Sensing our bodies to reduce movement compensation

Feedback following last 2 blogs on the subject of how we increase our body sense in yoga practice.  Using sprinters as a model to sense when we lose support in practice – by repeating the whole movement or by focusing upon a part, backing off, pausing and then repeating.

Parts versus the whole in yoga practice

Functional Movement

Some students felt that completing the whole movement slowly and carefully,  helped them to notice whether the front, supporting, knee caves in; others spoke of the value of pausing.  Sprinter helps us to sense how well we get up from and return to the floor using minimal effort, thus the arrangement of the foot, ankle, knee and hip is all important.  All students agreed that repetition helps to map the movement and to reduce compensation.

Trying to reduce compensation in yoga practice is hard because we all want to complete a movement, to “do” a posture.  Many of us will work through pain.  Whilst it is important keep the body moving following injury, for example,  when we experience pain, our body will create a new movement pattern in order to compensate for the pain. If the new movement pattern is dysfunctional it can create an undesirable chain of events in the body.

A breakdown in the kinetic chain impairs performance.  A breakdown in the early part of a movement may result in a higher workload on the later parts –  leading to injury.  Think about tennis elbow which I mentioned recently. The stages of a tennis serve show that the shoulder is part of a larger movement pattern – a kinetic chain.  Effective performance of the whole kinetic chain will deliver a powerful and effective serve, however any breakdown in the chain will result in a loss of performance. Jamie Murray speaking about the tennis serve, stressed accuracy over speed:

……..Your whole body is engaged and everything has to be spot-on for the serve to work. You can get away with more if you’re just hitting a forehand or a backhand, but the serve is like the full kinetic chain………

Think about your own weak spots and how they affect your stability in yoga practice.  With Sprinters, those who struggle to make a good footprint, will struggle to take weight through the ankle and foot.   Compensation – the collapsing at the knee – will adversely affect the knee as well as the ankle and hip.  Students with pain in the hip or groin may compensate for reduced movement by side bending (lateral flexion of the spine)  as a compensatory movement which recruits muscles that are not essential to the main movement and this may also cause the front knee to collapse inwards.  When we practice a tree pose movement on our backs, many with hip “issues” will compensate for reduced abduction (outward rotation) of the hip by lifting the hip of the long supporting leg.  This extends and rotates the lumbar spine in a way that is not useful.  Compensation patterns will only work for so long before something breaks down. Your body tries to “speak” to you – through pain – and the weak spot often gets worse. You may be able to identify other compensatory movements in your own practice or from a recent class (please share).

The kinetic chain model helps us to understand, perhaps visualize the damage that can result from compensation but it focuses upon muscle and bone.  In our yoga we  try to listen to our nervous system in order to develop a sense of how the body works as a whole – muscles, bone, fascia, nerves etc and, most importantly how we begin to feel happy in our bodies.  Not as easy, in my opinion,  as teaching or learning about muscles and bones. Returning to tennis (it’s that time of year), Federer’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances on the court and to  serve well under pressure seems to be key to his success.  Atypically, I wrote about  Tom Brady’s ability to make rapid and accurate decisions under pressure.  I suggested that this was part of his whole body sense in an NFL environment.  We could look at other examples in different sports.

Susi Hately is a yoga therapist who writes extensively about compensation in yoga practice.  Her website Functional Synergy features short videos in which she talks about pain and she writes:

...the problem is rarely where the pain actually is….

If you watch the clip on wrist pain, she explains how rigidity in the shoulder blades and shoulder girdle affects movement through the back, ribs and arm.  In some videos, Susi demonstrates using the wide astride leg stance that we do not practice in our yoga classes but her explanation and presentation of functional movement is very helpful. She does stress the importance of moving slowly and carefully; sensing how the body responds.

Have a look at her site and share anything useful.  You may find other sites. We need all the help that we can get to make sense of our practice by cultivating our body sense.  Thus never too late to share feedback about sensing your movement in Sprinters – via the blog, by email or in class.

Have a good half-term.






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