Yoga can be strategically used in concert with exercise physiology tenets to identify common postural issues that cause movement limitations for clients. Learn how taking a biomechanical approach to yoga offers an understanding of the interrelationships among joint structure, muscles and movement and how yoga postures can release tension, restore mobility, enhance stability and rebalance the body.
Yoga and Posture Assessment
Before you train any client, it’s important to know what the person’s starting point is, which is why all good programs start with a postural and movement assessment. Postural analysis is the science of understanding the body’s alignment in relationship to gravity and knowing the optimal structural relationship for creating good posture and harmonious movement (St. John & Puleo 2017). Assess clients first in static positions, then dynamically, to identify misalignments and patterns. A trained eye will immediately see compensations and imbalances, which will inform selection of the repertoire.
Perform a static postural assessment by viewing the body from the front, back and side. Observe alignment irregularities and asymmetries by noticing the positioning and relationship of the head, shoulders, spine, hips, legs and feet in three dimensions. If aligned optimally while standing and moving, the bones and joints are organized in a way that allows the muscles, connective tissues and nervous system to support them effectively. Taken as a whole, this alignment supports the body against gravity and external forces.
With keen observation in mind, let’s look at mountain pose, also known as tadasana or anatomical position. This “blueprint” pose is the foundation for all standing poses (Crow 2015; Kappmeier & Ambrosini 2006). It may seem like simply standing, but you can gather a lot of information about clients from viewing them in this static position. The “work” is bringing the skeleton, with its unique attributes, into neutral alignment (Crow 2015). While not an exhaustive list, here are some things to look for:
- Begin your observation with a global perspective of the body. Stand back and observe the client’s overall posture (shoes off).
- Next, examine the feet and ankles, the foundation for the rest of the body’s alignment. Notice if the feet are firmly planted. Is weight distributed equally through the entire foot, or does the foot roll out (supination) or in (pronation)? If so, is the misalignment excessive?
- Look at the knees. Is the patella facing forward, or does it turn in (genu valgum) or out (genu varum)?
- Review pelvic placement for excessive posterior or anterior tilt, tipping or rotation.
- Observe shoulder positioning. Is the humeral head sitting in the joint’s center?
- Finally, check head and neck alignment. Does the client exhibit forward-head posture? The head should be balanced over the trunk. From a side view, the ear should line up with the center of the shoulder, the rib cage, the high point of the iliac crest, and the midpoint of the lateral knee; the ear should be just forward of the lateral malleolus of the ankle.
Use this assessment as a starting point for choosing poses and sequences for the client’s program.
Next, assess movement with an eye toward existing patterns that may offer clues to physical limitations and habitual compensations. Keep in mind that each body is unique in its design and that ideal alignment is a broad definition.
When you cue a client through a set of linked moves, you can identify dysfunctional patterns. For example, a simple, modified sun salutation with an added spinal rotation will reveal some of the client’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Closely observe mobility limitations, stability vs. instability, bilateral and unilateral deviations, and overall movement capacity.
- During the initial standing forward bend, assess tightness in the back line of the body.
- When the client sits back into chair pose, determine imbalances between mobility and stability in the hips, back and shoulders.
- As the client steps back into lunge, notice any tightness in the hip flexors.
- During chaturanga (yoga pushup), identify stability, upper-body strength and full-body integration.
- In upward-facing dog and downward-facing dog, look for tightness and weakness through the entire front and back lines of the body.
All of the above checkpoints can cross over to activities other than yoga.
Understanding Muscle Imbalances
What types of muscle imbalances might you notice in your clients? Although there are many observable malalignments, the more common patterns include overpronated feet, rounded shoulders, hyperlordosis, a jutting chin, hips shifting to one side and “tech neck.” The work of Vladimir Janda, MD, has been instrumental in understanding the development of muscular imbalances and their implications for spinal alignment, function and pain.
For more about muscle imbalances and how to address them with yoga, plus a full reference list, please see “Yoga for Optimal Performance” from the January 2019 print edition of Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.
Member Exclusive Content Sign up to be a member to access this content. Join now! This past year has been a long haul for you…