By Kathryn Boland
Have you noticed certain emotional qualities in different ways of moving, or moving in different places? Have you wondered how this might apply to your work as a yoga instructor? Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) is a system for understanding and discussing space as it relates to movement, one that can be useful for yoga instructors and practitioners. In a prior post, I discussed how certain qualities of movements (as LMA defines as “Efforts”) play into yoga practice and instruction. Here I will discuss those considerations with space.
LMA defines three main planes of movement, the same we also learn about in standard anatomy education (which yoga instruction includes). These are the Sagittal (up and down and back to front), Horizontal (front and back and side to side), and Vertical (up and down and side to side) Planes. In Laban’s system, movements in the Sagittal Plane have a quality of action – of doing and achieving. For instance, picture someone determined to be on time, walking quickly down the street. The Horizontal Plane connects to communicating with others. This makes sense when visualizing someone holding his/her arms out and open, inviting a loved one in for a hug. The Vertical Plane connects to self-presentation and personal identity. Picture excited young students raising their hands, nearly jumping out of their classroom seats, each dying for the teacher to call on him or her for the answer.
In yoga instruction, it can be useful to apply these same socio-emotional connections to certain postures. For instance, backbends take place in the Sagittal Plane. If practitioners keep in mind that reaching for achievement, they can more likely achieve the ideal amount of muscular engagement, in the right locations (such as lifting of the sternum). In these postures, it could also help practitioners extend up through the spine as much as possible, and thus keep the low back safe – as well as challenge themselves to reach the greatest backwards arch that their bodies can safely achieve.
In the Horizontal Plane, there are postures such as Child’s Pose (when thinking of it as a spreading out of the body sideways on the mat, reaching expansiveness that way). If practitioners can more fully release into this pose, they can call upon an openness that helps us instructors to more clearly recognize their needs. That could help us to make adjustments such as lightly pressing the lower back downwards and forwards, to help them find an even deeper release into the mat. Even something as simple as having the palms facing up, the backs of their hands resting gently on the lower thighs, while sitting in Easy Pose (Sukhasana) can evoke a similar openness. This placement sends a message that we as practitioners are open to the grace of practicing in the community we are in. Physiologically, that palms-up action actually opens up the chest and heart area. Hence, more of yoga’s powerful body-mind connections! We as instructors can guide students to take such mudras, and the powerful effects of such openness can unfold in our yoga communities.
Considering the Vertical Plane, standing with palms forward and at full height in Tadasana (Mountain Posture) certainly puts forth that sense of self-presentation. This posture can therefore be a laboratory for students to find the state in their bodies with which they can present themselves joyfully and proudly, yet without hubris. Physically, qualities such as having the chin parallel to the floor and the collarbone as open and wide as possible can significantly lead to that feeling. Being there in one’s body can lead, before long, to one feeling open and settled in oneself – in all one’s strengths and growth areas – enough to bring that personal authenticity out into the world.
LMA also defines how movements take on certain qualities in space. For instance, Spoking movements travel on straight, pure lines. We can encourage our students to find that straight, strong, “spoking” (as in the parts of a wheel) feeling with the top arm in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), for example. Carving movements encircle another object or person. It might help practitioners to sink more deeply into binds, or fold further into postures such as Malasana (Garland Pose) if they can visualize carving around their own bodies.
As another aspect of LMA Shape theory, Shape Flow describes small, more internal movements that may or may not even be visible to others. Observing this type of movement in oneself can help to tune into one’s internal state on a given day. This way of defining such internal movements can help us as instructors guide students to more closely observe the “flow” that may or may not be happening in their bodies. These “check-ins” can be particularly beneficial in class openings and closings, or in resting moments during mid-class/session. Water imagery can aid in that self-investigation – after all, by percentage, our bodies are more water than solid!
If you might be interested in learning more about Laban Movement Analysis, online and text resources abound. We as instructors of course benefit from keeping current as possible on knowledge within our own field - and there are only so many hours in a day, and so much our brains can absorb at one time. On the other hand, other perspectives can have immense value for us, as well! As with anything, as yoga also helps us to learn, it’s all about balance. With that, I encourage you dear readers to keep an open mind and learn all you can. You never know what type of knowledge could grace you on any given day, to support the daily work of your unique dharma. I feel as if learning about Laban Movement Analysis has helped that happen for me. As always, please share your thoughts and stories that are related to the topic below. Om Shanti!
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