Friday, August 10, 2012

24) What sort of "Practice" will help in yoga ?


Couple of days back I read an article where an ex-Indian Hockey Captain who had won Hockey Gold medal for India in 1980 Olympics , blasting the current Indian Hockey team for playing poorly in the London Olympics 2012 claiming that the real reason why the Indian Hockey team is getting royally thrashed from all teams is due to the fact that Indian Hockey players "lack the basics"  and that they need to "learn the basics first "before they contemplate on entering the Indian team and all the basics must be learnt at a Junior level and not after they enter the Indian squad for Olympics .

Now Imagine an entire team going to Olympics with out proper skill in Basics and getting royally thrashed there from other teams . It is not that the Indian Hockey team were casual contenders for Olympics , they did prepare seriously and all of the players were committed but when it comes to competing with the best , all their loop holes were exposed and they turned out to be failures .
The same thing applies to even Yoga practice .  There is lot of talk on practice - "Ounce of Practice equals tons of theory "- Swami Sivananda , " Yoga is 99% practice ,1 % theory"- Pattabhi Joise  and this is mechanically being repeated by their respective followers and they enter in to a brute practice and while the smarter ones are able to do an intelligent practice and achieve success while the vast majority get injured and confused as to where the mistake is .
Practice no doubt is very essential to enhance the skill in any activity be it Sports , Cooking , Yoga ,Music etc etc but what sort of practice is what we need to understand .The quality of practice matters a lot than quantity . You can practice Yoga  99% wrongly and will reach only a dead end while another person even if he does  !% practice rightly will be able to take the next step to reach 2% level and slowly build up to 100% . This is where the role of a teacher comes in .The teacher must take care to see the student leans the basics first and be thorough with the basics before he goes to the next level . Now the question is what does "basics mean" in the context of Yoga ? It will vary from one style to another style and from teacher to teacher . This is a very subjective area and I see no consensus on this issue . That is one of the reason why I stick to the principles of "Anatomy and Kinesiology" when it comes to defining what is the basics with regard to movement . This is independent of any particular school of Yoga or of any particular teacher . This is my way of looking at things in Yoga . Other people will have their own interpretations on this issue .
If we look at the Videos of master Yoga practitioners we will see their perfect mastery of the entire body and lot of intelligence and grace in their practice .No doubt they had years of practice to fine tune their skills but even when the practiced , the practiced with "lot of intelligence" .They had their basics right and hence they could execute the postures with perfect grace and elegance . 
So in conclusion : Practice is necessary for perfection but that practice must be intelligent and must train the students in the basics first before taking him to higher levels . Mechanical and un-intelligent  practice will never help you master any skill perfectly .I conclude by giving the quote of the famous Yoga Teacher Derek Ireland on Yoga practice  : Your Yoga practice is less about how much you can do and more about how deeply you can do little .
So quality matters in the end .

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

23) Yoga or Movement Science ?

