kinematics for asana
My approach to yoga is based on progressing safely. I look at the body as a “helical matrix” of rotation patterns interlocked between the limbs and the trunk. Study these spirals as part of your anatomy and you can progress deeper in the asanas while minimising the risk of injury to yourself and your students.
- Axial kinematics
- Appendicular kinematics
Developing a mature asana practice is accomplished safely by moving the body progressively deeper into rotational patterns.
These patterns are intrinsic to human anatomy and are the same for everyone, no matter what style of yoga you practice or how much experience you have!
In this era of seemingly endless variations upon variations of dynamic yoga styles, there is a lot of disagreement. There are as many opinions as there are teachers and a lot of hype regarding correct method. Amidst these shifting goalposts, the pattern that connects us all resides peacefully in our tissues.
The immutable tendency of nature to unfurl in spirals is apparent everywhere you look. Looking deeper within ourselves in asana, this morphological tendency appears within our bodies too. Moving in synchronicity with these patterns is the key to safe and efficient progression in the push-pull of yoga practice.
Asana should be steady and comfortable.
Many of us come to yoga for healing. Why should we risk further injury in doing so?
It is possible to enjoy a lifetime of progress in yoga practice with a gentle yet effective method based on patterns found throughout nature. In the Helical Matrix, I break down advanced postures into spirals and work back from archetypal human postures such as the squat position. If one cannot squat comfortably, then there is no point trying to get the leg behind the head. External hip rotation, for example, is a progressive journey that has a different starting place for every individual body. You literally have to crawl before you can walk!
Looking at the rotational patterns of joints in asana is not an original approach. Most experienced yoga practitioners come to appreciate the feel of spiral action along the limbs and into the body matrix as they continue to progress in their practice. My intention is to bring these patterns together with classical anatomy and present them as guidance for kinematics in asana.
A HELICAL MATRIX
The following is an introduction to the basic spiral kinematics for asana. This is a guide for movement that is seated in tissue, not a set of physical structures in and of itself. The guidance assumes a basic familiarity with fascia-based anatomy and the action of closed kinematic chains (CKCs). For convenience, I have organised the movement into sections that correspond to familiar structures from classical anatomy.
The guide is very simple and works with the Handstand as a base position. To start with, think of the body plan as a tensegrity structure where cylinders of tensegrities (appendicular matrices) intersect in an axial region (axial matrix) that we commonly refer to as the “trunk.”
Cephalocaudal Segment (head and neck)
Scapulothoracic Segment (upper back and shoulders)
Lumbosacroiliac Segment (lower back across the sacrum through hips)
shoulder, elbow, wrist
hip, knee, ankle
Spiral Bound: asana lab
In a handstand, the shoulder externally rotates, taking with it the scapula. In a mature handstand, the scapular upward rotation and protraction within the scapulohumeral rhythm works in dynamic opposition to the thorax. The thorax wants to follow the spiral action and extend [into a backbend], but resisting this creates stability.
The shoulder [humeral aspect of the glenohumeral joint] also externally rotates in backbending. This external rotation is key anytime the Upper Limb flexes to elevate the humerus (reaching forward or out and up overhead) and relates to the preservation of the subacromial space. In counterpoint, the extension of the shoulder (such as Prasarita Padottanasana C as pictured below) is often initiated through internal rotation of the humeral head [and all its attendant tissues throughout the scapulothoracic region and beyond].
I offer more detailed coverage of the internal and external rotations of the appendages and how these translate through the trunk in these formats:
- My book, Spiral Bound
- Anatomy for Yoga workshops and courses at my home studio in Edinburgh (see below)
The key to success in the asana is to practice with precise effort; it becomes progressively easier with deep contemplation.