool. There are plenty of them in the Internet.
Why is it important to learn Sanskrit asana names:
To understand more advanced classes instructions, read articles and participate in conversations with ease and fluidity, it is like using a professional language in your job
To pay tribute to the history and tradition of yoga, to cultivate traditions and appreciate yoga roots, to connect with the source
Learning anatomy, sequencing, alignments and Sanskrit names are next steps in the exploration of our own practice, or a step towards becoming a teacher. They are elevating and at the same time deepening the practice. Elevating, because you get clearer overview of the practice, deepening because you connect stronger to your body, it’s sensations and the yoga roots and traditions.
What other technical aspects of yoga practice you find essential to learn?
In what beautiful place of the learning process are you right now?
What are your goals and how do you progress towards them?
What are you enjoying the most in this process?
Let me know in the comments below! I am so excited to hear from you, connect with you, and start an inspiring and motivating conversation.
Continue reading the posts from my Foundational Yoga Explorer Knowledge series here:
Part 3 - Cultural heritage – coming soon!
Keep exploring, on and off the mat!
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