Your Body, Your Yoga: Learn Alignment Cues That Are Skillful, Safe, and Best Suited To You

Your Body, Your Yoga: Learn Alignment Cues That Are Skillful, Safe, and Best Suited To You

Your Body, Your Yoga: Learn Alignment Cues That Are Skillful, Safe, and Best Suited To You

Your Body, Your Yoga: Learn Alignment Cues That Are Skillful, Safe, and Best Suited To You


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Your Body, Your Yoga goes beyond any prior yoga anatomy book available. It looks not only at the body’s unique anatomical structures and what this means to everyone’s individual range of motion, but also examines the physiological sources of restrictions to movement. Two volumes are provided in this book: Volume 1 raises a new mantra to be used in every yoga posture: What Stops Me? The answers presented run through a spectrum, beginning with a variety of tensile resistance to three kinds of compressive resistance. Examined is the nature of muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments, joint capsules, bones and our extracellular matrix and their contribution to mobility. The shape of these structures also defines our individual, ultimate range of movement, which means that not every body can do every yoga posture. The reader will discover where his or her limits lie, which dictates which alignment cues will work best, and which ones should be abandoned. Volume 2 will take these principles and apply them to the lower body, examining the hip joint, the knee, ankle and foot, and will present how your unique variations in these joints will show up in your yoga practice.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780968766538
Publisher: Wild Strawberry Productions
Publication date: 04/12/2016
Pages: 325
Sales rank: 251,036
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Bernie Clark author of the best selling The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga, has had a passion for science, health, sports and spirituality since childhood. He has a degree in science from the University of Waterloo and spent over 25 years as a senior executive in the high-tech/space industry. Bernie has been investigating the path of meditation for over three decades and began teaching yoga and meditation in 1998. He conducts yoga teacher trainings several times a year and aims to build bridges between the experiences of yoga and the understandings of modern science. He is creator of the website. Bernie lives and teaches in Vancouver, Canada.

Paul Grilley, creator of the influential DVD Anatomy for Yoga, began practicing yoga in 1979 after reading "The Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramahansa Yogananada. He moved to Los Angeles in 1982 where he studied and taught yoga for 12 years. His special interest is the teaching of anatomy. He is the initial popularizer of the style of yoga called yin yoga, and patterns his philosophy on the writings and researches of Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama — a yogi and scientist from Tokyo, Japan. This philosophy integrates the Taoist meridian and acupuncture theories of China with the yogic and tantric theories of India. Paul started his studies of anatomy with Dr. Garry Parker in 1979. He continued his studies at UCLA where he took courses in anatomy and kinesiology. He earned a M.A. from St. John's College, Santa Fe in summer 2000 and an Honorary Ph.D. in 2005 from the California Institute for Human Science for his efforts to clarify the latest theories on fascia and its relevance to the practice of hatha yoga.

Read an Excerpt

Your Body, Your Yoga

Learn Alignment Cues That Are Skillful, Safe, and Best Suited To You

By Bernie Clark, Paul Grilley

Wild Strawberry Productions

Copyright © 2016 Bernie Clark
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9687665-4-5

There are 3 excerpts here: the first two are from the front matter - How to Read this Book, and Intentions. The 3rd is part of the first chapter.

How to Read this Book

The human body and the human experience of our body is complex, vast and varied. It will never be possible to reduce the full range of variation and its implications for our yoga practice into one book. But scientists have a methodology for addressing vast questions: break them down into smaller bits. Much is lost in such a reductionist approach to reality, but the process has its merits, which is why it is so commonly applied. We will also use a reductionist approach, beginning by segmenting our investigation into several volumes:

Volume 1: What Stops Me? will investigate the nature of our tissues and how they contribute to a reduced range of motion. We will introduce and quantify the vital concepts of human variation, the value of stress and our tissues’ need for stress, the sources of tension and compression, and the contributions that different kinds of tissues make to tension. We will learn that what gives rise to tension in our tissues is much more than simply short, tight muscles. Through this realization, we will understand that we need to go beyond simply stretching our muscles to gain our optimal health and range of motion.

Volume 2: The Lower Body will put what we learned in Volume 1 into the specific context of our joints. We will investigate the major joint segments that play a role in our yoga practice in the lower body (hips, knees, ankles and feet.) We will look at their anatomical structures and what can restrain movement. We will answer the “What stops me?” question in relation to the lower body.

First, we will look at the form of the joint segments, including their architectures, bones, joint capsules, ligaments, fascia and muscles. We will also investigate the ranges of variation in the tissues comprising the joint, focusing mainly on the variations in the bones. This section will appeal to those teachers who are really interested in anatomy, and not just from a yoga perspective. Many yoga students may choose to skip the form section and move straight to the second section, where we will examine the function of the joint segment and the implications of this functionality for our yoga practice. In this second investigation, we will look at the sources of tension that can limit movement, and at how human variations can affect the possible movements and individuals’ ultimate ranges of motion. We will also look at the implications of these factors for selected yoga postures.

