It is a common belief that we breathe with our lungs alone, but in point of fact, the work of breathing is done by the whole body. ~ Alexander Lowen, The Voice of the Body
At the end of the second weekend of yoga therapy teacher training (YTTT) at re:source yoga, our knowledgeable instructor, Carina Raisman, asked the group if we were ready to teach the postural correction sequence we’d just received. There was a long pause, and then some reticent responses: “Maybe… I need to practice a little more… just a little more time.”
We’d just spent the weekend studying the principles of postural assessment and analyzing the structure of our classmates. Carina called this “training the eye,” and it really was a new way of reading the body. It’s almost like developing x-ray vision: to understand posture, you have to see through layers of clothing, skin, flesh and muscle – and get right to the bones.
Principles of Posture
We were introduced to two principles of therapeutics:
- allow the force of gravity to do the work – the inhalation expands, the exhalation keeps the space
- relax the muscles around the skeleton
According to Carina, once we understand these principles, any movement can be therapeutic. Through the breath, we align with the laws of nature.
Start Where You Are
In order to assess and correct posture in other people, we have to learn how to understand our own posture and notice the patterns of movement within ourselves. Our posture is a physical representation of our issues. As budding yoga therapists, our work is to learn how to move from the outer shell of the body to the insides.
Posture is in the brain. It’s also formed by conditioned habits. What we do most of the time – how we walk, sit, stand and lay down – compound the habit. My understanding of “postural correction” is that it’s a way to break the patterns created by unconscious habits and create new pathways of connection.
On a muscular basis, the foundation of posture is in the feet, specifically in the “four corners” of the feet, which correlate to muscular chains and connective tissue throughout the whole body. By focusing here, there is a push-pull effect, as the hamstrings extend down and the quadriceps pull up.
We looked at the role that the pelvis plays in posture. This “girdle” is the centre of the body, as it takes the weight of the torso and transfer it to the legs. We also revisited the anatomy of the breath that we’d explored on our first weekend. Pelvic alignment affects respiration, the nervous system and more. However, when we relax the pelvic and thoracic diaphragms, everything else realigns.
There was a lot of focus on “pure movement,” in which the spine stays neutral while the limbs move. In order to do this, we have to be aware of chain reactions through the whole body. When we move one part of the body, what else is affected? These chain reactions are based on Tom Myers’ myofascial work in his seminal book, Anatomy Trains.
In our first weekend, we were introduced to Myers’ myofascial meridians of the body: The Superficial Back Line, The Superficial Front Line, The Lateral Line, The Spiral Line, The Arm Lines, The Functional Lines and the Deep Front Line (my personal favourite, as it includes the deep core muscles that I’m obsessed with).
We revisited these lines and received postural correction sequences meant to open and invigorate these “muscle chains.”
We also looked at fascia (the connective tissue that surrounds muscles, blood vessels, nerves and more) and the role it plays in posture. Fascia is responsible for muscle memory and it transmits messages through whole muscle chain. It assists the implementation of new patterns to communicate to the brain.
Communication is fundamental in postural correction. The brain communicates messages to the muscles via nerves, and another nerve takes the message from the muscle back to the brain. The brain informs body, and the body informs the brain. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
Coming From the Core
To put together what we learned about anatomy, posture and “pure movement,” we went back to the core. In her approach, Carina has a way of identifying the four quadrants of the upper body. Visually, this looks like a rectangle between the shoulders and the hips, with the spine dividing the right and left sides. This rectangle is then divided into four sections, or quadrants.
By using the breath, the quadrants can be evened out by breathing into each “section” of the upper body. For example, when a student is in a lunge, the right hip (the bottom right quadrant) may be sinking towards the floor. By directing the breath into the hip, the postural structure of the trunk can be aligned.
This was also a way of observing chain reactions, how the movement in one part of the body (the leg or arm, for example) affects the spine and the quadrant. We also learned how to observe chain reactions in Cat Cow Pose and Extended Side Angle Pose (Parsvakanasana), to look for pure movement.
Training the Eye, Reading the Body
We learned postural analysis strategies from the front, back and side of the body (based on Myers’ structural analysis techniques). It wasn’t all just theory – we stood up and practiced our new analysis skills on one another. This was good practice, despite the lack of diversity in a room full of yoga practitioners (who tend to have high body awareness and look generally balanced). Although just because we do yoga doesn’t mean our bodies are perfect.
Postural assessment is a fascinating new skill that I’m slowly integrating into my daily life. It’s also the perfect excuse to hone my x-ray vision! There’s no shortage of opportunities to use this skill: waiting for the subway, standing in line at the grocery store, people watching at my favourite café. And of course, in front of a room full of people standing in Mountain Pose.