Skeletal Variations – Goodbye “One fits All”!

Skeletal Variations – Why are they important for our practice?

Everyone that started a dedicated Yoga practice has experienced that the journey consists of euphoric highs (“Oh my god, I could do the pose!”) as well as frustrating lows (“I seem not to progress at all – why?”). We are encouraged to seize poses to discover ourselves and become free to move without restrictions. Due to Instagram & Co we also soon acquire a “pretty much” clear picture about how poses “should” look.

When practicing, reality looks sometimes somewhat different from the ideal depicted in Yoga Journal. For us, that can become an emotional problem.

We cannot comprehend why apparently we are not able to follow the teacher’s advice of how to align our body in order to master the pose, despite our sincerest efforts to do so. “What’s wrong with me?” – “Are there “issues in my tissues”, problems that I am not aware of, nor (seemingly) can heal?” – “What IS my problem?”

The 3 steps solution to vital freedom

  • FIRST STEP: accepting “what is”!
    The foundational structure of our skeleton & our own unique variation of it
  • SECOND STEP: Learning to distinguish sensation!
    What is tension, what is compression
  • THIRD STEP: Developing our potential!
    Seizing time, effectively & elevating our evolution to the next level
    (emotional or mental)
Yin Yoga Wien - Yin Yoga Anatomy skeletal variations - Yin Yoga Baden
Right and Left side absolutely identical, only one specific way our bones and joints are formed. To adopt this simplified, misleading depiction as an “internal guide”, can easily develop into a roadblock of your own Yoga practice.

FIRST STEP: Accepting “what is”!
The foundational structure of our skeleton & our own unique variation of it

Yin Yoga structures the human locomotory system into 14 skeletal segments.All of them have a profound influence on our practice of Yoga or our training in general:

  • 4 segments in the lower extremities (legs)
  • 4 segments in the spine
  • 6 segments in the upper extremities (arms)

In Highschool, we learn about the general basic principles of the human skeleton. What we are not being taught is, that every bone and each joint of this skeleton is different in every human being. OUR OWN SKELETON IS UNIQUE, that it indeed really IS different than all the other human skeletons on this planet.”Oopsie-daisy, how is that possible? Don’t we all share the same structural blueprint”? Yes AND no!

In order to dive deeper in our practice of yoga (and in our comprehension of our own, unique physique), we have to learn how we can improve our internal perception of our bones and joints. That will teach us certainty how our own skeletal structure is being shaped and how this consequently influences our own personal practice.

Practical examples, FIRST STEP:
Bones grow in spirals. The various intensities of growth-based torsion in the humerus bone influences our hip joint

“Femur Torsion” – rotational growth of the humerus bone: The upper parts of the knee joint (in the picture in the background) are aligned homogeneously so they all point up towards the ceiling.

Yin Yoga Wien skeletal variations
© Paul – used with friendly permission from the author.

Various intensities of helical bone growth changes the angle of the head of the humerus (in the picture in the front). If we are to stand in TADASANA (mountain-pose) “neutrally”, we first have to define what “in a neutral way” means for us:

Are we talking about an disengaged repose of the head of the humerus in the acetabulum? Should we align the kneecaps “to the front”? What makes anatomically more sense – for each of the 6 individuals above – when we are asking them to stand in a neutral stance?

EVERYONE WILL EXPERIENCE THIS POSE IN A UNIQUE, PERSONAL WAY and “neutral” will look differently on the outside for all of them!

Logical deduction: To hold on to dogmatic alignment rules that will fit all of humanity is a misconception that not only goes against scientific findings but furthermore ignores the variety of life.

SECOND STEP: Learning to distinguish sensation!
What is tension, what is compression?

There exists a huge DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MYOFASCIAL TENSION AND BONY COMPRESSION and the restrictions they cause in the movement of the body.

Myofascial tensions are based on an imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga offers us the tools of our breath and our awareness to reestablish balance between muscular antagonists. We are able to influence our nervous system and introduce change.

The mature shape of our skeleton – and thereby also the bony points of compressions – is determined after hormonal changes during puberty. Later than that, only surgical intervention, that would grind off material from our bones or artificially elongate them, could reform our skeleton. Legions of highly motivated ballet dancers, that have been dismissed from elite ballet school when reaching puberty, testify to the fact that it is definitely not the lack of training or talent but the bone structure itself that makes them unsuitable for extreme positions required in this field of work.

For everyone who simply loves to move it’s essential to acknowledge that both principles have an impact on the radius of movement: where we discover myofascial tension in the body, there is still a “path to follow”, we still can “go somewhere”, freeing our still existing potential. When we encounter bony compression, there is neither something that we need to liberate, nor something that we could “open up”: The proportions of our skeleton and the individual variables of our joint and bone components are determinations of our being, that we simply and maturely have to accept as is.

To embrace this realisation will save us time and prevents us from self-blame, and, as a consequence, hurting ourselves either on an emotional or physical level. Our sincere desire to grow and contribute to the greater good is no longer determined by outer dogmatic ideals of aesthetics. As the need to conquer and win over the body ceases, we LEARN TO RECONNECT WITH OUR GIVEN SKELETAL STRUKTURE and our own INNER SENSATION IN POSES.

Oneness has been reestablished: we no longer “bang our head against the wall”, but consciously direct our evolution into areas of growth that honor the conditions of our body.

Practical examples, SECOND STEP:
The different individual formations of our bones and the space they provide to us influences our range of motion

Detailed view of two lumbar segments of the spine: Here, the PRINCIPLE OF COMPRESSION is clearly recognisable. The left segments explicitly indicates a greater potential for movement in all backbending postures than the right one. The articular processes on the left will hit (“compress”) later than the ones to the right.

Yin Yoga Wien skeletal variations lumbar spine
© Paul – used with friendly permission from the author

Seeing this, we still can’t comment in an educated way about the “opening of the heart”, nor can we make any evidence-based statement regarding the flexibility of the abdominal muscles.

THIRD STEP: Seizing time, effectively! Elevating our evolution to the next level.

Whenever we are in pain – either physically or emotionally – we have distanced ourselves from our unique way of being and lost our inherent harmony with life. As a consequence, many of us go outside and lust for the “greener grass on the other side of the fence”. “If I only would have what she/he has, I’d be so much happier!” – “If I only could do what she/he is able to do, THAT would be my ultimate redemption!” Some of us transfer this well-known human dynamic onto the yoga mat, where we often have come to with the desire and need to heal. “If I could do this pose, it would show me — fill in the blank –, I would be healed and all my problems: gone!”

Subconsciously we’re following an outer ideal or image that we accepted without previously getting in touch with how we ARE and what we need. WE ARE FOLLOWING OUTER DOGMA AND IGNORE OUR OWN, INDIVIDUAL STRUCTURE. The consequence? “We feel bad”, think “We’ve failed” or simply are “not spiritual enough”, “still have “to work a little harder”. The quest for the unattainable starts and we create a lot of suffering for ourselves.

We reach the point where our mandala is complete and we can go back to the beginning of this article to deepen our understanding: realizing the FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TENSION in the body that keeps us from “doing stuff” (the mentioned “issues in the tissues”) and the existence of COMPRESSION, that is a life-long companion and definitely NO manifestation of an imbalance, is ESSENTIAL on our path of holistic self-discovery and healing. It’s highly important to find a teacher that is knowledgeable when it comes to skeletal variations and provides space and know-how for discovery of structures in yin yoga classes or private yin yoga sessions

I am grateful to offer you a helping hand if you’re interested in exploring “your unique way”of moving through life!