Emma Lovell Yoga

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Category Archives alignment


I’ve recently been introduced to the teaching of Diane Bruni by Rachel Johnston (who provides endless movement and teaching inspiration, and reminds me to keep questioning everything!)  Diane has these wise words on her website:


This is a question I ask every time I practice and teach. If what we’re training into our bodies does not enhance the movements of daily life, why would be practice them? Why not practice the poses and movements that will reinforce the patterns that we were designed to move in. Instead of standing on our heads and risking neck injury, why not learn to walk well? Instead of forward folding with straight legs and putting strain on the lower back why not learn to squat well? The list goes on.’

What I teach is not static or set in stone.  I don’t stick to one ‘system’ and I am learning to constantly question and re-question what I am teaching.  This means that under the umbrella of yoga, my classes are influenced by anything that has inspired me to move better, and that I want to pass on to others to help them move better and be more aware of their bodies.  This can be yoga, or most recently The Feldenkrais Method, Katy Bowman, Gary Ward, and Somatics.  This also means a lot of unlearning of things I was previously taught (namely alignment cues, and what I am training into my own body) , things that I had previously never questioned.  Rachel Johnston sums this up perfectly (full post here):

 ‘You as practitioners and we as teachers should never stop questioning and exploring in this kind of work. Half of what we think we know (and teach) is most likely misguided or wrong, and we are never going to find out which half without challenging perceived wisdoms.’

Here’s a more natural way of positioning the hand in Downward dog taken from Diane’s website (you can read Diane’s full ‘hand rant’ here), which challenges the traditional alignment cues given in most yoga classes:

Give it a go and notice if and how it changes the pose for you.


‘Even though we now have only the beginning of what was once a real mammalian tail, it behaves the same. Untucking the tailbone opens the pelvic outlet, tucking it closes it — tightening the pelvic floor. The dog with his tail down between his legs is an equivalent of you sitting on your sacrum, the back supported by a chair or a couch. If you spend multiple hours a day in this position, your pelvic floor doesn’t really have a chance to release and allow the muscle fibres to regain their natural length at resting state. So gradually it shortens.’  From Yoga with Ivana blog


Raise your left arm into the air. Great. Now check and see if the shoulder joint also went into the air. Did it? Now, put the arm and the shoulder back down and raising your arm without taking your shoulder with it. How? By thinking “pull the left shoulder blade down as I lift my arm.” Why? Because arm movement should happen mostly at the shoulder joint and not so much between the shoulder and the neck. For better long-term shoulder health (and less neck tension) maintain those finer motor skills (look Mom, I can move JUST my arm), which keep the smaller muscles in the shoulder joint more mobile and well-circulating and reduces the pull on the vertebrae of the neck. How’d you do? Try the right side too!’  Katy Bowman, from blog post ‘Want Traps with that?’  Full article here

We’ve been fine tuning our arm and shoulder movement this week and trying to reduce neck tension in the process.  If you want to practice what we did in class at home then take a look at Katy Bowman’s ‘Alignment Snacks‘ which are roughly 20-30 minutes sessions on different areas of the body.  I recommend ‘Rhomboid Madness’ and ‘A Real Pain in the Neck’ if you want to repeat some of the exercises we did this week.

Also take a look at these two videos from Jill Miller’s Yoga Up®:

Finally here’s an interesting article on neck and head position to help avoid neck pain from Alignment Monkey.




Here’s an article from Todd Hargrove explaining why and how our skeletal structure affects our movement and why an individualised approach is so important in exercise, rather than forcing each body into ‘some Platonic ideal’: ‘Optimal alignment or posture for a certain function is partly a result of having as many joints in neutral as possible at any one time. And the shape of the bones will determine how many of your joints you can keep in neutral at the same time in a particular functional task…we should be very wary about anyone dictating to us what proper form is in regard to a particular activity without considering our individual variations in structure.‘ Full article here

Here are some very clear illustrations of anatomical variations in pelvic and femur structure- a squat for these two individuals will (and should) look very different:Pic 1

pic 2

pic 3

pic 5

Images from here


Individual practice

A couple of articles here on the changing approaches to yoga.  First, the brilliant Matthew Remski writing about  ‘extreme practice and injury in asana’ and also touching on the online trend of posting pictures of extreme yoga poses which, for most of us, are completely inaccessible.