Volumes 3 and 4 in the next book will continue to investigate the rest of the body in the same manner as we do for the lower body: the axial body (from the sacrum to the cervical spine) and the upper body (shoulders, arms, wrists and hands.)
Volume 5 will look at the other aspects of human variation not yet addressed: those of individual proportions of the body, and the reality of the asymmetries that we all have. The frequency and consequences of these asymmetries will be investigated, along with their implications for our yoga practice.

Sidebars and Appendices. Selected materials and interesting topics are broken out into sidebars and appendices. In these instances, more detail can be offered than is desirable in the general stream of investigation. For the student who loves lots of details, sidebars called “It’s Complicated” will dive more deeply into certain topics. Longer investigations of these complex topics will be placed in the appendices at the end of each volume. Most students, however, can skip any of the sidebars that begin with “It’s Complicated.” For yoga teachers, there are sidebars called “Notes to the Teacher.” And for virtually everybody, there are sidebars called “It’s Important”; these will contain information that is a little bit off the main topic but nonetheless important to any student of yoga.

An Apology to Purists

Our intention is to help educate yoga students and teachers on the reality of human variation and its impact on range of motion. We are not attempting to offer any original research, and we are not addressing an academic audience. Where practical, we offer citations for studies, claims and statistics in the endnotes. In the process of illustrating sometimes complex topics, we have taken certain liberties with strict academic diligence. For this, we beg your indulgence. For example, we do not always choose the conventional nomenclature. Likewise, when we make a claim that a certain movement results in an angular displacement of 110°, we will not always show how we derived that figure. There are a lot of detailed calculations that are not shared with the reader, because to do so would clutter the text and not add value or clarity. We have chosen to err on the side of accuracy over precision: due to the nature of human variation, approximate figures are precise enough, as long as they are accurate. Except where specifically noted, we have not used the most extreme examples of human variations, but rather have opted for the range of variations most likely to show up in the 95% of students attending a yoga class (those falling within two standard deviations of the norm, which means one person in 20 will fall outside the illustrated range.) Even here, we are using an approximation: two standard deviations in a normal distribution includes 95.45% of the population and excludes 4.55%. We will round these amounts, so that we can simply say 19 people out of 20, or one person out of 20, even though that may not be mathematically precise. We have opted for simplicity over thoroughness, but not at the expense of accuracy or truthfulness. If, in this process, we offend your sensibilities, we beg your understanding.


You are unique. That is nothing new, but the implications of this short statement are vast. You are unique and therefore, what works for you, what suits your body (your biology) will be different from what works for other people. Your history (your biography) is also uniquely yours. When you consider both your biology and your biography—the raw materials that made you and the forces that shaped you—it is not surprising to find that your needs differ considerably from everyone else’s. Your eye glasses prescription, your shoe size, the position of your driver’s seat in your car, which hand you use to write or throw, the way your lips curl when you smile, the curve of your spine and the arches of your feet — all these little and grand variations make you uniquely and undeniably you.

So why do we default to a belief that we are all the same on the inside? Why do we believe that there is one and only one way to do a yoga posture, that there is one “right” way for every body? Why do we believe that alignment cues are universal and that all people should move their bodies in the same way?

The first intention of this book is to help you understand your uniqueness and what it means for your yoga practice. However, this realization goes far beyond yoga. As you come to understand your uniqueness, many things in your life may shift. What diet works best for you, how much rest you need, how much exercise and which type is most beneficial, which medicines and therapeutic interventions will prove beneficial, all these and more will become worthy of assessing. The fact that something worked for a friend or a family member (or a complete stranger) does not mean that it will work for you. It might, but you are not them, so maybe it won’t. How can you know?

When we apply this overriding intention to the investigation of yoga, we quickly come to a question that will be repeated numerous times in this volume: “What stops me?” Sometimes we will simply abbreviate it to “WSM?”. Due to your uniqueness, what stops you may be totally different from what stops your yoga teacher; or if you are a yoga teacher, what stops your students may be very different from what stops you.
The second intention of this book, and of this volume in particular, is to help you answer your WSM? question. Modern Hatha yoga instruction looks for the physical answer in the musculature of the body: invariably, the answer will be couched in terms of short, tight, restricting muscles. Wonderful drawings and computer-generated graphics have been created to show which muscles are the culprits and how to work these muscles to keep going deeper and further in our postural work. The psychologist Abraham Maslow once noted that if all you have is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail. If your theory of yoga revolves only around the muscles, then the solution for every problem will be to address the muscles. However, as we journey through Volume 1, the answer to the WSM? question will broaden considerably. We will discover two main contributors to physical restrictions: tension and compression. We will also discover that these are complex categories.

