I know yogis who have been trying to perfect their asanas for ages but always felt stuck and they simply blamed it on their inflexibility or tight muscles. Little did they know that they were not stuck solely because of their inflexibility or muscle tightness but because of incorrect alignment and engagement of muscles. A slight adjustment of the pelvic could allow them to get into a pose effortlessly.
Paschimottanasana – seated forward fold. Many of my friends struggle with this pose and could not even bend any more than 45 degrees. Their complaints were almost always about their tight hamstrings. Even in group classes, the instructor would usually advise to use a
strap around the feet to assist with the forward fold or simply hold their fold no matter how far they are able to stretch into it, and there they are, hoping someday, their tummy will touch the thigh. This made me assume that such passive stretching was the only way to help them bend more. However, during our second practical class, Master Ram shared that he is able to guide someone into a full paschimottanasana within a short period of time – I was skeptical at first, to be honest. He then went on to share some important pointers for the pose: Anteriorly tilt the pelvic floor so that your sit bone is pointing to the back, shift your legs forward so you are sitting on your thigh. Then, instead of focusing on the hamstrings or bicep femoris, engage your iliopsoas and rectus femoris which will help to flex the hip and straighten the knees, which will bring your stomach to the thigh. Following his advice, my seated forward fold has definitely improved, and engaging the muscles does help to not overly stress my hamstring. Such knowledge is indeed useful and will better assist us to get into our poses safely. This is the importance of learning the anatomy of yoga.
As most of us learnt yoga from sight, I do hope that in the near future, our local yoga culture could slowly shift to be more mindful of the anatomy and advocating the right movement, instead of simply getting into a pose, to reap the benefits of the yoga.