When alignment points are biomechanical

After my first yoga class with an Iyengar-certified yoga teacher, I was hooked. The  placement of body parts at precise distances from each other, the bewilderingly colorful cues like “pull your skin up from your heels to your waist,” the blankets, and bolsters, and straps, oh my! Increasingly nuanced alignment combined with meditation-inducing long-held postures resonated like no other practice I had experienced. And, later, as a teacher, those unwavering alignment cues provided me a hook, something to cling to, in those first years months, when I hadn’t a clue what I was doing or talking about in yoga.

In the intervening years,  I’ve learned muscle anatomy – which muscles are contracting, stretching, and stabilizing in which yoga poses from smart guys like Ray Long. I’ve been exposed to passionately informed writings on the latest research in stretching and muscle physiology via the likes of Jules Mitchell. I’ve dabbled in the writings of the great Tom Myers on the endlessly fascinating and surprising subject of fascial tissue; practicing and teaching in the style of those who try to apply this evolving fascial knowledge to the Yin style of yoga, namely Paul Grilley, Bernie Clark, and Sarah Powers. All of these body thinkers school and inspire me and are constantly confirming and opposing each others wisdom. It’s maddening! Enter the fray Katy Bowman. She updated my understanding and practice of Iyengar’s culturally-based yoga alignment with an alignment based in geometry, physics, and engineering. Her circular theory, via her Restorative Exercise™ program, goes something like this:

There is one position of the body that ensures optimal flow of electricity (nerve impulses), blood (oxygenated cell food), and lymph (cellular waste removal). This position also happens to minimize friction in the joints and compression in the vertebral discs. Using 25 bony markers to align joints relative to each other, and in the case of multi-articular joints like the spine, relative also to itself, you place your muscles in the optimal position for strength and yield, which equals the greatest amount of electrical flow, which equals the greatest amount force generation, which equals the greatest amount of blood flow to those muscles. The greatest amount of blood to the tissues equals the greatest amount of tissue regeneration. Tissue regeneration equals tissue health. Biologically speaking, our bodies have one, and only one job, and that is to make cells. Our muscles must be at the correct length for strength, yield, flow, and ultimately cellular regeneration. It is through alignment that we get our muscles to the correct length and so goes the circle.

What I like about Katy’s alignment markers is their universality. Everyone is distinctly shaped and sized but can use the same markers because the bony points are yours and are relative to yourself. This is infinitely more objective and discriminating than cues based on distances. To ask a class of 20 differently shaped/sized students to “jump your feet four feet apart”  is not an appropriate cue for most of the bodies in the room. My “four feet apart” at a height of 5’8 is going to look and feel very different from someone who is 5’1, who is going to look/feel very different from someone who is 6’4. The RE alignment points are based on Katy’s understanding of muscle force length or the length-tension relationship, whereas cues in the Iyengar  style, and subsequently most styles of yoga practiced in the US, were developed for another culture with different tissue loads, anthropometric dimensions, and very specific environments that are quite different from the way most Westerners spend their waking (and sleeping) hours.

So, have I abandoned Iyengar altogether? Absolutely not. My copies of Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika and B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health are dog-eared and consulted anytime I want to reference how the man, who is arguably responsible for the way Hatha yoga is practiced in studios worldwide, cued and presented a posture. But then, I use my filters of current body thinkers and that of my own body experience to update what I practice and teach.

Namaste, Michele

Who is this Katy Bowman and why is she such a disruptive technology?

I am studying to be a Restorative Exercise Specialist™ with Katy Bowman. Katy started out studying mathematics, switched to physics, and finally landed on biomechanics, which is the study of how mechanical principles (forces & loads) affect living structures like the human body. After completing her undergraduate degree in biomechanics, she worked for 10 years in the fitness industry as an instructor and trainer of many different exercise modalities. She then returned to school to complete a masters degree in biomechanical engineering, where she pursued her growing interest in cellular biomechanics. This mixing of her academic knowledge in geometry, physics, engineering, physiology, and anatomy with her experiential knowledge of fitness and movement psychology makes a powerful brew of whole body health and provokes a radical departure from fitness as we have known it. I am endlessly fascinated, mind-boggled, maddened, challenged, and always entertained by her brilliant, down to earth treatment of and conviction about whole body health and wellness. My studies with Katy have transformed my body, my yoga practice, my teaching, my house(!), and my movement choices in unexpected, enduring, completely satisfying ways.

I am excited to be in the review phase of this program and at a place, where I feel a bit more confident sharing my understanding of Restorative Exercise™  aka RE, which is not a movement program, but a living program that emphasizes all day, everyday, aligned, natural whole body movement. Topics in upcoming posts during this review phase will be about fitness/exercise, cardiovascular health, blood physics, muscle physiology, alignment points, movement nutrition, mechanotransduction, walking/gait, squatting, casting, breathing mechanics, osteoporosis,  and individual areas of the body – knees, hips, shoulders, etc.; oh, and feet of course!

**Because I work in the yoga world, I need to make a clarification. Restorative Exercise™ is not restorative yoga in any way, shape or form. The RE name is an unfortunate, confusing choice for those of us who also happen to be yoga instructors. Sigh.

Learn more about Katy Bowman and RE.

Namaste, Michele