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AKA: Muscle Contraction
Limitations that appear to be about flexibility are often actually about strength. For example, in a seated forward bend, the limitation may be flexibility, or it can be weakness in the core stabilizers of the low back, or strength limitation in the muscles that take the hip joint into a fold.
If joint gets a Sthira/Contraction Tapas Rating at or near 5, that means that, of the Fundamental Asanas, the muscles that affect that joint shape by contracting need to be strong. These joints in these poses are at the top range of strength required to do one or more of those three types of contraction listed above.
If joint gets a Sthira/Contraction Tapas Rating at or near 1, that means that beginning students of average strength can reasonably be expected to be able to make optimal alignment at that joint or area happen without any preparation.
AKA Range of Motion
Of the three types of limitations, this one gets the most attention in the modern yoga culture. The Sukha Tapas Rating is about range of motion at a joint.
If a joint gets a Sukha/ROM Tapas Rating at or near 5, that means that is is either near the end range of motion for that joint in terms of the shapes of the articulating surfaces of the bones that form it, or it is the end range of motion that has been determined optimal for that joint in that pose.
If a joint gets a Sukha/ROM Tapas Rating at or near 1, that means that beginning students of average flexibility can reasonably be expected to be able to make optimal alignment at that joint or area happen.
Working at the Tapas Point requires knowing where the body is and what it is doing. If we are to to determine a stopping point based on whether or not a thing is happening, we need to be able to know whether or not that thing is happening. This is actually the most common limitation when it comes to establishing the Tapas Point, the optimal range of depth for a pose.
In many poses, straight legs are important. However, in many poses where it is difficult to straighten the legs and the practitioner can’t see them, the knees will bend without them knowing. Another more common area where proprioception is often limited is in the upper back. Until a practitioner can feel and control an area of the body, it would not be wise to work in poses where this area is given a high Svadhyaya/Proprioception Tapas Rating.
If joint gets a Svadhyaya/Proprioception Tapas Rating at or near 5, that means that, of the Fundamental Asanas, sensitivity to the position and quality of that need to be high. These joints in these poses are at the top range of proprioception required to do it safely and effectively.
If joint gets a Svadhyaya/Proprioception Tapas Rating at or near 1, that means that beginning students of average proprioception can reasonably be expected to be able to make optimal alignment at that joint or area happen with no preparation.
The Tapas Point is a concept that is fundamental to American Yoga School methodology. Working at the Tapas Point does three very important things:
1. It requires the active mental participation of the practitioner in a way that takes the asana from being a purely musculoskeletal endeavor to a mental practice that yields deeply beneficial mental results.
2. It addresses whatever limitation is preventing deeper movement, if that limitation is one that needs addressing. Often, a physical limitation that looks like it is about flexibility is actually about strength. Working at the Tapas Point addresses the issue, whether it is about flexibility or strength, without you needing to know which one it is.
3. It customizes the practice to the individual. The yoga of Patanjali is about the individual, not the group. The Tapas Point is provided so that everybody gets their best practice.
People practice yoga for many reasons. But, almost all of those reasons are about wanting to change something physically or otherwise. The Tapas Point is the body shape, for each pose, at which that change will best happen.
For many of the Fundamental Asanas, there is a range of motion into which the practitioner will come into the pose. For example, in a backbend, one person’s spine will move into extension more or less than another person’s spine.
Taking things as far as you can as a universal rule heightens risk of injury and limits opportunity to strengthen and open the body in the most effective and balanced way. Often, seeking to move more at one joint causes another area to misalign in a way that heightens risk and limits effectiveness.
There are three main kinds of limitations that help define the Tapas Rating at any area of the body in a pose. Therefore, for each joint there are three Tapas Ratings, ranging from a low of 1 to a high of 5. The overall Tapas Rating here is based on the individual Tapas Ratings for each joint and for each type of challenge, as detailed in the Asana Tech Specs of reach pose.
The three types of Tapas Ratings for each joint are:
Do not take these Tapas Ratings too literally. They are based on many years of experience teaching and observing thousands of practices, but they are imperfect and can never be anything but imperfect.
That’s because the poses presented here, and the associated Tapas Ratings, are hypothetical versions of the perfectly aligned pose. Because there is no such thing as a perfect pose, that being one that is exactly like the one described here, going after it would probably cause unnecessary harm to the body and/or mind. So, please keep in mind that your pose is not the pose described here.
For any pose that has a range of depths into which the practitioner will come, there is a Pre-Alignment Pose.
Here, we align and stabilize those things that should not move, but may try to, as we move toward the Tapas Point. Pre-alignment is crucial to knowing how far to go into a pose so that it yields optimal results.
The system we teach is very old, but has great usefulness today. It was written down by a scientist named Patanjali, who lived in ancient India. The text teaches a systematic way to shed layers of painful experience and harmful patterns of thinking using any chosen object of focus.
Choosing to use the body as the focal point is a relatively new thing, but it can work very well if you know what you’re doing. Using Patanjali’s process, and armed with enough anatomy knowledge that you know what you are working with, learn to use the body as a laboratory where one can safely grow into a better experience of life.
We are here to help shape the future of yoga classes so that practitioners and teachers know how to use Patanjali’s amazing system more and better. We do it by walking anybody who is interested through the nuts and bolts of practicing and teaching yoga.