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Yoga Teachers, Communicate with Clarity: Satya, Biomechanics and Yoga
“One who shows a high degree of right communication will not fail in his actions.”
(T.K.V. Desikachar’s translation of Yoga Sutra II.36)
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras have much practical wisdom that can be directly applied to life. In fact, the evolution of a civilization (or its destruction) can usually be traced to satya (truthfulness) or asatya (untruthfulness). A similar dynamic exists for an individual’s personal evolution.
Satya and asatya also have practical benefits and consequences for the sustainable design of the practice and teaching of yoga, because truth and theory go hand in hand. Base your teaching on sound theory (satya), and the benefits will automatically manifest in your practice. By the same token, if your theory is based on falsehoods (asatya), the benefits won’t manifest.
Satya is also said to be “that which has no distortion.” Relating to yoga instruction, this means clarity of expression. Precise cues elicit a predictable response. Vague or distorted cues elicit confusion. And no matter what your personal style of communication, you can always benefit from knowing the biomechanical basis for what you’re teaching.
How to Use Your Knowledge of Science to Enhance Your Yoga Teaching
In my experience, the closer your instructions are to activities that students routinely do or can easily access, the more likely they will understand the techniques and benefit from the session. An example would be a cue for expanding the thorax to deepen the breath. If clearly communicated, this technique will work for most of your students, even if you don’t explain the science behind it. Understanding the anatomy and biomechanics, however, enables you to answer students’ questions about how the body works with direct and credible terminology. Knowing the science behind your instructions builds self-confidence as well as students’ confidence in you as a teacher.
Yoga works with the body, and Western science has much wisdom about how the body works. Think of a combination lock in which a sequence of numbers is used to open the lock. The poses and breathing techniques work together in the same way. Combine them properly, and the tumblers fall into place. This precipitates a cascade of beneficial physiological and biochemical changes, including an overall sense of wellbeing.
To quote Nicolai Bachman’s translation of Sutra II.36: “When established in truthfulness, one can be sure of the results of action.”
How to Use Your Wrist Flexors in Downward Facing Dog Pose
Sometimes you hear an instruction to “lift the elbows” or “lift the wrists” in Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Normally, lifting the elbow entails lifting the entire arm in front of you—forward flexion of the shoulder. This is done primarily through the action of the anterior (front) third of the deltoids. Engaging these muscles with the hands fixed on the mat lowers the elbows. To lift the wrists and elbows in Dog Pose, contract the wrist flexors. This stabilizes the wrists and, at the same time, strengthens these flexor muscles.
How to Stabilize Your Wrists
Once you have balanced pronation and supination of the forearms, engage the wrist flexors by gently pressing the mounds at the base of the fingers into your mat. Then press the palmar surfaces of your fingers into the floor. Do not actually raise your palms off the mat during this technique. You will feel your wrists lift slightly.
(Image: Gently press the mounds at the base of the fingers into the mat.)
Next, combine stabilizing the forearms, wrists, and hands with bringing the heels to the floor and stabilizing the feet. If you are practicing Vinyasa Flow, try activating the wrist flexors just before jumping. Feel how this action draws you forward, creating momentum for your jump through. Try this cue in a modified Child’s Pose (Balasana) to get a feel for it without weight on the hands. If you have discomfort in the wrists or hands, come out of the pose.
The Anatomy of Wrist Flexion
Several muscles contribute to flexing the wrist. These include the flexors carpi radialis and ulnaris, the palmaris longus, the flexors digitorum superficialis and profundus, and the flexor pollicis longus. The anatomy is somewhat complex, and it’s not necessary to memorize all of the details to benefit—remember that these muscles all cross the wrist and thus can flex it.
For anatomy buffs, here are the details: The flexors carpi radialis and ulnaris and the palmaris longus originate from the medial epicondyle on the inside of the elbow and cross the wrist. The flexor carpi radialis inserts onto the second and third metacarpal bases. The flexor carpi ulnaris inserts onto the pisiform and hamate bones and base of the fifth metacarpal. The palmaris longus inserts onto the flexor retinaculum and palmar aponeurosis.
The flexor digitorum superficialis has three heads: the humeral head originates from the medial epicondyle, the ulnar head originates from the coronoid process, and the radial head originates distal to the radial tuberosity. This muscle then branches out to insert onto the sides of the fingers at the middle phalanx. The flexor digitorum profundus originates from the proximal two-thirds of the flexor surface of the ulna and the interosseous membrane. It inserts onto the palmar surface of the distal phalanges.
The flexor pollicis longus originates from the middle part of the anterior surface of the radius and the interosseous membrane and inserts onto the palmar surface of the distal phalanx of the thumb.
Author, Ray Long MD FRCSC is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga. Ray graduated from The University of Michigan Medical School with post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, The University of Montreal, and Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over twenty years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters.
3d Graphic Designer / Illustrator Chris Macivor has been involved in the field of digital content creation for well over ten years. He is a graduate of Etobicoke School of the Arts, Sheridan College and Seneca College. Chris considers himself to be equally artistic and technical in nature. As such, his work has spanned many genres, from film and television to videogames and underwater imagery.