Professional Sportspeople Break the Rules of Yoga Alignment, Why Can't We?

yoga alignment yoga poses Apr 12, 2024

Here, I want to delve deep into the intricacies and complexities surrounding alignment cues in yoga.

It's a topic that often sparks passionate discussions, especially in the wake of my recent 200-hour yin yoga and variable anatomy teacher training. Throughout the training, we engaged in numerous conversations about the culture of yoga and how it intersects with teaching methodologies.

One of the key themes that emerged from these discussions is the pervasive issue of image problems within the yoga community. Many individuals, especially newcomers, struggle with feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and even exclusion when confronted with rigid alignment cues and expectations. This is particularly evident in the way certain body types are valorized while others are marginalized.

To illustrate this point, let's take a moment to reflect on the diversity of human bodies. Just as there is a wide range of dog breeds, each with its own unique characteristics and proportions, human beings come in all shapes and sizes. From tall to short, slender to curvy, our bodies vary significantly, and this diversity should be celebrated rather than constrained by rigid alignment standards.

Consider the example of professional athletes in various sports disciplines. Whether it's downhill skiing, gymnastics, or martial arts, athletes with diverse body types excel in their respective fields by embracing their unique anatomical features. They don't adhere to a one-size-fits-all approach but instead adapt their techniques to suit their individual strengths and limitations.

Now, let's take a closer look at the technique used in high jumping, a sport renowned for its emphasis on athleticism, agility, and precise movement. In high jump, athletes aim to clear a horizontal bar set at varying heights without knocking it down. To achieve this feat, high jumpers employ a technique known as the Fosbury Flop, named after American athlete Dick Fosbury, who popularized it in the 1960s (and pictured here).

It breaks all the alignment cues. Feet parallel, squeeze knees together, hands shoulder distance apart. 

Keep these in mind.

Central to the Fosbury Flop is the approach run, during which the jumper builds momentum and sets the stage for the jump. As the athlete nears the bar, they transition into the takeoff phase, where they execute a powerful leap off one foot, propelling themselves upward and over the bar.

Here's where it gets interesting: instead of clearing the bar with a traditional straddle or scissors technique, high jumpers using the Fosbury Flop arch their backs and lean backward as they ascend. This seemingly counterintuitive motion allows them to clear greater heights with greater efficiency.

Now, let's consider the position of the legs and feet during the jump. Rather than squeezing the knees together, as often emphasized in yoga poses like bridge or wheel, high jumpers extend their legs outward, creating a wider base of support and maximizing their clearance over the bar. This wide-legged stance not only enhances stability but also optimizes the trajectory of the jump, enabling the athlete to soar to new heights.

Furthermore, observe the alignment of the feet in the Fosbury Flop. Instead of pointing the toes in a specific direction, as commonly instructed in yoga poses like downward dog or forward fold, high jumpers typically plant their feet flat on the ground, with the toes angled slightly outward. This alignment facilitates a more natural and dynamic push-off, allowing for greater power generation and lift during takeoff.

By examining the technique employed in high jumping, we gain valuable insights into the diversity of movement patterns and alignment principles across different disciplines. Rather than adhering to rigid rules and prescriptions, yoga practitioners can benefit from embracing a more adaptable and inclusive approach to alignment, one that honors the unique capabilities and anatomical variations of each individual.

As yoga teachers, let's draw inspiration from the fluidity and dynamism of high jumping, encouraging our students to explore movement with curiosity and creativity.

Why do we have to follow rules, but Fosbury floppers don't have to?

By fostering a culture of experimentation and self-discovery, we can empower practitioners to find their own unique expression of yoga, free from the constraints of rigid alignment cues.

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