By Kathryn Boland
Consider how yoga approaches framed with the knowledge of typical developmental movement patterns can lead individuals with specific physical complications, due to traumas in their early childhoods, to overcome those challenges as well as to re-claim other parts of their lives for the better. While reading, as fellow yoga instructors you might have asked “Well, what about working with whole classes of students, all with separate life histories and physical abilities? How could we apply all of this in that context?”
I respond with an encouraging observation that the sequence most traditional asana classes follow align with the described common developmental movement sequence. For instance, we typically focus on keying into breath, and then enter into movements that warm up the spine as well as require contact (touch) with the floor. We then venture into more complex postures that develop balance as well as cross-lateral and body-half sequencing (such as Trikonasana and the Warrior series). Hence, in many ways yoga already aligns with how our bodies have naturally developed and now currently function.
Remaining aware of these patterns, however, can further lead practitioners and instructors to sequence practices, as well as adjust specific postures (on oneself or ones’ students), in ways that make them all the more valuable (see the prior posts for more details on such purposeful adjustments). Knowledge of developmental movement patterns can also serve as an assessment tool for oneself and/or one’s students, which can then lead to beneficial adjustments to yoga practice. For instance, an instructor might notice that a particular student is capable overall, yet has immense difficulties with balancing – indicating lack of vestibular sense building.
We might notice that others have trouble stabilizing in the core while extending out through the limbs, or vice versa, demonstrating lack of having developed the core-distal movement skill. Even in the midst of busy classes with diverse students, we can give students quick pieces of individual guidance that can help them to begin overcoming difficulties involved with lacking those pieces of their developmental movement “repertoire”. That is even more realistically possible with certain students who regularly attend our classes. See the former post in this series for more on such individual guidance.
If all of that might seem like a lot of complex information to absorb, as well as complicated to implement, I recommend continuing to trust ourselves in how we lead ourselves and others in practice; if we truly listen to our bodies, hearts, and minds, they will let us know what is best for ourselves and for those we guide. All of that in mind, I would like to offer a short sequence that should be accessible to most moderately-functional and physically able students (yet perhaps not to wheelchair-bound elderly individuals, for instance – though I believe in you readers to have the capable know-how to make any necessary adjustments).
The sequence goes through all of the eight stages of developing movement abilities that I have described in this series (with any questions, I advise you to return to any or all of the prior posts in this series, all available on the Aura Wellness Center Teacher Training Blog and searchable by the first part of this post’s title - if you might have the time and interest). Dance/movement therapy and other somatic practices commonly utilize such sequences for leading varied individuals to greater body-integration, and through that gains including increased pro-sociality, reduced anxiety, and clearer cognition. When we use our bodies in ways that are true to them, the results can truly be astounding in ways that far exceed the physical.
• Breath - Easy Pose with Pranayama (any exercise in the discipline that might be appropriate and beneficial for the students at hand)
• Touch – Lion’s Pose (with gentle thigh massages before and/or after “splayed” fingers common to the pose)
• Head-Tail – Cat/Cow Postures Flow
• Core/Distal – Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)
* Through Knees-Chest-Chin to execute on the other leg
• Upper/Lower – Uttana Shishosana (Puppy Pose)
* Reach out arms and bring shoulders over wrists to extend into Full Plank Posture
• Body-Half – Side-Plank Posture
* Rest back into Child’s Pose to then flow into the next pose
• Cross (Contra)-Lateral – Seated Twist in Baddha Konasana (Tailor’s Pose) or Easy Pose
• Come back to breath in Easy Pose; it all comes back to that most essential element!
Thank you, dear readers, and I wish you the best with any applications (direct or indirect) of this perspective that you might put into practice. Namaste!