Last time I was at my hairdresser’s I read an article in some fashion magazine about Hilaria Baldwin – you know, yoga teacher, wife of Alec Baldwin? She was getting a lot of heat for posting some images of herself in intricate yoga poses in all kinds of unexpected places: staircases, kitchen counter, bathtub, etc. This article was an interesting reflection of the debate that continuously goes on in yoga circles: should or shouldn’t yoga teachers post selfies of complex yoga poses? Is it about showing off their bodies or demonstrating body’s full potential? Is it discouraging or inspirational for potential students? I’m sure you have an opinion about that. But today I wanted to discuss the merits of those intricate yoga poses: do they help the practitioner or cause trouble?
In the eyes of an average Joe yoga is usually associated with wrap-yourself-in-a-knot types of poses. Hence the usual excuse for not practicing yoga: “I am not flexible enough”. This is understandable; we are surrounded by those images. I like to think of them as “show horse” yoga poses. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have benefits; it just means that they are fancy and intricate. Then there are “workhorse” yoga poses. Those are the poses that are not fun to put on the covers of magazines, yet they are instrumental in accomplishing whatever it is we want to accomplish in our yoga practice. Let’s take a closer look at those groups.
These poses are
- More challenging, therefore will exclude many students from ever attempting them
- More extreme, require greater mobility in the joints, more flexibility and more strength
- More risky, especially for the vulnerable areas like sacrum, lower back, neck, etc., therefore require more preparation and compensation
- More fun, they give you a sense of accomplishment
- More likely to be a destination in and of themselves, rather than tools in accomplishing your goals.
Placing too many of those poses within one’s practice can have destabilizing effect, since your body gets pulled in multiple directions to the maximum extent. Somehow we always forget the simple truth of physical stability: a deeper stretch is NOT always better.
“Workhorse” yoga poses
These poses are
- More useful for a wider range of students – pretty much anybody can do them
- Much more adaptable for a variety of needs
- Not nearly as risky, therefore do not require as much preparation
- More effective as tools in accomplishing your goals, not doing them for their own sake
These poses are less exciting to an inexperienced or superficial observer. Here the fun comes from small details, and adaptations that can completely change your experience of the pose or what area you are targeting (we will talk more about it in the coming months). These poses form the backbone of the yoga practice. They give us an opportunity to practice “the internal intensity”: body awareness, attention to subtle details, presence of mind; as opposed to “the external intensity” of more difficult poses (the actual physical challenge).
“Workhorse” poses also serve as exceptional diagnostic tools. From the way somebody positions and moves her body you can get a staggering amount of information. For example, in this pose (Cat-Cow) I would be looking at all the areas listed below and proceed with the session based on the information that I gather.
I would also be looking at
- the connection between breath and movement
- breathing pace
- ease of the inhalation relative to the exhalation
- understanding of the pose
- body awareness
- ability to follow instructions, etc.
The simplest poses usually give us the most information about what’s going on, and working with those poses can help us correct the imbalances that we identify.
Every pose we offer to our students needs to be accessed from the standpoint of “risk vs benefit”. In more intricate poses the risk often outweighs the benefit, and in the simpler ones it’s usually the other way around.
There is nothing wrong with attempting the more difficult postures – they have their place. But those need to be like sprinkles on the cupcake – used in moderation. Otherwise we get yoga practitioners and yoga teachers who look beautiful while performing their routines, but live in constant pain. And who wants that?!
Log in to your Sequence Wiz account to get Movement Observation Form (under Forms/Handouts) to help you evaluate your client’s habitual movement patterns.
To modify this form to your liking look for Client Movement Observation sequence under Shared Sequences
Learn more about Sequence Wiz membership
Subscribe to Blog via Email