Updated: Aug 3, 2021
Alignment vs. Progressive Overload
Alignment is the trendy word for a seemingly more anatomy aware yoga class. I have some concerns with that word and its usage. Many think that alignment is "the correct way to stand or perform a posture". My preference as someone who studies the body? Alignment is the way you are able to bring awareness, full attention, and focus to your body's position in space and connect with it.
Let's analyze tree pose for example. There is a yoga alignment myth in the community to avoid placing the foot directly on the side of the knee, which is arguably most people’s max mobility reach. Let’s break this down. The knee is a bicondylar joint, it functions to accommodate medial and lateral rotational forces in everyday motions, instead of entirely avoiding them. Telling someone to "avoid placing the foot on the knee" in tree pose reflects a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of how force affects the body. Holding your foot still on the knee exposes the knee to load. I’m not arguing that we should be jamming our feet into the sides of our knees, but what if we could cultivate awareness and adapt our knee to the slight pressure of our feet seeking balance and stability in tree pose? This declaration of avoid placing the foot on the knee in tree pose subconsciously implies that force is dangerous and should be avoided. When in fact it cannot be avoided because we live on a planet that exposes us to force and in return we grow stronger. Depending on the person, most of the time someone resting their foot on the knee is not enough force production to relate to injury. Lifters have known for ages that loading the body makes you stronger! Why do we avoid loaded stress in yoga and claim that our practice makes our bodies stronger?
Studying biomechanical forces blurs our understanding of doing a pose the right or wrong way. Biomechanics considers the benefits and risks of the forces involved in the position. Biomechanics considers what is happening in the pose on an individual level at that moment, rather than doing the pose the right way.
The body gets stronger through repetitions. Yoga is a beautiful practice, but the problem with postures from a strength perspective is that they are not progressive. “You do a pose with your body weight, it might be hard at first but then you get better at it the more you do it.” (Kathryn Bruni-Young, Mindful Strength Podcast) Once you’ve mastered the pose it doesn't go further than that. I will argue that progressive overload can be adapted into any yoga practice.
Progressive Overload is when you progressively add more weight (load) to what movement you are doing as time goes on. This is because you adapted to the weight you previously used, so now you increase the weight again to then stimulate more strength. You can also look at it as the weights you were doing got you stronger, so now you're going to increase the weight to challenge the body again and give it room to grow even stronger.
With loading, the variable is specific. That means your increments and progress can be tracked and measured. If you ever wonder why lifters carry a journal or spend time on their phone after every set, it’s because they are tracking the amount of weight they just did. It is simple, yet an efficient way to measure progress over time. Studies suggest loading the body improves bone density. Yoga? It is good, but alone, it is not that good for maintaining bone density as you age. Flexibility may have no real impact on overall health. Adding a strength training regiment of any kind would be optimal and would strongly compliment your asana practice.