Construction Zone Ahead
by David Berson
When I first started taking yoga classes I felt awkward and was well aware of my stiffness. But I also became fascinated by the focus on details in the poses. The instructions of the teacher helped work out some of the stiffness and make the poses feel more attainable. A part of making poses more attainable is the principle of alignment of the body. An example in many beginning poses with a bent leg, such as Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II), is alignment of the knee over the ankle. The knee should not be behind or past the ankle in the direction of the bend, and it also should not fall to either the front or back side of the body. By making the shin vertical in all these directions, the weight of the upper body is evenly distributed and harmful strain in the joint is removed.
In the beginning of my yoga study there seemed to be a flood of instructions that moved my attention all over my body, not allowing me to focus on just the one muscle that seemed to be working the hardest. At times all these instructions bordered on overwhelm. But a pattern soon emerged; the teacher’s instructions built the pose from the bottom up. The principles of alignment and working from the foundation up are a core part of the Iyengar Yoga style. When applied together, they help to evolve the pose into something is not just attainable, but also something able to be maintained for a longer period of time. I moved from feeling awkward to an image that I was stacking a set of childerns’ blocks on top of each other. The better I aligned the first couple of blocks, like feet and legs, the more stable the over all structure of my body became.
When a student architect starts out they have to learn physics to understand how to make buildings that can stand upright and stay put. In a similar way we learn how to stack the bones, joints, and muscles to make a solid pose. I’m reminded of the humor in cartoons that depict blueprints for building pyramids upside down. What seems like an obvious bad idea with childrens’ blocks becomes less clear in our bodies, which are much more complex in all the ways that we can “put the pieces together”.
Only after the learning the basics of physics can a student architect move on to adding the flourishes and out of the ordinary ideas that turn a building into a work of art. They move from everyday structures such as homes and office buildings to works like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Waters house. The image of this house came to mind as I was working on an arm balance with one leg hooked over my upper arm and the other leg extended straight out in space; not a posture you’re likely to see on a daily basis.
So too there is a progression of yoga poses, from the beginning standing poses through twists, backbends, and inversions. With continued study arm balances and the amusingly referred to “pretzel poses” cannot only be attained, but someday maintained. These advanced poses all start from the stacking of blocks and the foundational mechanics of how our bodies are put together.
Come build some poses!