(Try this at home!)
How can the study of anatomy deepen your Yoga and Hot Yoga practice? Well for one thing it can provide scientific guidelines to help you keep your body safe. For example, did you know that the discs that stack between and cushion your vertebrae get rehydrated whilst you sleep, so your spine is literally longer after a nights sleep. Pretty cool fact but how can this apply to a Yoga and Hot Yoga practice. Well, because your spine is longer in the morning this means all the ligaments and tendons that hold the spine together are tighter in the morning than in the evening. And tight ligaments feel stiff and are easier to pull. So, if you are practicing in the morning you should expect the body to feel stiffer in backbends than later in the day, and perhaps you might warm the back up more or go lighter in backbending postures then you would in an evening practice.
All good information but at this point I wouldn’t blame you if you feel a little quizzical, because ‘deepen your practice’ is what I said, and that suggests a different flavour than practical advice. And you’d be right, because when I say deepen your practice what I mean is feel and understand the body more intricately whilst you practice. So, here’s a little example of how you might do this. Let’s take pectoralis minor (from now on pec minor), locate it in the body, see if we can activate it, and then put it in a pose.
- Pec minor connects the upper side of your ribcage to the coracoid process (across the top) of the shoulder blade. Don’t worry too much about the fancy term! When you contract it rolls the shoulder forward and down.
- Let’s find it and feel it work. Place your left hand on the right side of your chest so that the fingertip of you left index finger rests around the outer edge of your collar bone. Now keep your chest upright and lift you right arm up behind you. Feel pec minor contract beneath the fingers of your left hand?
Now let’s try and bring this into a pose. We’ll take parsva sukhasana, the easy seated twist.
- Sit down cross legged and draw your knees gently toward the floor.
- Sit up tall and twist your ribs to the right placing your right hand down behind you, left hand can go to right knee.
- Now freeze the right arm and shoulder in position and see if you can find pec minor by trying to roll the shoulder forward even though it is frozen it in place and won’t move.
The effort to ‘roll’ the shoulder forward instead becomes a lifting and slight broadening of the right upper ribs. Notice whether this enables you to eek out a further inch of twist. Notice too whether the breath moves more directly up the spine when pec minor is activated. Release pec minor and sense the direction of the breath up the spine by comparison.
How did that go for you? Were you able to locate pectoralis minor? Could you use it to go deeper in parsva sukhasana? This is what I mean by deepening your practice through anatomical awareness. If you can feel and control an action in your body and apply it wisely to practicing postures, then the body becomes stronger and the experience gains a new depth of colour. These concepts, plus a whole lot more, are going to be covered in an upcoming workshop called Skeleton Keys which will be running at Yogafurie. We’ll look at some key muscles and concepts that can add a whole new layer of experience to your Yoga and Hot Yoga. In the meantime, look forward to seeing you in class.