Leslie Kaminoff, owner of The Breathing Project and my current anatomy teacher, just shared some notes from his workshop at the SYTAR (Symposium for Yoga Therapy and Research) yoga conference in Los Angeles:
Finding our individual form of asana practice is something we all need to do, even the most strict Ashtangi. Our body proportions are all different, so we can’t force ourselves into our image of the pose. If your femurs have short necks, you won’t reach Lotus easily or at all. (And if you keep forcing it, you will wreck your knees.) If your spinous processes are long, your backbend will be limited to the space before they touch. Certain shapes can only be made by certain skeletons. This doesn’t mean we’re not “doing” the pose if we vary from its most popular depiction; the DIRECTION of our limbs and centers creates the space or compression that defines the asana.
This relates to one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from Leslie: work from a SPINAL perspective, not a SPATIAL perspective. The silohuette of your pose doesn’t matter; the inner relationships do. Are your vertebrae actually rotating in your twist, or are you just moving the arms and shoulders to appear more rotated? I’d say asanas are an arrangement of joints more than limbs. Work from the inside out, and let your breathing evaluate the “success” of a pose.