Many books do an excellent job of describing the role of muscles in various yoga postures. It is not our intention to duplicate such work, so we will not spend much time describing which muscles articulate which limbs and which muscles resist movement; we will cover these in a generalized, overview fashion. For the reader who wants to learn more about the muscles, one highly recommended resource is Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy. We will spend even less time describing the pervasive effects of our fascia and its contribution to tensile resistance. This is not to imply that fascia is unimportant — it is very important. Fascial restrictions can contribute far more to restrictions in our range of movements than short, tight muscles ever will. This topic is simply beyond our scope of investigation and requires a detailed book all on its own. Fortunately, such a book already exists: Thomas Myers’s Anatomy Trains. Serious students of anatomy are also advised to pick up a good university-level anatomy textbook, such as Thieme’s Atlas of Anatomy.

This book aims to make you aware of your uniqueness within the vast range of human variation, to explain the principles of tension and compression, to raise and answer the question “What stops me?” and to help you realize what all this means for your yoga practice: Your Body —> Your Yoga! This book was written for you, about you, and to help you get to know yourself much better. I hope you enjoy and benefit from it.

Bernie Clark
June 8, 2015

Chapter 1: You Are Unique—So Is Your Yoga

You are unique! These three words imply something amazing. In the whole universe, there is no one like you. You are not “average” and you are not “normal” — no one is actually average, normal or regular. You may share a few similar traits with other people: you may wear a medium-sized shirt like millions of others; your shoe size may be the same as your sibling’s; you are made up of identically shaped protons, neutrons and electrons, as is everyone you know. But when you examine the whole of who you are, the ways these particular parts come together to form a “you,” you are totally and indisputably unique.

Consider what this means: if you are totally unique, then what you need to be healthy and whole will be very different from what someone else needs. Roger Williams, scientist, author and discoverer of vitamin B5, coined the term “biochemical individuality” to express how vastly different all humans are from each other. It is this variation that makes all the difference when we look at what keeps us healthy and what causes us to become sick and suffer disease. The nature of human variation has been largely ignored in both medicine and the fitness world (including the yoga industry), an error that Williams and others have tried to correct. The 18th-century physician Parry of Bath said, “[It is] more important to know what sort of patient has a disease, than to know what sort of disease has a patient.” We can paraphrase this in relation to yoga as: “It is more important to know what sort of student can do a pose, than to know what sort of pose is doing the student.” In advising how to train an elite athlete, Stuart McGill, a medical researcher of lower back disorders, notes, “Each person has different proportions of body segment lengths, muscle insertion lengths, muscle to tendon length ratios, nerve conductance velocities, intrinsic tissue tolerances, etc. . . . Imposing a stereotyped “ideal” technique will often prevent an athlete from reaching their full potential.” Figures 1.1 and 1.2 give a simple illustration of how our uniqueness will affect our yoga postures.

Figure 1.1. The woman on the right (b) has a distinct varus of the legs, causing her bowlegged appearance, and her hips are quite externally rotated, causing her feet to point outwards. The lady on the left (a) is slightly internally rotated in the hips, and her legs are straighter.

Figure 1.2. The variations in the shape of our legs affect not only our appearance but also our ability to do yoga postures. Student (b) finds it easier than student (a) to get her knees to the floor in Butterfly Pose (Baddhakonasana).

Just as no one else has your dental pattern, no one else has your bone structure, your spine or your hips. Why think, then, that what someone else can do, you should be able to do, too? Or why think that because someone else can’t do something, you also will fail? There are things you can do right now, there are things that you will be able to do in time, and there are things that you will never be able to do. This is not a critique of your abilities or a reflection of your personality or some flaw that needs to be fixed — this is simply the reality of your existence. A five-foot tall ballerina will never play right tackle for the Seattle Seahawks, and the right tackle for the Seahawks will never win an Olympic gold medal for figure skating. This does not mean that the ballerina is flawed or the right tackle is lazy. The snowflake, in all its beautiful uniqueness, will never be a galaxy of stars. Why would it ever try to be something it cannot be? Better to be a great snowflake. We need to understand our uniqueness and our natural limitations.

Think of the ways we can be measured: height, weight, age, education, income level, family size, city of upbringing, blood pressure, heart rate, the length of our arms relative to our spine, the degree to which our feet point outwards, the amount of curvature in our legs… The list can go on and on. In any one of these categories, you might fall within the “average range” — you may indeed be an average height and maybe even an average weight, but when you add in the parameters of your blood chemistry, personality, diet, lifestyle, job, body shape, birthdate and so on, you move far away from being an average person. No one is average [See the Sidebar; It’s Complicated — On Averages & Norms]. This means that whatever works for an “average person” (who does not actually exist) may not work for you.

