December 10, 2013

I am a Yoga Astronaut: All Cues are Wrong! (Part 5) ~ Kirstie Segarra

Where to go to next?

I am covering a lot of anatomy bits and pieces in my articles on how to integrate a fascial approach to asana. I find that it is dangerous territory. Our tendency with regards to anatomy is to break it down into a single muscle, cut all the other muscles away to study movement patterns, etc. However, the body in movement does not work as a single muscle or even group of muscles. We are in fact a unitary whole from top to bottom and side to side through the fascial net.

So here is the challenge. If we cue someone to move one part of the body without relating it to how it affects the whole, we are basically wrong—no matter how good the cue is!

The trick is to be aware that this is what you are doing as a yoga teacher. Allow room for error. Eventually, the students will understand that you are getting to the whole.

I have been fortunate to have two great teachers from the bodywork world and they both used two terms to get to the same idea. The first was “somatic quotient (SQ)” and the second “kinetic quotient (KQ).”

Both teachers were speaking to the importance that our clients learn a somatic (awareness of the body) or kinetic (awareness of motion) awareness. Our job as a practitioner is to support the development of the SQ’s and KQ’s in our clients. I love this idea!

This is exactly what we do as yoga teachers. We are aiding our student in developing their SQ’s and KQ’s—sensory awareness of the body in movement.

This may be simply showing a client that they are lifting their leg from their psoas instead of their quadriceps, then bringing them back to learning how to move from the quadriceps as the power mover to lift the leg.

For example, lay down in Corpse pose (Savasana). Place your right hand just inside your right hip. Lift your leg. Now bring the hand on top of your right quadriceps. Lift the leg and resist with your right hand. Are you truly engaging mostly your right quadriceps to lift your leg? Or, are you lifting from the psoas (inside of the hip)?

Another example is using Chair pose (Utkatasana). Chair pose is a great way to find out if one is using the gluteus maximus muscles to help lift up from a seated position to standing. The quadriceps and gluteus maximus work together.

I have a tendency to over engage my right gluts and not use my left gluts. I have had to retrain myself to balance out by doing a modified one-legged Chair pose.

I bring all my body weight into my left leg, draw the right foot on top of my left foot (or next to it), then exhale and slowly lower down to Chair pose, then inhale and rise back up to standing. Repeat at least three times. Then move into a two-legged chair and notice if you are able to balance out with both sides fully engaged!

If you are dominant on your left glut you will have to do the one-legged version with the right leg. If you don’t know which glut is dominate, do the one-legged chair on both sides and notice which one feels weaker. This exercise allows us to retrain how we use our quadriceps and gluteus maximus in relation to each other.

I believe that as yoga teachers we need to be willing to explore the foundations of what we teach, then deconstruct our assumptions with regards to movement. We could continue to teach the same sequences and repeat the same cues everyday. However, this would keep the field of yoga static.

To be truly dynamic, progressive and express true flexibility is to merge yoga with the “art of teaching yoga”. Through simple somatic exercises we are able to increase our SQ’s and KQ’s. This helps us correct movement patterns that are not efficient use of our bodies.

Asana is an incredible medium to shift “who we are” and prepare us for other pathways in yoga and meditation. With each breath and sustained hold we can create more space in our bodies and free ourselves from pain so we have the freedom to be fascial yoga astronauts!

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Editor: Dana Gornall

 Photo Credit: elephant photo archives

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Kirstie Segarra