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Functional Yoga

The aim of a yoga asana is to cultivate store and distribute Qi.. to harmonize Qi flow
in our bodies. We can achieve this by stressing the 24 target areas that are in our bodies.
Paul Grilley teaches us to view the body as 14 skeletal segments that are moved by 10 muscle groups and that
we can then adapt the nature of 7 archetypal poses to accommodate every individual student.

There for in the functional approach there is no perfect pose, no one size fits all.
We tailor the posture to the individual student.  Every yoga pose is bad for someone somewhere. We are all different.
We can build a perfectly safe practice for each individual when we teach in this manner.

'Unlearn what you have learned'
Master Yoda along time ago in a Galaxy far far away
Below is an interesting article Paul wrote as a forward for a book on Alignment.

The History of Teaching Alignment in America
Assuming that everyone is the same makes the teaching of yoga simpler but unfortunately,
not safer. We are not all the same: just as you would be ill advised to take someone else's prescription
drugs, or drive while wearing someone else's glasses, an alignment cue that works well for one
yoga student may be quite harmful to you. Where did this emphasis on universal alignment
cues come from? Paul Grilley explains.

  When did the “rules of alignment” in yoga classes become ubiquitous? Rules of alignment
became both rigid and pervasive with the rise of yoga teacher training (TT) programs.
Teacher training programs were rare until the late 1980's and early 1990's. There were some yoga studios
in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but their bread and butter were daily and weekly classes, not TT programs.

  Before the rise of TT programs, yoga teachers trained by showing up regularly at classes
and then being asked to substitute for the regular instructor, eventually, they started teaching regularly.
There were no formal training programs. In fact, the people who opened and ran these studios
had very little formal training themselves. Yoga culture then was like surfing is now:
people learned from others, practiced on their own and occasionally practiced in groups.
Most 'studios' were peoples living rooms.

  Yoga benefited from the birth of the modern fitness culture, just as did other forms of exercise
such as body building, jogging, dance classes and aerobics. Body building and running are not
conducive to group class participation but dance and aerobics classes were born in the group environment.
Yoga classes began to model themselves after dance classes, and the modern “yoga class” was born.
People practicing on their own became less common.

  Just prior to the fitness boom, yoga was a small niche of hippie/Hindu yogis whose practices
focused on calmness and stillness. Yoga might not have benefitted from the fitness explosion
had it not been for the Ashtanga/Vinyasa yoga of Pattabhi Jois. This style of yoga was hot, sweaty and
similar in feel to aerobics classes. Vinyasa styles of yoga eventually became as popular as aerobics,
while the gentle hippie yoga of the previous years was nearly forgotten.

  Thanks to Ashtanga/Vinyasa, yoga exploded and there was not enough teachers or studios to
keep up with demand. Yoga TT programs were created to meet this need. There wasn't time to
cultivate teachers in the old fashioned way of “show up regularly, then substitute teach, then teach”,
teachers needed to be mass produced in 200 hour chunks of time.
None of this was cynical manipulation – it was motivated by a genuinely felt need.

  But how to produce a teacher in 200 hours? The education had to be systemised to be time
efficient, and students needed to be assessed unambiguously. Both needs were met by creating
manuals with strict memorisable “rules of alignment” on how postures should be taught.

  Continuing on for many years before the yoga boom was a TT program that was not patterned
after the “show up regularly, then substitute teach, teach” model. This was the Iyengar School of
Yoga in India, and its branches in the USA, particularly in San Francisco. In fact, Yoga journal
started life as a journal of the Iyengar School in San Francisco.

   Iyengar teachers prided themselves on having exact rules of alignment; in this very significant way,
they stood out from other styles of yoga and from TT programs. My Iyengar had already developed many
“levels” of certification. This is important because the manual first used by Yoga Works in Los Angeles
was written by Iyengar and other alignment devotees.

  Yoga Works developed the most successful TT programs in the hot-bed of the booming yoga business:
Los Angeles. Yoga Works has since then expanded to many studios in LA and across the USA,
and they have actively exported their program to as far away as Asia.

  But it isn't just Iyengar or Yoga Works that have sought to standardise the rules of alignment:
every style of yoga that seeks rapid expansion does the same. Bikram yoga turns out cookie-cutter
teachers by the hundreds, and their “training” is largely the strict memorization of a script of
alignment instructions. Anusara yoga used to bill itself as “ the fastest growing style of yoga in the world”
and its rules of alignment have been described as “Iyengar with spirals”.
And Almost monthly, someone trademarks their “brand” of yoga, which essentially
trademarking their alignment rules.

   Alignment is not a “Western corruption” of yoga tradition. Mr Iyengar is an Indian from an Indian tradition.
But there are many Indian schools of yoga without rigid alignment, and Pattabhi Jois's Ashtanga yoga is one of them.
There are Western schools of yoga that are not alignment rigid, such as Kripalu yoga. So, alignment rigidity is not Eastern
or Western or universal, it is consequence of TT programs trying to make it simpler to mass produce teachers.

   Any time an art is constrained to mass production, it will be simplified, codified and rigidified This is true in yoga,
in dance, in martial arts and religion. Simpler is easier to teach and absorb, but it leads to inaccurate
generalizations and intolerance of individuality.

   Yet it must be said that the impulsive to embrace rigid rules of alignment is not motivated only by TT necessities.
Its is part of human nature to codify and rigidify, just as it is another part of human nature to break
with tradition and create something new. We cannot teach effectively without some generalizations,
but we haven't reached maturity until we have outgrown generalisations and can competently focus on the unique
needs of every student in every pose. This is not an impossible dream – it just takes more time than a TT can afford.
The onus of continuing growth is on each and every yoga teacher.
This is the only way a teacher can reach his or her full potential.
Swami Vivekananda addressed this issue in the field of religion
“ its good to be born in a church, it is bad to die in one”

Paul Grilley September 2015 
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