To quote Roger Williams again: “[P]ractically every human being is a deviate in some respects.” There is no normal and no abnormal. There is only you in all your uniqueness, and this uniqueness will determine what, of all life’s offerings, is available for you to partake in, and what you should, with wisdom, leave on the plate.


Excerpted from Your Body, Your Yoga by Bernie Clark, Paul Grilley. Copyright © 2016 Bernie Clark. Excerpted by permission of Wild Strawberry Productions.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

How to Read this Book
Foreword: The History of Teaching Alignment in America

Table of Contents for Volume 1: What Stops Me? Sources of Tension and Compression

Chapter 1: You Are Unique—So Is Your Yoga
Range of Human Variations
Examples of Human Variations

Chapter 2: What Stops Me?
Sensing Tension and Compression
Functional Yoga versus Aesthetic Yoga

Chapter 3: The Value of Stress

Chapter 4: The Physiology of Our Tissues
Sources of Tension
The Nervous System
The Immune System
The Wonder of Water
Sources of Compression
Joints and Cartilage

Volume 1 Summary
Appendix A: The Forms of Stress
Appendix B: Muscle Shapes and Functions
Appendix C: The Myofascial Meridians
Appendix D: Facts About Osteoporosis
Appendix E: The Types of Joints
Appendix F: The Biomechanics of Joint Motion
Volume 1 Endnotes

Table of Contents for Volume 2: The Lower Body

1. The Bare Bones of Yoga
The Planes of the Body

2. The Joint Segments of the Lower Body
The Hip Joint
The Architecture of the Hip Joint
The Bones of the Hip Joint
The Joint Capsule and Ligaments
Muscles of the Hip
The Types and Ranges of Variations
Function-Application in Yoga Postures
Normal Ranges of Motion
Sources of Tension
Sources of Compression
Variation in Ranges of Motion
Hip Joint Summary

3. The Knee Joint
The Architecture of the Knee
The Bones of the Knee
The Knee-Joint Capsule and Ligaments
Muscles of the Knee
The Types and Ranges of Variations
Function-Application in Yoga Postures
Normal Ranges of Motion
Sources of Tension
Sources of Compression
Variation in Ranges of Motion
Knee Joint Summary

4. The Ankle-Foot Segment
The Architecture of the Ankle-Foot Segment
The Bones of the Ankle and Foot
The Ligaments
The Muscles and Tendons
The Types and Ranges of Variations
Function-Application in Yoga Postures
Normal Ranges of Motion
Sources of Tension
Sources of Compression
Variation in Ranges of Motion
Ankle-Foot Segment Summary

5 Volume 2 Summary

A. List of Anatomical Directions
B. Variations in the Female Pelvis
C. Mechanical Advantage-Pulleys and Levers
D. Flexion-Caused Impingement at the Hip Joint
E. The Dangers and Benefits of Valgum or Varum Knee Orientation
F. The Movements of the Foot and Ankle

It’s Important: Beware of studies
It’s Important: Who is flying the airplane
It’s Important: Playing your edge
It’s Important: Injuries caused by yoga
It’s Important: Antifragility (or no strain—no gain!)
It’s Important: The value of compression
It’s Important: Millimeters versus inches
It’s Important: Safely stressing joints
It’s Important: The value of alignment
It’s Important: Remember, compression can be good!
It’s Important: Co-contraction
It’s Important: Are you valgus or varus?
It’s Important: Don’t assume it’s your ankles!

It’s Complicated: Averages and norms
It’s Complicated: Femoral neck-shaft-angle variations
It’s Complicated: Stress at the cellular level
It’s Complicated: Sarcomere contraction
It’s Complicated: Adding sarcomeres
Its Complicated: Our ground substance
It’s Complicated: Other parts of our joints
It’s Complicated: Which muscles cause which movement can vary
It’s Complicated: Estimating available ranges of motion
It’s Complicated: Femoral acetabular impingement syndrome
It’s Complicated: What is a newton?
It’s Complicated: Hyperextension of the knee
It’s Complicated: The trochlea of the talus
It’s Complicated: What causes plantar fasciitis?
It’s Complicated: Arch support
It’s Complicated: Where should the dorsiflexed foot point?

Note to Teachers: When students can’t go further
Note to Teachers: Stress when injured
Note to Teachers: Should we try to stress tendons?
Note to Teachers: Sources of compression
Note to Teachers: Be cautious of creating alignment cues based only on your own experience
Note to Teachers: Yoga is a self-selecting practice
Note to Teachers: Explore from the core outwards
Note to Teachers: Customizing Classes
Note to Teachers: Do not offer a correction without knowing the cause!
Note to Teachers: Don’t be afraid of locking the knees
Note to Teachers: Getting grounded
Note to Teachers: Sickling—plantarflexion with supination
Note to Teachers: Aligning the feet in Down Dog

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