The Art of Body Reading: The Stories that Bodies Tell – An Interview with Chrys Kub, P.T.
Learning to assess structural imbalances in the body is a critical skill for yoga teachers, says yoga therapist Chrys Kub, P.T. in this interview. Most yoga teachers need tools to create a better picture of what students need through their regular yoga practice. In this interview, she discusses the importance of structural health for alignment in yoga postures, as well as for laying the foundation for health and well-being as we get older.
YogaUOnline: When you talk about postural assessment, obviously you’re not talking about yoga postures, but how we carry ourselves as we stand and as we walk. So, more broadly, the term that we could use to describe this is really body reading, i.e. gaining the ability to observe the structural health of a person. Is that the correct way to say it?
Chrys Kub: Yes, learning to read a person’s body, i.e. learning to assess the structural imbalances we all have, can tell you a lot about the students who come to your class. Most yoga teachers need tools to create a better picture of what students need through their regular yoga practice. Obviously, when teaching privates, this is important, but even in regular yoga classes, this is a useful skill to have.
Learning body reading is really about broadening one’s foundation in kinesiology and anatomy, two areas of knowledge that are critical for yoga teachers. The anatomy and kinesiology yoga teachers learn in the initial 200-hour programs is usually not sufficiently in depth to give teachers the background information to serve their students. For people working with mature students, i.e. those over 40 and up, this is particularly important.
It only takes ten minutes to do an assessment of a student’s posture, but based on that, you can determine hat cues they might need for the particular structural imbalances they have. It also is a way to offer students better support in their active poses, and give them restorative poses that can help balance structural issues.
In addition, learning to read a person’s body can tell you not only about their physical body, but also about their emotional and mental body. For example, if someone has rounded shoulders, they may be depressed or hiding emotional trauma from that past. Or, if their shoulder blades are elevated and their chest is thrown forward, they might be a type A person, hard charging and very active. So learning body reading can tell you more than just about a person’s physical body.
And that, of course, can really help yoga teachers design a practice. Even just while teaching a class, without doing a formal posture analysis of students, you grow in the ability to look at the person and get clues to how to cue a particular person. ‘What would they respond to? What kind of personality might they have? How do they approach the world?’ As a yoga teacher, you have so much more to offer your students in that way.
YogaUOnline: Posture assessment is really about being able to perceive the structural health of a person’s body. Structural health is not a concept that we often hear about in the medical world or the media. And yet, it has some pretty important health implications. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Chrys Kub: Our body has this wonderful design—when we hold ourselves properly, i.e. when our posture is perfectly aligned, our body can work very efficiently without pain or discomfort all life long. But there are many factors that will cause our body to fall out of alignment over time: Our life experiences, our postural habits, an athletic activity that causes us to overuse certain muscles while other muscles get weak—there are numerous factors in life that will cause us to lose that perfect postural alignment. When that happens, the result can be repetitive stress injury, compromised breathing, back pain, and over the long term, arthritis or other chronic pain issues.
However, our posture, or structural alignment, has a spill-over effect in so many other ways. For example, think of someone with rounded shoulders—a very common misalignment in the Western culture. Well, that collapses the chest, which in turn compresses your diaphragm, and it makes it more difficult to use your arms without impinging your shoulders. It may also affect digestion, because the organs are compressed. Everything is connected. It’s never just one thing.
YogaUOnline: Most people with rounded shoulders or other posture imbalances believe that that’s just the way their body is aging, and there’s nothing they can do about it. What’s your take on that?
Chrys Kub: Well, in our society we often assume that most of the apparent effects of aging are inevitable. But there are so many things about aging , which don’t have to happen, and certainly, postural imbalances can be avoided.
YogaUOnline: Are postural imbalances individual or are there certain common patterns that people fall into?
Chrys Kub: Well, there are definitely common patterns. When you’re new to reading bodies, you may get overwhelmed when you do an assessment, because of all the things you observe. But then you begin to notice that certain things follow each other. For example, a rounded upper back will usually also lead to forward shoulders and a forward head. There are certain patterns that you will begin to see. And then you will know exactly what to do to address that as far as asana prescription.
YogaUOnline: It sounds like this is useful not just for people who teach yoga, but something that can be very applicable to one’s own body as well.
Chrys Kub: Absolutely. I’ve learned a lot about my own posture. As a yoga teacher you may assume “Oh, I have really nice posture. But then when you study more, you’re like, “Oh, I guess I do kinda throw my shoulder forward and the hips a little bit back. So, that might be why I get more easily tired on this side, and keep having pain in a certain area.” So yes, it does help you understand your own body better as well.
YogaUOnline: Tell us about the online course you will be offering. What will you be covering and what can people expect to learn?
Chrys Kub: Well, we will look at normal alignment for each part of the body, such as the head and neck. Then we will look at the most common misalignments for that part of the body. All misalignments are linked to muscles imbalances. So for each section of the body we are looking at, we will also consider which muscles might be elongated, which muscles might be short, and which muscles might be weakened because they’re in an elongated position.
Based on that, you begin to see which yoga asanas you might want to use to address those malalignments and help that person change their posture. We’ll be using both asana that engage muscular energy in an active posture as well as restorative poses that can help people access a deeper level of flexibility. This is unique as a therapeutic approach; there are many times where we have imbalances because certain muscles or joints are extremely stiff. The only way to address that is through restorative yoga where you can stay in a supported posture for an extended period of time to allow those areas to begin to let go and release.
YogaUOnline: Interesting. And there is a video you made especially for the course as well. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Chrys Kub: Yes. In the online video that accompanies the course, I give an example of two people receiving a postural assessment, and after the assessment, I take them through little mini practice for their issues. The video gives you a real life idea of what you would be able to do with this information on actual clients.
YogaUOnline: That will be extremely useful, because body reading is such a detailed art in a sense. There are so many layers to it. There is certainly a lot that you can pick up from photos, but seeing it in action, and particularly seeing someone like you who have worked with thousands of people doing this kind of thing, is a great way to pick up all the details. There is a lot of things you don’t see when you don’t have a trained eye.
Chrys Kub: Yes it does take practice. However, once you have this knowledge, you start looking at everybody: When you’re in the grocery store, when you’re at the mall, you begin look at people and mentally assess their posture. Over time, you’re able to start to integrate this skill and read more and more details in people’s bodies. But until you know what to look for, it’s difficult to even try to do that.
YogaUOnline: Yes, in my experience, it creates another level of intimacy with the body, and opens up a level of perception that you didn’t have before, because, as you said, if you don’t know what to look for, you tend to not see these things.
Chrys Kub: Exactly. And there is such a need for more people who can assess these structural imbalances and help people improve their posture. I have just started working at an assisted living center, and probably 90% of the elderly people living there have poor posture with rounded shoulders, forward head, stiff lower backs and crouched gait. Once they develop that posture, it affects their energy level, their ability to have eye contact with you, and it impacts their well-being and energy level in so many other ways.
Hopefully, as we become more aware of this issue, this next generation as we age won’t have to succumb to these changes. So many of these things can be addressed before they become a problem. So hopefully, this won’t be the case when our generation gets to that age.