Here’s what a snapshot like this one can give us:
1. an idea about the alignment of the pose, i.e. how tissues, especially bony tissues, relate to one another. This is true both both:
… of a body relative to itself, i.e. the thigh bone is
externally rotated and abducted relative to the pelvis, the arms are flexed relative to the ribcage, etc.
… of a body relative to the floor and to space. We can tell this person is probably standing, but she could be making the same shape, i.e. the same body-relative-to-itself movements, on her back, i.e. in a different relationship to gravity, ground force reaction and atmospheric pressure.
2. a relative idea of what it feels like to be in the pose (we’re equipped with mirror neurons for just such purposes).
Here’s what a snapshot can’t give us, or if it does it’s very, very subtle:
How actively this yogi is pressing through her feet, her fingertips, her anywhere?
Those micro-reaches that happen at the end of a range of motion don’t show up as more range — or if they do, then you just have a new “end of a range of motion” and begin this inquiry anew.
That kind of pressing through can show up as a very different experience of being in a pose.
But it’s hard, if not impossible, to talk about in terms of form.
Just as it’s hard, if not impossible, to describe what a verb is in terms of nouns.
Running, the verb, isn’t just the amalgamation of positions, i.e. nouns, in gait. Yes, that’s closer than referring to incorrect positions — like if you saw a photo of someone on their hands, you’d know that’s not running, because running never goes there; on your hands is called something else.
But still: a snapshot of someone running only invokes the verb. The actual verb of running is only something that is happening. We can certainly see a picture of someone mid-stride, and deduce that he was running, which unless the photographer is playing some sort of trick is probably true. But again, we’re inferring the movement.
I chose the talk about āsana for this post because the movement, of course, is different than running. It’s not only more subtle, it’s not a movement through space once you’re in the pose, rather it is, or at least can be, a kind of verb that’s not traveling.
This would be so much easier if we could just talk about Chi and have it not fall into helpless cliché or arguments about how much better things used to be before modern ways.
We’d say: yes, a better — or I’d just say more fun — yoga pose has chi extending in all directions, especially in the cardinal planes of the movement. (In vṛkṣāsana, perhaps, out of her fingertips, the roots of her feet, the flanks of her torso.)
If you’re into biomechanics: consider the qualitative difference between just squeezing your arm in the position of a biceps curl, and in trying to lift a 10-ton boulder, in that exact same position. They are both technically isometric contractions. But qualitatively, is there not a difference between the two “poses”? Perhaps in — dare we say — your intent?
So all of us: teachers, students, onlookers … May we consider what we can lose if we see the world as a bunch of nouns vying for better position and forget the formless, yet clear as day, nature of the verb.