It’s one of these things you spend years without knowing and when you get it, you wonder how could you have not seen it before.
I mean, really: if everything about us is unique – our voice and way of walking, our taste and pigmentation, even the bacteria in our guts are different from person to person – then why on earth do we believe that we should all follow the same rules of alignment when doing a yoga pose? It simply makes no sense…
I spent 13 years studying and teaching the precise way of placing hands and feet just so to build up the perfect yoga pose, the safest way – I believed – to practice yoga, completely disregarding the fact that every bone in every body is different, and that the uniqueness of a body is not an excuse, but a scientific fact that needs to be acknowledged and respected. When I was finally shown the absurdity of what i was saying, I cried for a week. And I saw that I had two options: to grow even more attached to what I had learned before and defend it against every single proof, or to allow my consciousness to expend, recognize my own ignorance, and grow. I chose the first. Just kidding. When you can see clearly, who wants to be blind again?
Functional Yoga – the principle
Functional Yoga is based on the scientifically proven premise that our skeletons, tissues, physiology, temperament and motivation are made and organized in an unique way that is ours only and not repeated anywhere else in the Universe. This uniqueness comes with the whole package of talents and limitations that constitute who we are. In other words, it means that some of us are musical but bad with numbers, can run for miles but cannot sit cross-legged on the floor. Someone else might cook wonderfully but not be able to carry a tune, bend backwards for fun but hate sports. The variation in human anatomy and psychology is truly infinite.
Within Functional Yoga we recognize these differences and honour them without giving up on any aspect of life. Instead of focusing on aesthetic goals – I want to bend my back like her, sing like him, look like them – we focus on the function – strengthen the spine, express ourselves, feel good in our skins. It is a profound shift in approach, that liberates us for being who we are without excuses or unreal expectations.
With this approach, all bodies can benefit from the yoga poses in their own unique way, enjoying a practice that is healthy, safe, nourishing, fulfilling and fun independently from age, background, body shape or flexibility.
Functional Yoga was developed and organized into a system by Paul and Suzee Grilley and can be applied to many yoga styles like Hatha, Vinyasa or Yin Yoga; it includes deep understanding of how the body works through functional anatomy studies and also the ever present insight that we are much more than our bodies given by yoga philosophy.
Pranayama.com on Paul Grilley’s approach on Functional Yoga:
“The idea of a visually “Perfect Pose” that everyone must strive to achieve is a fallacy that can result in ineffectiveness and even injury. The ultimate limit to every range of motion in yoga is our bones, and no two people’s bones are exactly alike. Everyone has a different range of motion in every pose. Therefore, in order to be truly effective, a yoga pose must be adapted to the unique bones and body of each individual. This fundamental insight has informed Paul’s work for many years.”
By getting to know ourselves physically we will understand the poses and what they are supposed to give us and our students; by getting to know what hinders and what inspires us we will understand the practices that bring us insight, contentment and joy.