Have a look at the people around you. At work, in class, even in your own family. It doesn’t take much looking to start to realise that there’s a pretty big range of body shapes and sizes. We’re different heights, different weights, have different clothing sizes and different shoe sizes. Alignment yoga (the style of yoga that has prevailed for the last 50 – 60 years) places an emphasis on looking a certain way in each pose. Feet forward, hips squared, bend the knee to 90 degrees. Functional yoga on the other hand places an emphasis on FEELING a certain way in each pose. Essentially it doesn’t care where your feet are, whether your hips are squared or what degree your knee is bent to. Essentially, alignment yoga discriminates against certain bodies. Functional yoga embraces all bodies.
Here’s the part where we’re going to get a little technical. We’re going to explain range of motion (ROM) and a little thing known as compression. Essentially when we look at our bones every time two bones meet there’s a pretty significant chance that that point is supposed to move. We call these joints, and you’ll find them in your toes, ankles, fingers, wrists, knees, elbows, hips and throughout the spine. Just as we all look different, we all move differently, and the ways that we can move and how far we can move in each joint in each way varies significantly from one person to another. How far you can move each of YOUR joints in a particular direction is known as your ROM for that joint.
In yoga, we’re pretty big on increasing how far we can move our joints (ie. increasing our ROM) and like to call this increasing our ‘flexibility’. Whenever we come into a pose and can feel a stretch, we are in tension. Tension is when we are stretching our myofascia – the muscles and connective tissues that surround them and then attach to the bones as tendons and ligaments. Tension is good, and when we’re feeling a stretch, we’re helping to open the body up.
Have you ever been in a pose though where you aren’t feeling much at all? You’re following the alignment cues your teacher has given you, and the stretch just isn’t there? Maybe you’re trying to go deeper and simply feel stuck. In fact, maybe you even feel the pose on the other side of your body – maybe a bit of a pinch or a dull ache? This my friend is called compression. It’s the point where we can’t go any further because of our bones, and THIS is where functional yoga comes into its own. Compression is where our bone hits another bone. For some poses it may happen quickly, for others it may take a long time. For those who rarely hit compression, a career at Cirque de Soleil is probably on the cards!
Being able to identify when you’re in compression and then change how the pose looks (or to another pose entirely) to find it again is functional yoga. Understanding that because of our range of motion that some poses are just never going to happen for us is functional yoga. Being kind to our bodies and not trying to force ourselves to go deeper when we’re already in compression is functional yoga. Listening to our bodies, not focusing on how we look but instead on how we feel is functional yoga. Sounds pretty good right?
Essentially functional yoga makes your practice all about you. It’s a process of exploring your body – noticing what areas have tightness and which don’t. A process of learning how to practice by yourself for your body – not for someone else’s. It’s learning about where your limits are, and practicing love and compassion towards yourself in spite of these. Functional yoga shows us that for some poses there is no amount of practice or dedication that will make it happen without injury, and in this way we will always prevent injuries from happening. It’s safer, more personal and the perfect way to draw in and learn more about you. At the end of the day, isn’t that what yoga is all about?
Stretch Yoga Blog
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