co-written by Alex Pfeiffer & Katy Wallace
Since the day before you took your first yoga class, you have probably learned a lot more anatomy that you ever thought you would. Whether it was the first time you realized that you knew what the yoga teacher was talking about when she mentioned your sacrum, or suddenly found that you felt better breathing a certain way from “oxygenating your blood” , you may have come to realize that Anatomy doesn’t have to be the boring subject it was in school. It is, in fact, connected to our very vitality and happiness when its taught right. And yoga has been that for all of us. Learning about our bodies in ways that deeply affect our lives. Although this writing is partially a promotional piece (at the end we’ll mention a workshop weekend), we think you’ll find the education you get from it extremely helpful in of itself.
Have you ever wondered about some of the things you hear around the yoga studio? There are certainly things you hear that your bookworm friends would scoff at (of course they’ll never try yoga), and it is absolutely true that yoga revolutionizes how we can see the human body. The mechanistic, partitioned view of the body we were given as “science” growing up was severely limited and yoga’s (as well as bodywork’s and natural medicine’s) more whole view actually helps us see much of the mythology we’ve been under here in the mainstream West.
But the culture of Yoga (starting from India), while remarkable and eye opening, is not without its myths either. And some of the things from your yoga classes don’t hold up. Alex argues that Yoga’s growing edge is not romanticizing by replacing one mixed paradigm for another (or what is often the case, taking the worst of each). Its edge is integral – favoring truth over paradigm. Katy argues that understanding your body is the first step to empowering your health because when you know how to use it, what you learn is yours forever. Myths get in the way of your raw aliveness and vitality.
Myth 1 : Stiffness, Aches, Pains, and getting shorter are a result of Aging.
If you’ve been practicing yoga very long, you’re not falling for this one. How many times have you heard yoga being a “fountain of youth”? … and then experienced it? But Wait. Older folks do get more stiff, aches, etc. than younger folks. Isn’t there some truth in this?
But it is not aging itself. Aging just slows down your body’s ability to rejuvenate itself. You can still rejuvenate when you’re older, but it will take a little longer. The stiffness, aches, and pains typically associated with aging are usually the result of poor patterns in your structural tissues. We all have patterns and the longer you’re alive, the stronger those patterns get. The poor ones show up as aches and pains. The really bad ones show up as bulging or ruptured vertebral discs. While pill and surgery pushers of mainstream western medicine scoff at the idea that something like yoga can heal these problems, these problems are, in fact, a symptom of patterning. (As is getting shorter the effect of gravity on a poorly patterned body over time) Address the patterning and the symptom goes away.
Myth 2 : Yoga Poses, Done Enough, Will Reverse Stiffness, Aches, and Pains.
Yoga poses are like the invitation. They are not the party. They are simply positions you put your body in. Without connected, integrated, and expansive action that protects the joints, your yoga poses may only give you some new bad patterns (which given enough time, pop up as pain) to distract your current bad patterns for a while. To truly reverse your body’s patterning and restore yourself to your vibrant blueprint, you must align.
Myth 3 : Yoga Alignment is About Body Position
Your body, despite what it looks like in a textbook, is not a static entity. True Alignment, that which drastically affects your core vitality, is not static either. It is about balanced action. If the action of every muscle fiber creates a myofascial network that fully integrates and expands, (active – tensegrity) then you are aligning.
Yup, like that weird thing in the video.
Myth 4 : Yogic breathing increases oxygen in your bloodstream.
There are many health benefits from pranayam such as breath of fire and kapalbhati but if it increased oxygen in your bloodstream, you would die! Your body automatically, through homeostatic mechanisms, keeps the oxygen level in the bloodstream balanced. What yogic breathing offers is the increased availability of oxygen for uptake into the lungs and tissues which improves functioning in a number of body systems.
Your body is holistic like that. Just how it likes to roll.
Myth 5 : A raw vegan diet is the healthiest in the yogic tradition.
Many health issues improve from raw and vegan approaches to eating. However, without any animal products long term, an individual may become severely deficient in multiple areas including B12, iron, minerals and protein that can lead to reproductive, cognitive and digestive disorders.
Myth 6 : One daily bowel movement is an indicator of a balanced elimination
One typically needs to have 2-3 thorough bowel movements daily to avoid the build-up of toxins and residues in the digestive tract. The Right Yoga offers many tools for regulating this self-cleansing mechanism.
Myth 7 : Your Skeleton Mainly Holding You Up. The rest of your Structural Anatomy is basically like a series of levers and pulleys.
This is a primary Western Myth. That our body is built like a building or a car, with interchangeable, separate parts working like a machine in mechanistic order. In fact, your skeleton is not like the steel frame of a building that holds the rest of the pieces “up.” It is more like the center pole of a tent or pillar on a suspension bridge. It gives your soft tissues something to “push into” so that the soft tissues hold you up. Yes. The crazy yoga teacher (in the case of this part, Alex) is telling you that the idea you were given in grade school that your skeleton holds up your soft tissues is exactly backwards. Jon Burras Article
And this can drastically affect how you do your yoga. As do all of these because when you are orienting to your own body based on a myth, it shows in your patterns, actions, and decisions. So the next time you’re in a yoga pose, imagine, not that your bones stacking are holding you up, but that you are suspended up like a tent. Seek out teachers who understand Anatomy because that is the source of quality yoga action.
It is the difference between having a yoga practice that is good for you and having one that is twice as good for you as the one you’re doing now.
Hopefully this article was helpful. If you’re interested not only in diving deeper into these myths (and many more), but in finding out what it means to your yoga practice (and diet) and how some simple tweaks can help you create even more vitality, Katy and Alex will be co-hosting a yoga teacher training caliber Anatomy Weekend on Feb 17 – 19 at Kaivalya. The workshop is open to everyone! (not just yoga teachers) and will feature years of experience and expertise packed into one weekend. Alex with his multiple yoga and bodywork certifications will bring his expertise on structural anatomy, and team up with Katy Wallace’s remarkable expertise as a Kundalini Yoga Teacher and Doctor of Naturopathy. Alex will cover structure and Katy everything else.
Information Here. If you are interested, please join us. The soonest this workshop will run again will be June of 2014. Imagine the kind of impact could this knowledge have on your yoga practice (or teaching) in the course of 2.5 years?
See you on the mat…