Recently I had an old yoga friend of mine who visited me and he was stunned to see the many books related toAnatomy , Kinesiology , Movement therapy along with the regular  books on Yoga in my book shelf and he surprisingly asked pointing to other books ( i.e Kinesiology , Movement therapy etc ) "What are they for ?" . I told him they are there to make me a better Yoga practitioner and better Yoga teacher . He asked me aren't the regular Yoga books/Yoga DVD  that I  have more than enough to give me   a solid knowledge to be a better Yoga practitioner and Yoga teacher and I told him that no doubt those books,DVDs  are very excellent but they have lot of gaps and those gaps are not the fault of the authors of those books but fault by the way Yoga is being taught .He could not understand by what I said .
I told him that when we learn a language say English , did we start reading the English Classic books  from the very beginning ? No . What we did was we first learnt to read the alphabets , then learnt to read   simple words  from the alphabets , then started reading simple sentences from those words and went on to read complex sentences , paras , then a single page , then a chapter , then simple books and slowly built ourselves to read Rich English Classics .Once we have learnt the fundamentals of reading a word , sentance , para , page ,chapter etc we do not require a teacher and we can read any book on our own .
But in Yoga how is the learning done ?
All Yoga are based on a particular style - Sivananda , Iyengar , Ashtanga , Bikram , Anusara etc and these have a set pattern and we start learning them from scratch directly and we need the guidance of a teacher for the same .Nothing wrong in this approach as long as the student has solid knowledge of the fundamentals of anatomy and kinesiology ,so that he is able to intelligently execute the postures without injuring himself  .But how many students have knowledge of anatomy and kinesiology to do this ? They are very much dependent on the instructions of the teacher and it is not possible for the teacher to give complete comprehensive instructions to each and every posture ( the Iyengar System follows the methodology ) and even if the teacher gives the student cant really follow all those instructions in real time ,with the result he gets injured while doing the posture and gets demoralized and stops coming to the class or moves to another teacher or another style .
But what if the student is taught the basics of Movement itself without referring to any particular style . This is what the Science of Kinesiology or Movement Science is . Start first by teaching the student how to lubricate his joints , how to move his spine , how to work on his core , how to unwind all the tense muscles ,how to strengthen the muscles , how to understand the limits of his body and limits of his movements, what are the dangerous movements  etc etc . These are the fundamental knowledge a student must be taught irrespective of which Movement he is going to practice i.e Dance , Yoga , Tai Chi , Pilates etc .Once this knowledge is there then the student will really enjoy his practice and which every yoga style he chooses to practice it does not matter as he has his fundamentals very clear and not only will he do a practice that is safe but there will also be lot of grace in his practice as he now practices listening to his body and there is lot of mindfullness and intelligence in the way he practices .
Most of senior Yoga  teachers advice their students to "listen to their bodies" while practicing in order not to injure themselves but then they forget  to mention the fact that "listening to the body" is not as simple a skill as it sounds and that it is "an art in itself" and while some people have the natural skills to listen to their bodies but for the vast majority this skill needs to be taught from the beginning .
I have watched the videos of many seasoned Yoga practitioners and I found that those who had lot of grace , elegance in their practice were those who really understood their own body inside out and those who came from a dance background had this quality in extra .
So in conclusion : If you have the natural instinct of understanding how your body works and moves then you are very blessed and can easily pick up your yoga practice and will have a fairly injury free practice but if you do not have this natural instinct then better acquire the knowledge of your body and its various movements through the serious study of Anatomy and Kinesiology or work with a teacher who has this knowledge, otherwise you will end up injuring yourself and will either keep jumping to various other yoga styles or yoga teachers without any success and finally drop everything in frustration . This applies not just to Yoga but any movement related science like Tai Chi , Pilates ,Dance ,Aerobics etc .So when it comes to teaching Yoga ,I would suggest that first students are taught the basics of Movement Science and then Yogic postures are introduced step by step .
As for myself ,I have no natural instinct to understand my body and hence started to seriously study the Science of Anatomy and Kinesiology to educate myself as to how best I can safely do my own practice as well as teach my students the safe way of doing . This is one of the reasons why I have cut off from most of my Yoga teaching assignments to invest time in my own self study and practice of   the Science of Anatomy and Kinesiology and related Movement therapies like Fieldenkaris Method , Heller Work , Pilates ,Tai Chi etc to equip me with the right tools and techniques that can help me understand my own body much better and also teach me the art of doing the postures safely and in a very efficient manner .
This is quite a tough and long journey and I am willing to go through it slowly and steadily .I will keep sharing my insights from time to time in this journey in this blog plus my another blog related to Movement therapy itself .

Saturday, May 5, 2012

22) Started my self study of Kinesiology

I have not been very active in this blog for the last few months and the same applies to my other blogs and the reason is that I have nothing new of my own to share . I have slowed down a lot on my Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Practice and approaching it from a different dimension . This is just an experiment/ research  by myself and it is in the nascent stage and once I have something worth while to share about this research of mine I will do so in my  blog .I consider Ashatnga Vinyasa Yoga to be a practice of a lifetime and not like a 100 meter sprint to be finished off quickly . The entire practice both in its structure and content is quite vast and has abundant challenges for a person to be occupied for a major part of his /her life time and hence I am not in a hurry to rush through mastering the poses or finishing off a series . I want to have more quality and mindfullness in my daily practice and also do not want to injure myself while doing Yoga and that is one of the reason why I have slowed down .
In order to understand in depth the science of Movement in general and yoga asanas in particular I have recently started my own self study of Kinesiology ( the science of movement ) and while I do have various books and DVDs for the same I am using the book The Science of Kinesiology - The Skeletal System and Myscle Function ( 2nd Edition ) by Joseph E .Muscolino as my main reference text and I find it to be quite comprehensive .For more about the author Joseph E .Muscolino and his books ,refer the site : 
I have highlighted the importance of bio mechanics for Yoga Teachers in my last post i.e post No: 21 and kindly go through the same to understand how important this science of Kinesiology for Yoga Practitioners and Yoga Teachers .
I have not kept any specific time frame for me to complete this study but do want to be quite thorough with at least the basics of Kinesiology within the next 1 year .Again like my Ashtanga Vinyasa practice I do not want to rush through the book but go slowly and steadily and assimilate one concept before moving to the next . 
So as I am quite involved with my own self study of Kinesiology and related matters I will not be very active in this blog but I do share important insights from time to time as and when I feel I have something important to be shared . While my interest is definitely on Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga ,I look it as a part of my larger interest in Kinesiology i.e science of movement and in fact I have already started a blog called : for the same .

Monday, January 30, 2012

21) The importance of BioMechanics for Yoga Practitioners and Teachers

 For all Yoga Practitioners and Teachers the article below is very very important and useful . Couple of weeks back the entire Yoga Community was rattled by an article in New  York Times by William Broad titled "How Yoga Can Wreck your body " and while there was a big debate for and against the article ,I found the following letter by Shmuel Tatz  to New York Times best explains how we need to go about addressing the issue of injuries in yoga without getting overtly emotional about the original article .
The reason why I am posting this article here is that I found Shmuel Tatz speaking exactly what I have been silently attempting to do as a yoga teacher and yoga practitioner in the last 1 year  i.e learning the biomechanics of the human body  so that I become a better yoga teacher and yoga practitioner . Previously I was taking pride in calling myself a Certified Sivananda Yoga Teacher but now I do not want to be under any label i.e Sivananda , Ashtanga , Iyengar etc etc .I have respect for all the Traditions i.e Sivananda ,Iyengar , Ashtanga and found that each has its own merits and at the same time each has its own drawbacks if not done intelligently . So it all boils to developing body intelligence and for that one needs to have knowledge of bio mechanics of the human body . So instead of jumping from one style to another or being fanatic with regard to one style I found that the wiser way would be to first learn the biomechanics of the human body and develop my own person practice with regard to Ashtanga Vinyasa . I have been doing lot of research on this subject for the past 1.5 years and found most of the Yoga people were very uni- dimensional in their approach i.e strictly ashtanga , strictly sivananda or strictly Iyengar and had the opinion either 'my way or high way ' without learning to respect the bio mechanics of each human body and learning to adapt the practice accordingly while teaching to others or while practicing on oneself . I found no Yoga institution training its teachers on this topic of bio mechanics and that is one of the reasons why you find lot of injuries in yoga practice . The problem is not in yoga but in teachers / practitioners who are not informed of the Biomechanics of the human body and they take pride  in the saying : 'practice leads to perfection' or 'no pain no gain '. Practice leads to perfection only when the practice is mindful or intelligent and not just mechanical practice and there is no need for pain or injury if you do it mindfully or intelligently .Out of the vast yoga practitioners only few are competent  enough to do a mindful and intelligent  practice and rest keep on doing the same mistakes again and again and keep on hopping from one teacher to another or one work shop to another to understand where they are going wrong or why they are not improving . Some get fed up and leave one style to switch another or switch to other fitness forms ( like Tai Chi , Pilates etc ) but their frustration will still continue . Out of my research in to body movements  I found few extraordinary people who were looking at the body not from a uni-dimensional view but  from a multi-dimensional view and they were :
1) Moshe feldenkrais who founded the Feldenkrais Method 
 2) Emilie Conrad who founded the Continuum Movement 
3)Vanda Scaravelli ( a former student of BKS Iyengar and Desikachar ) who quit the Iyengar Method after 10 years of practice to start her own method of doing yoga postures based on natural body movements and not on the strict Iyengar method .
4)  Shmuel Tatz who was a student of Moshe Feldenkrais and has integrated all the best with regard to understanding the biomechanics of body  in his own teachings called Body Tuning .

 I very much resonate with Shmuel Tatz and hope to assimilate as much as I can about body mechanics so that I can become a better Yoga Practitioner and Yoga Teacher . Since I do not have the luxury to study personally with Shmuel Tatz in New York ,I have devised a plan of self study on this subject through books and DVDs  to enrich myself on this subject of Biomechanics . This is a long journey and there is no short cut in this and  I do not mind investing my time , energy and resources in this pursuit .I need to give the best to myself and my students and I am prepared to make any sacrifices for the same .
For others interested on this topic kindly go through the letter given below by Shmuel Tatz to New York Times as a rejoinder to the original Yoga article to understand the importance of Bio Mechanics for Yoga Practitioners and Teachers .
For more details about Shmuel Tatz ,kindly go through his site : 

This is the  letter to the editor of the New York Times article by William Broad: How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. 
Dear Ms Glaser,

I am the Shmuel Tatz mentioned in William Broad’s excellent article: How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. Glenn Black studied with me for 5 years in my ‘body tuning’ studio, and is an example to others of how a yoga teacher with knowledge of body mechanics can minimize the damage yoga can do.

Mr. Broad states that I “devised a method of massage and alignment for actors and dancers” which is not correct. What I have done is to create what I call ‘body tuning’ which is designed to tune every part of the body, just as a musician tunes his instrument. I have worked with actors and dancers, musicians and politicians, but my practice is devoted to anyone and everyone who has pain and discomfort in the body and seeks relief.

What I wish for yoga professionals to understand is that they must know the biomechanics of the human body. Also, they need to work with someone, as Glen Black did with me, for at least 5 years to learn about body pathology, mechanics, disease and injuries. Yoga teachers should be aware of all facets of the human body so that they do not themselves nor recommend to their students other than what is health giving and safe.  I studied yoga after I learned physical therapy. If yoga teachers have a basic education in physical therapy they will never do hyper-extensions of the spine because they will know the great damage it can cause the discs.

As for yoga students, in my opinion it is best to learn yoga first in private lessons just as a piano student begins with private lessons. In group classes teachers do not have the time to pay attention to each student’s specific problems. After you become adept at learning the basics of yoga practice you can take group lessons. Unfortunately whether you take private lessons or group lessons, most teachers have no training in biomechanics and there is, then, always the danger of injury to themselves and to their students.

Again, I think Mr. Broad’s article was an important one in alerting the many yoga practitioners that along with the good that yoga can do, there is also a downside which can bring pain and limit mobility.


Shmuel Tatz