Paradigms for Categorizing the Postures
This is something I wrote for the teacher trainees in New York Yoga's Current Teacher Training. I thought it was worthwhile information for anyone who might be interested.
Paradigms for Categorizing the Postures
This information is not something to get stuck on. This is simply something to help you see the postures and understand what you are looking at more quickly and more simply.
The first paradigm for categorizing the postures is by movements of the spine. These are merely the possible directions within which the spine is able to move. Therefore, every yoga pose must contain at least one of these movements of the spine since the spine is part of the body.
The spine can move in these directions:
1) Forward Flexion which is a large part of what gets termed Forward Bending in yoga. Examples would be Uttanasana, Standing Forward Bend, Paschimottanasana, Seated Forward Bend, and the frightened cat part of Cat/Cow pose.
2) Spinal Hyperextension or what in yoga gets referred to as Back Bending. Examples would be, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, Upward Facing Dog and Ustrasana, Camel Pose.
3) Lateral Movement. I like to break this category up into two subsections.
-----a) Lateral Flexion. A lateral movement of the spine as the spine is allowed to take a somewhat curved shape. An example would be a pose called blown palm where you arch your spine over to one side.
-----b) Lateral Extension. A lateral movement of the spine where the spine is lengthening on both sides and primarily straight or lengthening but that one side is able to lengthen a little more than the other due to the lateral displacement of the spine. Examples would be poses like Uthita Trikonasana, Extended Triangle and Uthita Parsvakonasana, Extended Side Angle.
4) Rotation of the Spine or Twisting. Examples would be Parivrrti Utkatasana, Rotated Chair Pose and Ardha Matseyendrasana, Seated Spinal Twist Pose.
5) Lengthening the Spine. I don’t want to call this spinal extension because that is a term that anatomically speaking is used to refer to hyperextension of the spine as well as lengthening the spine. I also like to break this category down into two subsections.
-----a) Lengthening the spine while respecting the natural curves of the spine. Examples are Samasthiti, Steady Standing (also called Tadasana by some) and Virabhadrasana II, Warrior II.
-----b) Lengthening the spine while flattening the natural curves of the spine. Example: Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward Facing Dog.
The second paradigm for categorizing the postures would be by observing the body’s orientation to gravity.
3) Prone, lying facing down.
4) Supine, lying facing up.
5) Kneeling or on the Hands and Feet.
6) Balancing, which can be broken down to these categories:
-----a) Standing balancing on one foot.
-----b) Balancing on the hands without being upside down.
-----c) Inverted, including but not limited to inverted hand balances.
It is important to understand that these paradigms are not mutually exclusive. The go together. For example you can have a standing forward bend or a standing back bend; you can have a reclining twist or an inverted twist; you can have a supine lateral flexion or a seated lateral extension. I can keep on listing examples. But the important thing to understand is that any of the movements of the spine can be performed in any orientation to gravity.
Also, it is worth noting that things like hip or shoulder opening, which I have not categorized, could happen in any of the orientations to gravity and in any of the movements of the spine. For example, you could have a seated hip opening forward bend, back bend, side lean, or lengthening of the spine. The same could be said for any orientation to gravity and the same could be said with shoulder opening. You could have a standing shoulder opening pose that is a forward bend, a back bend, a side lean, a twist, or a lengthening of the spine.
Then there is also the orientation of the hips in relation to the rest of the body. In a yoga Posture the hips could be:
1) Facing Forwards. Example: Uttanasana, Standing Forward Bend.
2) Facing to the Side. Virabhadrasan 11, Warrior 11.
3) Trying to Face Forward but Not Quite Fully Squared Forward. Virabhadrasana I, Warrior I and Janushirshasana, Asymetrical Seated Forward Bend (a literal translation of Janushirshasana would be Head to Knee Pose).
Your hips can be facing in any of these three directions with any orientation to gravity and with any movement of the spine.
Understanding these paradigms for categorizing the postures can help you understand what you are looking at with a posture almost immediately and can help you in understand how to organize the postures when creating intelligent sequences of postures.
As you practice and come to understand your body better you will start noticing the effects of things like a forward bend on you body after a back bend and vice versa; a deep forward bend after a gentle back bend; a gentle forward bend after a deep back bend; the effects of a spinal twist after another deeper spinal twist or after a more gentle spinal twist. The possible combinations are limitless but understanding how each particular individual’s body is effected by a thoughtful linking of postures is a skill worth cultivating even if a deeper understanding of this subject might take years to acquire. There no end to what you can learn about working with different people with different bodies and different needs. But there are some fundamental principles that can be observed about certain ways of ordering the postures.
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