We do a lot of things out of tradition. We learn something one way from our predecessors and then pass it on to the generations that come after us. Sometimes we add some more recent scientific study to the mix, but often times, tradition transcends all else.
Yoga methods are not exempt from this particular flow of information. A prime example of this truth is the teaching of “knees chest chin” in sun salutations in an asana practice. For as long as I can remember, “knees chest chin” has been presented to me as a precursor to Chaturanga Dandasana, a way to warm up to the full expression of the original pose. Today I learned that’s not true. And that’s why my Chaturanga before this training looked a little something like this:
I learned from yoga teacher after yoga teacher that “knees chest chin” sets you up for a correct Chaturanga. They taught me that because of the traditions that informed their training. And I followed them without question because that’s what I thought a good yoga student did — respected their guide, listened, and learned.
As a teacher in training, I’m now coming to understand just how many postures are overused in classes while being extremely undertaught to the students using them. I’m realizing how many corrections I have to make to my own postures after nine years of aligning in incorrect ways. And I’m prioritizing the safety of my body and my future students’ bodies so we can not only enjoy our time on our mats but continue to do so in a healthy way for a very very long time. It’s frustrating and difficult, but it’s worth doing to maintain the integrity of the practice.
I have the utmost respect for tradition. Much of the yoga philosophy I’ve come to love is deeply rooted in tradition. But when tradition compromises our health, our safety, or our modern understanding of something, it’s important to question it. Be respectful, but don’t follow blindly. The only way we can evolve is if we integrate new lessons into the traditions we love and work from there.