When the William Broad book, ‘The Science of Yoga,’ hit the bookstores in 2012 I felt vindicated for the prior two decades of dedication to improved safety standards in yoga class, and many of my students have expressed to me that we are way ahead of the curve when it comes to appropriate standard of care. The reckless ‘monkey see, monkey do’ approach is beginning to be questioned by medical professionals. A nursing professor who frequents our studio has expressed how our model for teaching yoga is considered to be the correct method, whereas, the old ‘instructor-based exercise program’ in the ‘follow-the-leader’ approach is now considered antiquated. Currently medical professionals are recommending ‘student-based exercise programming,’ which is what we offer here at BIM.
I have structured the BIM Yoga System to take into account the wide variety of injuries and medical conditions that present themselves in class, so that each student may formulate a yoga exercise routine that will not exacerbate their condition. Many students have claimed our particular brand of yoga has resolved their injuries. Special considerations need to be applied for students’ individual needs. I find having a solid understanding of anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics is vital for me as an instructor to be able to sufficiently personalize yoga instruction for my students.
One topic that has recently been in the yoga news is hip health. Despite the commonplace ‘hip opening workshops’ that claim to provide ways for students to make their hips more flexible, students have damaged their hip joints badly doing ‘hip openers’ without the proper considerations for the wide variety of hip structures that exist between individual yoga practitioners. To make matters worse some yoga teachers have actually convoluted the issue with generalized statements in regards to the anatomy of femoral-acetabular hip articulation making it sound like all hip problems occur from forward bends.
This is an excerpt from a write up on hip problems surfacing in yoga classes by William Broad written November 3, 2013 page SR6 of the New York Times. I would have to say I really liked the article except for the contribution from yoga teacher Michelle Edwards, who seems to have missed the mark when it comes to how hips become injured in yoga class. “Ms. Edwards, the yoga teacher in Hawaii, said she warns practitioners to be cautious if doing seated forward bends (like Paschimottanasana), standing forward bends (like Uttanasana) and forward lunges (like Anjaneyasana) – moves that can force the neck of the femur into the socket’s rim.” It is possible that Michelle Edwards experiences compressive forces when performing forward bends based on the idiosyncrasies of her hip structure, but this is not a commonplace complaint as it appears in the article.
Forward bending is a relatively natural action when considering the way the femur head rotates within the acetabulum or hip socket. In the case of exaggerated internal rotation of the femur bone during forward bends admittedly there is a potential of the femur neck bumping up against the edge of the acetabulum based on the Q-angle, femoral anteversion vs retroversion, femur neck length, etc., but this scenario can often be rectified by simply externally rotating the thighs during the process of bending forward in hip flexion. The real culprits in hip impingement are the extreme ranges of motion in ‘hip openers’ such as triangle (Trikonasana), half moon (Ardhva Chandrasana), and even the lotus (Padmasana). Special considerations for the way hip openers are performed make the difference between hurtful or helpful yoga practices.
Many years of experience with modifying yoga postures for the individual needs of students have enabled me to catalogue a multitude of yoga posture variations. The cautionary talks on protecting the hips with techniques directed to specific students with particular skeletal alignments have allowed all students to enjoy safe yoga practice at BIM. I view yoga as an extensive functional movement screen, and it is quite evident by the way students practice yoga what they require in regards to posture variations. It’s the understanding of how different the experience of being in a yoga posture can be between individuals that is the catalyst for designing safe practice.
I believe having been an athlete in my youth, as well as, coach, personal trainer, and instructor of a variety of fitness disciplines, have all contributed to my understanding the anatomy, physiology and biomechanics involved in yoga. I’ve also been so fortunate to have taken courses from renowned Athletic Therapist Kevin Duguay and author of ‘Anatomy Trains’ Thomas Myers. I’ve also had the incredible fortune to learn yoga techniques from Danny Paradise, David Williams, David Swenson, Nicki Doane, Ed Modestini, Angela Jamison, Caron Shepley and Eoin Finn. I have accumulated many techniques from these great yogis and anatomy/bio-mechanic experts. This and the extensive reading and research that has gone into creating the Breathe Into Motion Yoga System has served my student well. I am confident despite the current news in the yoga world warning about impending hip replacements that my students will continue to thrive in yoga class and further improve their hip health with the individualized exercise prescription approach I take.