Closed & Open Chain: Beautiful & Organic
As yoga instructors, we are taught to see the musculoskeletal alignment of the students in our class. We are trying to see how bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons and connective tissues are working together. Our skeleton provides a framework for our muscles and other soft tissues. Together, they support your body's structure, maintain posture and balance, and enable freedom in movement.
Your individual musculoskeletal system determines your unique stability, flexibility, and strength. More experienced teachers see this relationship, and offer precise adjustments and verbal cues. This is what Malcolm Gladwell explained in his book, Blink, applied to yogis. Consider our model illustrated, Mr. Skull & Bones in Virabhadrasana 2, without the external appearances - use your superpower X-ray vision!
The musculoskeletal “chain” is “closed” at the feet - two points of contact. This is the same in all of the standing postures. The feet serve as our roots, and the term “rooting” describes the feeling behind the intention. We want to recruit our muscular energy to the core, originating where the chain is closed. With Muscular energy harnessed at the core (psoas in this posture); our Organic energy may radiate out through the extremities (crown of the head, fingertips).
When this feeling is experienced, our physical bodies feel lighter. We become more stable, and the range of motion increases (fingertips further apart). Mr. Skull & Bones feels the shoulders relax away from the ears. Organic energy can only fill the spaces where the chain is “open”. If the chain is closed by pressing the fingertips against a wall, in this posture, then the feeling would change because we limited the space to grow. We are closing off the opportunity to realize the full expression of our natural, organic energy and beauty.
Simple, right?! The chain is closed at each point of contact. Muscular strength contracts and constricts the flow of energy, vis a vis range of motion. Ideally, muscular energy is focused and centered. Then, the open space can be felt at the extremities. Even at the basic level of your practice, strive to find balance between closed-open and muscular-organic energy in each posture - especially Savasana.
“Postures should balance steadiness and ease.”
As you study your own practice, begin to notice the subtleties. For example, while standing, there are fewer and smaller points of contact to close the chain. While we’re sitting or prone on our mats, there is more surface area of our body to close the chain.
Try these four variations of Paschimottanasana, and try to feel the differences.
"Proper" alignment is a unique expression, beginning with Awareness of your own unique anatomy & physiology. That includes the stuff we’re born with (i.e. bone structure), and the things we develop (e.g., strengths and injuries). Factoring all the variables within 206 bones, 360 joints, over 600 muscles, plus 79 organs (+/-); an infinite number of expressions may be experienced. The practice is to see the differences - and, by "seeing" we really mean "feeling." When we practice with mindful Awareness, we build an Understanding of those variables at play.
We’ll close this segment, with this.
“Beauty is the purest feeling of the soul. Beauty arises when the soul is satisfied.”
Just as we shed the external appearance to find alignment with Mr. Skull & Bones, above; close your eyes and focus your x-ray vision.
Where is your physical body Closed or Open? Where do you feel tense & relaxed?
Now, let go of the physical image in your head. Looking at yoga on Pinterest is not practicing yoga. Look even deeper.
Is your mind is Closed or Open? Are thinking or feeling? Are you judging based on your physical structure, or external appearance?
The real question is, does your practice promote Unity ~ awareness & understanding of balance and a feeling of wholeness?
Or, are you practicing something that promotes judgement ~ division, fear, and isolation?
Practicing yoga with Sol is a practice of untying the nots - not this, not that, not good enough, not strong enough, not pretty enough, not skinny enough. All of those judgements are just veils that cover your true self, closing the space organic energy.
As with Yin & Yang, truly try to feel the steadiness & ease in each posture, and in your life. Step back & refocus the picture until you see the alignment & balance. It's there, but it might be blurred by layers of external perceptions, judgement, and fear. When we choose to connect with our true, natural, and organic beauty, then we can feel wholeness - the organic authenticity will radiate from your core.
Practice honoring the beauty within your soul. Integrate that feeling with your intention to experience a more satisfying practice, both on & off your yoga mat.