Wednesday musings, 11/11/15

I teach a weekly yoga class. Last week, one of the regular students came in with k-tape on her shoulder and an exasperated look on her face. “Jennifer, can we do things even more slowly today? I keep injuring myself in classes where we move fast and do chatarangua after chatarangua.” In a world where social media and news publications highlight challenging workouts, impressive asanas, and nearly impossible physical feats, working on the basics isn’t what people in a class setting expect or want, despite the fact performing the basics over and over again is what allows motor control and strength to be developed.

People go to classes for a number of reasons: the social aspect, to improve strength and mobility, to maintain a level of fitness. What is often missing (even in the yoga world), is the search of skill acquisition. This can only be done if a foundation is established and skills are repeated in a variety of different ways for a long time before more advanced movements are performed. There is a reason advanced powerlifters return to the squat and the deadlift regularly, even if they have been lifting for decades. Hone the skills of the basics, return to the basics, and let that information inform more advanced movement. Researchers show the difference between novices and highly trained individuals is the brains of the highly trained individuals devote more intensity to the area involved with task execution. There is less muscle activation involved with people performing a skill at a high level, as well as a higher degree of repeatability between movements with less variation.* There were only two students in my class that day, so I worked on the basics of down dog. For an hour. I used breathing drills to connect to the core, the block became our best friend (or nemesis, depending on how you feel about shoulder girdle work), and we figured out the impact those two things had on arm placement. As the two students were leaving, one commented that the hour flew by. The other noted she was fairly sure she was going to be sore in weird places because she wasn’t used to using her core in that way. I can only hope that some of the focused work will make a lasting impact the next time she sets up in a plank position. Put in the work to make the basics skilled and return to them regularly to develop good quality movement. 

*This paper is fantastic. It’s also 64 pages, so only check it out if you are really curious about how motor control works. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4019873/