Parts versus the whole in yoga practice

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My mini-series on common structural problems presented in a yoga class , has highlighted a “part” of the body that is not functioning as well as it might and I have attempted to  show how our whole body movements help to improve the function of component parts” as we “map” movements through slow, repetitive practice.

Human movement involves the interaction of several limbs, and the nervous system controls whole-body movement.  Several muscles may cross the same joint and, therefore, a specific movement can be achieved through many combinations of muscle activity.  Despite the many different types of movement that bodies might perform, our functional movement patterns are pretty predictable.  A well-defined feedback loop results in movement which optimizes accuracy and energy efficiency :

.…. optimal controller that minimizes the overall cost generally has a purely feedback form, called an optimal feedback controller, where the sensory information obtained during the execution is exploited online to determine the next motor output …….

If part of a movement is faulty, we expend more energy in competing that movement and the balance is upset.   The feedback loops is disturbed because we may not have been fully able to listen to the nervous system.  As a result our body cannot anticipate changes as well using sensory imput.  Then the next step or the next change may produce tension and that tension may become habitual in that movement sequence.  When being taught by Peter Blackaby last year, I found his image of running a film and stopping to review a frame that needs to be edited, to be very useful.

A video entitled Optimal Feedback Control for Character Animation  may  provide some slighty amusing ideas about varying our class practice but, more to the point,  it shows how a mapped movement is more able to respond to changing circumstances – “perturbances”.  Our regular mapping of walking patterns strengthens the feedback loop which is so important as we age..

In class we map movements from A to B. – from all fours to standing for example.  We rock on our feet and use flexion to come to standing.  We investigate dog pose to notice  how the body supports itself, how our breath adapts to movement.  We stop and notice how the parts of the movement add to up to the whole.  We do not necessarily make the shape that we recognise as dog pose.   It can be useful to “back off” to go back to the first element of the movement – to strengthen the mapping of the movement.  We do not get “uptight” about “core” (excuse the pun) , rather we notice the expedition of movement; activity; spryness; agility.  You may have a better word but if it is connected with Sprinters, it may not be printable!!

It’s all in the practice :

A cliché perhaps but I was recently, reminded of its importance.  In demonstrating how movement in my feet/ankles had improved (or so I thought!), I quickly realized that my sense of movement was flawed.  The students were very kind in their helping me to get to this state of realization.  I had not mapped the movement as I had thought.  I might say that my feet are a long way from my head but this would not “wash” methinks.  Clearly, I wasn’t sensing the difference between my perception of the movement and my performance of the movement.

So – Off to the mat.  Time to sense those toes and ankles!  See some of you next week.





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