Why are we so in love with downward dog? Why do we do vinyasas in some yoga classes 20, 30, even 40 times? What’s the difference of standing with your feet together or hip distance apart? Have you ever asked yourself questions like these before?
Those who know me can attest that I’m not really a fan of “rules” and that I often like to push the envelope a bit. Call me crazy. Funny enough, some actually do! Yet, many times I find that by simply asking the obvious it has the potential to reveal very profound answers. Personally, I believe the way that goodness evolves into greatness is through listening, asking and understanding at a deeper level.
So after listening to countless patients coming into see me for care complaining of issues that are directly and/or indirectly related to their yoga practice, I decided to create a list of a few poses that I believe need to be reframed or just done away with entirely due to their potential long term chronic harm from overuse, poor mechanics and/or being inefficient. My goal in addressing these is lofty but practical. Let’s keep people safer in yoga by observing Patanjali’s wisdom in the Yoga Sutras: Heyam dukham anagatam (Prevent the danger before it arises).
With that in mind, how about we start with a fan favorite…
Need I say more? Probably the most stressful non-inversion position in all of hatha yoga due to the compromised tandem position of the shoulders and elbows. Very few practitioners maintain the core strength and proper mechanics that is required to maintain safe form in a low sustained push-up. Often, the shoulders dive too far in, the elbows lift or go too far back, the thoracic spine goes into hyperkypohosis/rounding and it strains the wrists contributing to the silent development of repetitive stress injuries like upper cross syndrome and carpal tunnel. On the contrary, what also happens regularly in yogis, especially females, is that the chest collapses due to a lack of serratus anterior and/or pectoral muscle strength, the low back or neck goes into hyperlordosis, the core disengages and the neck and the shoulders get excessively strained. Sound familiar?
Have you ever felt uncomfortable or a little pain in chaturanga or have had clients complaining about it?
The best form and instruction I’ve found on the internet is from Sadie Nardini, who demonstrates pretty solid mechanics, joint centration (where a joint maintains integrity by being stacked in another joint) and well-distributed, advantageous musculoskeletal angles. While most people do not have the strength or, more importantly, the local muscle control to stabilize their bodies and perform this in the proper way, they often force themselves outside of their body’s limits and their form suffers. Just look around the yoga room the next time the class goes into chaturangas and you’ll see it everywhere! This becomes a feeding ground for poor mechanics and the development of dysfunctional postural patterns. Plus, the repetitive nature of this pose causes the later chaturangas in a class to be even more dangerous and detrimental to the yoga practitioner than the beginning ones as fatigues sets in. It perpetuates muscle patterning that leads to stress, cervical spine pain, headaches, scapular pain and overall discomfort in the mid-back, neck and shoulders.
In my opinion, the most sensible solution is for Yoga teachers and practitioners to start a revolution. That’s where all great ideas come from! People saying, “enough is enough.”
Try this on for size. Let’s embrace proneasana as a community. Lying down directly on the stomach. It can be done relaxed or, to intensify it, perform it a la chaturanga except lower all the way to the floor maintaining core and leg support, a slow speed, good joint angles and a focus on controlled lowering and good form to make it a very strong eccentric deceleration exercise for the pecs and core. This can ultimately be just as challenging as chaturanga and is a whole lot safer for probably 90 – 95% of people.
Heck, skip chaturanga altogether and be a yoga rogue! I did that a few years ago and I can’t tell you how happy I am and how much healthier I believe my students are for it! Recently, I even started “pushing the limits” and passing on the majority of vinyasas, too. When teaching therapeutic flow, I commonly just release standing poses straight to downward dog like some of the more classical forms of physical-based Yoga. Why do we do vinyasas in the first place? To sweat? And yoga’s about sweating, riiight? Or, is it because the first Ashtangis came back from Mysore in the early 70s and said, “that’s how they do it in India.” And everyone followed suit.
Well, it’s time for a change!
Don’t be afraid to try something new y’all…it’s very refreshing to do what feels good in yoga!
In future blog posts, I will discuss topics like warrior 1 Vs. crescent, how to do sternal crunching and abdominal bracing techniques for the back and core, yoga for common hip/glute dysfunctions, balancing and yoga, how to use props to mobilize the midback and neck, the mysteries of downward dog, foot placement in standing poses, an article on “yoga, kirtan and hip hop music,” plus a continuing series called Let’s Talk Poses. It’s all pretty much written so please keep checking back in to look for new updates.
Some good content is coming up y’all! Spread the word to your friends.
Let’s start a yoga revolution!