‘Pattabhi Jois was fond of the adage, “With enough heat, even iron will bend”. But this new rationalist yoga discourse imposes clearer limits upon the aspirational body, insisting that muscles do not get “longer”, and pain is not an “opening” – except in a pathological sense. The primal dream of bodily transformation through “being worked into a noodle”, as Jois student Annie Pace described it, is being eclipsed by the simpler goal of enhancing a natural range of motion for functional movement.’ See more here.


On a similar note, Jenni Rawlings discusses how our different body proportions affect our practice, stressing the importance of moving away from the ‘one-pose fits all’ approach in yoga, which can force the body into shapes that could cause injury by focusing on the aesthetics of the pose:

In the yoga world, we often conceive of asanas as having one final form that we are all striving to “achieve” or “finish.” But when we learn to appreciate the role that our unique body proportions play in what our specific yoga poses look like (or how hard we might be working in our shapes), we can start to broaden our notion of what it means to “progress” in yoga practice. Ultimately, our top priority in any asana should be for the shape to serve the individual body performing it; how the pose looks will then be a natural byproduct of that goal.’  For the full article see here



Posted on by Emma

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reaching the centre

in yoga practice

you try to reach that centre inside your body

from which it is possible to expand…

in yoga, with listening, with attention

with the clarity that comes from the practice

slowly slowly slowly

you touch the spot from which you can expand

into the ground and into space


Challenge your centre

‘To stabilise your body around neutral, and in particular your core, limits movement in the spine whilst also limiting…full movement potential.

How can we know where centre is if we don’t know where the boundary or limits to our centre are?’  Gary Ward, What the Foot?


<h3 class='artwork-heading'>Robert Kinmont 8 Natural Handstands</h3><p class='artwork-info'>1969/2009<br>nine silver gelatin prints, Ed.10<br>21.5 x 21.5 cm Courtesy Alexander and Bonin </p><h3 class='artwork-heading'>Robert Kinmont 8 Natural Handstands</h3><p class='artwork-info'>1969/2009<br>nine silver gelatin prints, Ed.10<br>21.5 x 21.5 cm Courtesy Alexander and Bonin </p><h3 class='artwork-heading'>Robert Kinmont 8 Natural Handstands</h3><p class='artwork-info'>1969/2009<br>nine silver gelatin prints, Ed.10<br>21.5 x 21.5 cm Courtesy Alexander and Bonin </p>

Handstand images from Natural Handstands.

Appreciating the feet

It’s been all about the feet in class this week.  We’ve been looking at foot and ankle alignment, as well as stretching the muscles around the feet (which can get surprisingly tight).  Here’s a video with some great exercises for foot health:


We often neglect the poor feet, so every so often it’s nice to appreciate what they allow us to do in daily life, and in yoga- balance, strength, stability.

Look after your feet- Give yourself a weekly/daily foot massage.  Put your feet up:

Let go of your toes- gripping the toes could be a sign you are holding something somewhere else in the body

so just stay…and exhale

until the message crawls to the feet

and the gripping goes away

(From: breath:the essence of yoga)

Use your feet- try to walk barefoot as much as you can to allow the foot and ankle the space to move, free from shoes.  Walk on uneven surfaces- when we’re not sitting, most of our day is spent walking on flat, even ground which means we’re never really using the ankle joint and muscles in the feet to their full capabilities (for more information on this, see the amazing Katy Bowman’s work)- stray off the path, instead of steps walk uphill, walk downhill, and don’t forget to squat (see here for how to perfect your squat)!


I’m currently working my way through ‘Updating Yoga Alignment with Biomechanics’ by Jenni Rawlings Yoga.  This is a great online course for anyone interested in alignment in asana, and also in updating their teaching with  a more biomechanical approach.  For more information on the course please see www.jennirawlings.com


Jules Mitchell: The Science of Stretching

This interview is a great listen if you’re interested in the science and myths of stretching:

‘We want to be stiff- just stiff in all ranges of motion, not just one range of motion. In a full range of motion “stiff” makes us powerful beings and now we have a full range.’

‘This idea that the more flexible we are the better off we are- when in reality those people have more trouble “holding themselves together”.’

Here’s Jules Mitchell’s blog for further information on her work