While practicing this morning, I noticed something interesting and powerful while standing with my feet together and arms extended overhead (pictured).
When I found my center of gravity - the point of balance where my weight is shifted neither forward, backward or to the side - my body automatically engaged in so many of the ways they harp on in yoga class.
My weight is in my heels with only slight balancing weight in the big toes and small toes. My quadriceps engage, though only slightly. They are certainly not limp, but they are also not tight and locked with great effort. The slight engagement of my quads lifts my kneecaps.
My pelvic floor (mula bandha) and lower belly (some call it uddiyana bandha) engaged, though again not intensely; about 50% of a mind-driven muscle engagement.
My point of focus was my spine and keeping its natural curvature. When my spine is relaxed and strong and my weight is centered in opposition to gravity, the body seems to spring upward and open. It floats without effort but remains absolutely present.
This makes me re-think the way that we teach muscle engagement in yoga class. For years I have heard: "Lock the knee, lift the kneecaps, engage Mula Bandha!" as if they are independent mental engagements like puzzle pieces that make a proper posture.
But more and more it seems that these are results of a proper posture instead of the building blocks. If someone wants to be a race car driver, they don't begin by driving at 150mph even though that is the most obvious characteristic of a race car driver. They begin by learning to drive with perfect awareness and the speed will come.
The same seems true of yoga postures and specifically these physical engagements. The engaged quadricep, lifted kneecap and Mula Bandha are results of proper balance in the body. Perhaps we should be teaching balance and body awareness in space instead of which muscles to engage.
After all, our muscles are designed to serve the body, not the body to serve the muscles.
ps. This posture (standing or sitting with arms extended overhead) reminds me also of ancient yogic postures designed to awaken the body's energy. It could be that this is a fundamental and powerful position for the body.
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This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga