Get a FREE Pass to the IDEA World Fitness & Nutrition Expo   Claim My FREE Expo Pass »

Yoga Fundamentals: Pose by Pose

by Lauren Eirk on Nov 18, 2009

When teaching yoga, what are the fundamental, or central, themes to focus on, and among the numerous poses, which are the most important ones for your students to practice?

In yoga, the following themes are essential:

  • Alignment. It is vital to pay attention to alignment, or symmetrical range of motion (ROM) right to left, in any given position. Yoga practice can help students discover how to monitor the intensity of forces needed to achieve strength and stability in any given pose for the purpose of stillness and meditation.
  • Anatomy. All yoga teachers need a strong knowledge of anatomy. This means not just memorizing muscles and bones, but learning about joints—their capabilities and structure—and the associated muscular attachments.
  • Force. Paramount in the teaching of yoga is the understanding that we are responding to force. We must understand how a force becomes a resistance; learn how to apply force; and look at what—in our anatomy—opposes and creates force. We have muscle that is designed to develop tension and to directly or indirectly oppose forces that occur inside and outside of the body.
  • Limitation. There are reasons for limitation and tightness in the body. It is fundamental for yoga practitioners to understand the reasons for their tightness. One cause of muscle tightness can be weakness. Since yoga is about holding isometric positions, it can strengthen weak areas if poses are performed correctly.
  • Individuality. The most important aspect of yoga that many teachers and practitioners miss is attention to the individual. Realizing that not every body can fit into every pose is crucial. We must see that in addition to having general anatomical knowledge, there is also the anatomy of the individual to consider. Yoga practice should never violate the body’s current status and ROM.

Getting Back to Basics

Many instructors are bored with looking at the “basics.” We like to learn new poses and new ways to choreograph them, and we are impressed when an instructor can “get into” advanced poses.
What happens if we take a fresh approach to teaching some of the basic poses? Instead of blindly doing what we’re used to, our thought process can include:
  • looking at the traditional method of practice;
  • deciding if there could be a better approach;
  • identifying the joints involved in the pose;
  • identifying the forces needed to achieve the position that an individual is capable of;
  • determining the cues that would help a student achieve the pose; and
  • adjusting the process to account for each individual’s barriers to ROM and ability.

Let’s apply this process to a yoga pose.

Supta Padangusthasana, or Supine Big Toe Pose

Traditional Method. Lie supine on mat, flex involved hip, extend knee and dorsiflex ankle. Place strap around bottom of foot, or grab foot/big toe, and pull hip further into flexion. Common adjustments include teacher pushing student’s hip further into flexion and pushing opposite hip further into floor or student pulling herself further into passive ranges.
Could there be a better approach?
Joints Involved. Hip (flexion), knee (extension), ankle (dorsiflexion) and shoulder (scapular retraction).
Forces. Resist hip flexion by placing hand on front of student’s thigh. Instruct student to press opposite leg against floor in order to perform hip extension.
Cues. “Press thigh lightly into hand while actively drawing dorsal surface of foot toward knee. Think of lightly pulling foot away from belt to draw attention to anterior shin muscles.”
Individual Barriers to ROM and Ability. Check student’s ability to dorsiflex right and left (R-L) ankles, and to flex R-L hips, with flexed knee to make sure pose does not violate active ROM. Also, assess individual’s ability to be supine on floor when gravity is pushing against her.

Learn how to apply this thought process to four other popular yoga poses in the full article, “Yoga Fundamentals: Pose by Pose,” in the online IDEA Library or in October 2009 IDEA Fitness Journal.

Want more from Lauren Eirk?

IDEA Fit Tips, Volume 7, Issue 12

Find the Perfect Job

More jobs, more applicants and more visits than any other fitness industry job board.

© 2009 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Lauren Eirk

Lauren Eirk IDEA Author/Presenter

Lauren Eirk. MS is a certified E-RYT 500 level Yoga Instructor with over 30 years experience in fitness health management, group instruction, and personal training. Lauren is the owner of Yoga I.S. Wellness Center in Louisville, Kentucky and the owner and developer of Registered Yoga Teacher Training School Yoga Integrated Science™ (Yoga I.S®), which offers 200hr, 300 hour, and 500+ hour yoga coursework, emphasizing a strong curriculum in anatomy, physiology, and exercise mechanics. Lauren is an MATm, Mastery Level Muscle Activation Techniques™ Certified Specialist, MATRx Hand and Foot Specialist, and MAT Jump Start Instructor. She will graduate from the MATRx Full Body program in February of 2017. She is a Mastery Level Resistance Training Specialist® and certified personal trainer. Lauren has a specialty yoga, fitness and wellness studio in Louisville, KY called Yoga I.S. that offers with Group Classes, MAT, personal training, and education courses. She is the recipient of the 2007 OBOW "Most Mindful Program" award.