This is the fifth post in a series called Principles of Asana, looking at how to skillfully apply discernment and wisdom in our poses and in our practice. Catch the previous posts here, here, here, and here.
One of the first things I learned in my first yoga teacher training was to always give instructions from the ground up. As in, instruct what’s happening in the student’s feet before you start instructing their arms. You have to first find your foundation, and then work from there.
If one of your shoulders was collapsing in Downward Dog, for instance, and causing you pain, the first thing to look at is what’s happening with your hands. Are they placed symmetrically? Are you pressing down evenly through all the fingers? Often a small adjustment in an adjacent part can relieve pain somewhere else!
If we’re not steady from the base, it gets much trickier all the way up, and this is true with habitual posture, too. Someone who has collapsed arches (flat feet) might start to feel pain in their knees or lower back. Or if your right leg is more externally rotated, it has an effect. The ribcage torques, the left shoulder might pull forward to compensate, etc.
If you came to me for help with the pain in your knee or your ribcage, and I just looked at the place where the pain manifests and gave you exercises for that body part, how effective do you think that would be?
If your answer is “not very effective,” I’d have to agree with you. When I work with a student one-on-one, I always start with an in-depth assessment their body from the ground up, looking at all the joints in relationship to each other. I find the foundation and we work from there.
And because all that we do on the mat is metaphor for what happens off the mat and out in the world, if our core beliefs about ourselves and the world are flawed or broken, how can we expect to stand up straight? I mean this Literally and figuratively! Our bodies compensate for what we believe, and so too do our minds.
For example, if you believe you don’t deserve love, it has an effect. You might avoid intimacy. You might pick partners who corroborate your beliefs. So start from the base. Give yourself a solid foundation. Work from there.