By Laura Hansen.
Have you ever looked around the room and wondered how so many people could do a pose that is impossible for you? Some teachers will tell you that it will come with practice but in my experience that is not strictly true. Because everybody is different, every person has different limitations in the same pose.
Daegling (2012), writes about the human mandible or jawbone for the Journal of Anthropology. Daegling discusses how differences in the bone structure of the jaw may influence language and how speech may influence the development of the jaw. This is a subject that most of us can readily understand; the mandible, and particularly the chin, are bone structures that are clearly visible on most people. We can easily see that there is great variation in the jaw structure of people. We cannot always see other variation in human bone structure.
Mannear (2012) writes about the variation inherent in the human spine. There are substantial differences in structure that will undoubtedly be manifest in all postures. Some of these differences are obvious, for example some people have longer torsos which indicate a longer spine. Other structural differences are not so apparent until we see people in postures.
Paul Grilley does an excellent job of explaining how anatomical variation impacts yoga practice. Paul has videos for sale, and short videos can also be found on youtube. Paul Grilley’s website (www.paulgrilley.com) contains photographs of different human bones. Viewing these photos, it is easy to see why one person’s wheel might be higher or lower. While we can increase range of motion, we remain limited by our skeleton.
For years, I could not understand my problems with Utkatasana (Chair pose) or with squatting position. My hips and knees are open, so how come they simply can’t move when I put my feet flat on the floor? Both of these postures involve having your feet flat on the floor. Ask me to pull my knees to my chest, no problem, but I cannot do that with my feet flat, why? The answer is so obvious now that I’m amazed I didn’t see it sooner - the problem was with my ankles. I have hardly any flexibility in my ankles and because my ankles aren’t flexible, I couldn’t bend my knees with my feet on the floor, and because I couldn’t bend my knees, I couldn’t get my hips back, etc. My point is that not only are you limited by your bone structure in postures that primarily deal with that part of your body, but also that limitations in one area may have a huge impact on all your postures.
It is true that if you practice long enough, you will improve but someone with a shorter spine may practice for years and never achieve what someone with a longer spine can achieve in a year. This is the paradox: you must always seek to improve while constantly accepting your limitations. Paul Grilley mentions yet another paradox: all of us are different but we are still all the same. Vive le difference!
Daegling, D.J. (2012). The Human Mandible and the Origins of Speech, Journal of Anthropology, retrieved 12/7/13.
Grilley, P. (no date). Anatomy for Yoga, the DVD, retrieved 12/7/13.
Mannear, D. (2012). The Human Skeleton, Skeletal Series Part 4: The Human Spine.
- Read more of Laura Hansen.
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