Back in 2000, I had the good fortune to work at Holiday’s Yoga Center in Portland Oregon. At the time, Holiday’s was one of the oldest yoga centers in Portland and an epicenter for master classes and workshops with some of the best teachers in the nation. As an employee of the center, I was able to attend all of these workshops for free, so I took full advantage of the opportunity and attended as many of these workshops as possible.
One of these courses was taught by Angela Farmer and Victor Van Kooten, two amazing master teachers with decades of combined yoga experience under their belts. Over the course of a weekend, we spent a good deal of time learning how to improve the positioning of our hands in the down-dog in order to alleviate wrist pain. To accomplish this, Angela recommended that we think of our hands and arms as straws. Rather than grounding the heel of the hand on the floor, she recommended that we keep the heel of the hand slightly lifted and the palm itself slightly concave.
Once this was mastered, Angela counseled us to imagine drawing energy out of the earth and into the arms while extending simultaneously downward through the base of the thumb and index finger. This technique worked like magic, but it was a little tricky, so I spent most of the weekend really working at it until I felt that I really had it down. At the end of the weekend, I daresay that I felt like a master of wrist placement in the dog!
The next day, I popped in for a class with a local teacher. During the first down-dog of the class, I stepped onto the mat and placed my hands in the new position only to be corrected by the teacher almost immediately. She came over, stood on my hands and told me I was doing it wrong! Her intentions were no doubt good, but the experience had the result of thoroughly and completely confusing me. Afterward, I had no idea how I was supposed to place my hands in weight bearing poses!
After that experience, I witnessed this happening again and again. It seemed like every time I took a workshop with one visiting teacher, another would come along and completely contradict a number of the alignment points that the other one had taught. It didn’t take me long to figure out that something was amiss! Aside from the Iyengar and Anusara community, everyone seemed to be taking a totally random and oftentimes completely intuitive approach to human body positioning. Because of this, some alignment instructions were good while others made no sense at all.
After a couple of years of this, I figured out that many of these inconsistencies were due to the fact that many teachers were drawing their alignment instructions from a wide variety of sources rather than from a core set of working principles. It seemed that most teachers had developed their alignment knowledge through sheer intuition and by borrowing hundreds of alignment tips from various classes and workshops that they had taken. Because the tips were coming from so many different (and sometimes contradictory) perspectives, there was a decided lack of internal consistency in the quality and effectiveness of each individual instructor’s alignment cues.
The problem with this approach was that was incredibly inefficient. Without a core set of principles to use as a standard, individual teachers had no way to quickly assess the effectivity and usefulness of common alignment instructions. Because of they had to spend a ton of time wading through thousands of instructions in order to determine which should be accepted and which should be rejected. For many teachers, this process took decades of experience and countless hours of experimentation. The worst part though, was that without proper working guidelines to follow the process wasn’t always effective!
I’ve never been a tremendously patient person, so I decided to speed up the process of learning alignment by seeking out a core set of principles that would help me understand how to approach human body positioning in a more efficient manner. To that end, I conducted over two years of intensive research on the ways in which forces such as gravity, tension and compression affect the human body. During this process, I was pleased to discover that the human body reacts to gravitational forces in many of the same ways as any standing structure from the Eiffel Tower to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. With this understanding, I was then able to formulate an alignment system derived from simple mechanical principles.
The result of all of this is the “PranaVayu Core System of Alignment”. This elegant and simple system is the primary alignment methodology used by PranaVayu Yoga teachers. However, since the principles included within the system are universal, you will find that these techniques can be applied to any yoga practice regardless of discipline. These principles will help you to find comfortable versions of your postures where you can explore and discover a true balance between sthiram sukham asanam (softness and firmness in a pose). The benefits of this unique alignment system include softening tension in yoga postures, reducing injury, and creating instantaneous changes in overall strength, balance and flexibility.
I’ll be dedicating Wednesdays to a full overview of our alignment system.
Next week: Foundations of the PVYU Core System of Alignment…