Ethics of Arm Balance Poses
As a Yoga Teacher, I don’t always have the time to attend classes.
When I do, I am excited to gain new knowledge, teaching and experience from the teacher.
I was on vacation in Seattle a few weeks ago and was able to attend a lovely yoga studio in West
Seattle. The teachers were well rounded and brought a lot of knowledge to the classroom. The classes followed a traditional Sun Salutation A and B format of modified ashtanga and described as all level classes.
I had two major challenges with the practices.
The first challenge was that the classes moved too fast, because I could not finish one breath per
movement. I modified to honor my longer breath length and still tried to keep with the group. I
was okay with this, as I take on a sense of responsibility for my own practice.
Then it happened, the second challenge: the teacher threw in an arm balancing posture, Eka Pada Koundiyanasana II (Albatross Pose).
I sat down in Easy pose, Sukasana, and began to observe. The structural integrator and yoga teacher inside of me began to feel extremely uncomfortable, because I was waiting for a torn bicep or blown shoulder girdle.
The alignment of most of the students was unstable. They did not have the core stability in their deep front lines, ease or shoulder stability to be performing such an advanced physical posture. Nor did the teacher have time to give each person individual adjustments.
Even more importantly, alternative poses were not given for those who want to opt out.
I found myself wondering if this what happens in other yoga studios. I have experienced similar
situations several times in other yoga classes. I am aware that planking has become popular in many fitness classes, but is it appropriate to teach arm balances? To whom and when?
In my last article I mentioned that repetition may lead to injury. The shoulder and wrist joints are
common places of injury. Anatomically, the glenohumeral joint, shoulder joint, is shallow and the
humerus, arm bone, can dislocate easily when we lose the stability through the tendons, ligaments and muscles that stabilize the shoulder girdle.
Building somatic awareness of one’s own architecture and stability through the shoulder is important in preventing injury. When we overstretch tissue we can create weakened tendons and ligaments. This may lead to a condition of hysteresis, which is defined as a system in which it is not possible “predict the output without knowing the system’s current state, and there is no way to know the system’s state without looking at the history of the input.”
This brings me to the difficulty in teaching yoga, where we spend a lot of time stretching and loading joints.
In a class of 10 students, we often do not have a clear understanding of their history of movement,their tendons, their physical ability and history of injuries. Thus, we need to level the playing field with a concise warm-up that prepares the students to make a decision if it is appropriate for them to enter into asana that requires strength and pressure on the joints.
I do not feel that Sun Salutation A and B are the correct ways of developing awareness. They are
simply executed to fast in most classes to slow down and develop somatic awareness. This does not mean I do not like the Sun Salutations.
How can we develop the somatic awareness and prevent injury?
I like baby-steps. I deconstruct asana down to the fundamental parts and teach how to stack up
correctly and safely. This requires slowing down to make sure each person in the class understands the risk of moving on to the next baby-step. I give clear instruction so that the student can feel good about waiting to take the next step. The arm balance poses should be built over time developing core strength and learning to safely stack and prevent the arm bone from sliding out of the socket.
I have read several articles where yoga teachers have stated that alignment is not important. This is where I stand on my soapbox and disagree.
If a ballet dancer is not trained to safely and correctly dance on pointe, they end up injured. If a
basketball player does not learn how to spring safely into a jump and land, they end up injured. If as yoga practitioners if we do not learn how to safely modify, we end up injured.
As a yoga teacher it is my responsibility to practice Ahimsa, non-harming. Each time I teach I ask
myself if it is appropriate for us to move on to a more challenging asana. I assess if I correctly
warmed up the muscle groups, fascia and joints involved in the pose. If I have any hesitancy, I don’t offer the pose. I have an obligation to do no harm.
Learning to shift your fascial body by correctly stretching and practicing yoga in the new paradigm of“spatial medicine” will allow us to create more space in our bodies and free ourselves from pain sowe have the freedom to be fascial yoga astronauts!
First Published Ethics of Arm Balance Poses Friday, September 26, 2014