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Sensational Yoga Poses

A first principles approach to learning your body
Published: 2017 07 09
Updated: 2021 02 09

The benefits of learning your body via a first principles approach

The "sensational" in sensational yoga poses refers to the idea of "sensing" your body while you are using that. Sensational yoga poses are thus a tool or context, for exploring your body and using it.

With sensational yoga poses, the idea is to break down the body into recognizable and reusable components using a first principles approach.

The primary components for sensing our body and controlling it are our muscles.

Whether working with muscle control or the body as a whole, it helps to know the change you are trying to create.

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a first principles approach to learning your body. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Know the change you are trying to create

When working from first principles it helps to have a clear idea of what you are doing, what you are trying to achieve. One way to put it is "knowing the change that you are trying to create." You then can figure out the fundamental ideas and relationships that make that idea realizable, even in the face of constant change.

While learning "the fundamentals" can be challenging initially, it lays the foundation for greater freedom, greater flexibility, the ability to dance with change while at the same time creating the change you desire.

What are the the fundamentals?

Yoga poses (and other exercises) as a context for learning to feel and control your body

The idea of this website is to help you learn your body by using yoga poses, stretches and other ways of experiencing your body as a context.

The yoga poses themselves are not really fundamental. They are simply a venue or context for learning to feel and control the things that are fundamental with regards to feeling and controlling your body. Those fundamental elements are muscles, bones, joints and the connective tissue strands that connect them all together.

Since this is our own body we are trying to learn to feel and control, the brain (or more generally our consciousness) is also important to consider.

It's important because it is where the knowing and understanding of these fundamentals is stored and accessed.

Brain aside, how do we go about experiencing our own anatomy?

A first principles approach to "yoga" anatomy

A part of taking a first principles approach is understanding that you can break "systems" down in different ways depending on what you are trying to do. As such, when using anatomy as a guide to feeling and controlling our own body, we can approach anatomy differently than a doctor or massage therapist would. Where they tend to work on other bodies, we are working on feeling and controlling our own body.

A distinct advantage of this approach is that we can learn to access the sensors that are built into our own body. We can thus experience our anatomy directly.

A better understanding of our own body can be the result.

So how does one get started?

How to get started

To guide your through the 500 odd pages of this website (or to help you find what you need to know easily) it can be extremely helpful to know why you are here.

What's the change that you are trying to create?

If you aren't sure, why not begin by learning to feel your body with the courses below.

Or scroll down for more possible starting points. Or go to the table of contents for this page.

Intent driven muscle control
9 course bundle

Improve balance, body awareness, stability. Build a foundation for better flexibility. All 9 courses >.


Buy now: $360

Learn more

1 Hip flexors

Improve knee and hip stability via your sartorius, tensor fascia latae and rectus femoris.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

2 Hamstrings

Anchor your hamstrings. Learn to control knee rotation, hip flexion, hip extension.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

3 Thigh muscles

Get a feel for quadriceps, adductors and hamstrings. Improve knee and hip stability and control.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

4 Long thigh muscles

Work towards better knee, hip joint and hip bone control via your long thigh muscles.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

5 Deep Hip muscles

Improve hip joint stability. Get a better feel for your hip muscles and hip joint.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

6 SI joints

Get a taste of coordinating SI joint control with control of your spine, arms and legs.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

7 Shoulders

Improve touch control, basic shoulder blade awareness, shoulder stability.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

8 Ribcage

Improve ribcage awareness and control. Improve ribcage stability and mobility for better shoulder control.
Buy now: $42

Learn more

9 Spine

Improve spine and ribcage mobility. Improve awareness, understanding and control.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

Intent driven muscle control bundle

1 Hip flexors, 2 Hamstrings, 3 Thigh muscles, 4 Long thigh muscles, 5 Deep hip muscles, 6 SI joints, 7 Shoulders, 8 Ribcage, 9 Spine.

Buy now: $360

Learn more

Dealing with pain or other problems

If you are trying to deal with some sort of pain or problem then the place to look is at the muscle or joint that is the approximate location of the pain or problem.

As with anything internet related, take it with a grain of salt, and use at your own risk. I should point out here that my methods for dealing with pain involve learning to deliberately activate or relax particular muscles both as a way to try to isolate a problem and to fix it.

Muscles are the fundamental units that drive movement and that actively power the ability for us to feel our body.

Improving flexibility

If you are getting into yoga (or are looking at this website) to find out more about stretching and getting more flexible then it again helps to be specific.

Do you have a particular set of muscles that you want to get more flexible? Here again the central tenet is that of using muscle control to improve flexibility. Check out the flexibility page or edge into the area of interest via the various muscle and joint links on this page.

Building strength

Another potential area of interest may be in strengthening or working towards poses or actions that require strength. As when dealing with pain or trying to improve flexibility, muscle control is again the central tenet. You can look at body parts that you want to strengthen, or you can head to the strength or yoga pose pages to find the poses that you want to work towards.

Dealing with stress

If you are getting into yoga as a means of destressing or dealing with stress then one of the prime exercises for doing that is to focus on breathing.

Breathing is a muscle driven action and you can get similiar benefits to breathing if you focus on smoothly activating and contracting muscles, any muscles, not just your respiratory msucles.

So if you are interested just in breathing, then check out the section on breathing, or double the benefits and work on feeling and controlling your body via muscle control.

To that end (of feeling and controlling your body via muscle control), why not pick an area that interests you? If your stress is from doing things that you don't want to do or have to do, why don't focus on something that you do want to do as part of your destressing activities.

Pick one and start.

I just want a routine to follow

What if you just want a good routine to follow? One good place to start is with Ashtanga. It's a fixed routine. What I would suggest is that once you've learned the poses, start focusing on feeling your body while doing the poses. Muscle control again. Many of the poses from the ashtanga yoga series are covered on this website.

Hmm, how do I learn to sequence poses?

For an overall schema for sequencing poses or stretches, another possible starting point is the meridians. They can be used to guide how you stretch and strengthen.

For more general tips, some of the pages have mini-routines but for an overview of how to sequence without screwing yourself up in the process check out the post on counterposes first.

Is there a way to practice first principles thinking?

If you want a way to practice "thinking from first principles", I'd highly recommend practicing the dance of shiva.

I learned this practice from Andrey Lappa , but I teach it in a different way.

I should point out here that while I've been working from first principles in most areas of my life it was Andrey Lappa who opened the door for me in applying it to a yoga practice.

For a really good foundation in sequencing yoga poses and working on the body I'd highly recommend one of his universal freestyle yoga teacher trainings.

If you are interested in learning to feel and control your body, so that you can use that ability in anything you do, then check out the suite of muscle control courses below.

Courses for Learning your body from a First Principles approach

Intent driven muscle control
9 course bundle

Improve balance, body awareness, stability. Build a foundation for better flexibility. All 9 courses >.


Buy now: $360

Learn more

1 Hip flexors

Improve knee and hip stability via your sartorius, tensor fascia latae and rectus femoris.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

2 Hamstrings

Anchor your hamstrings. Learn to control knee rotation, hip flexion, hip extension.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

3 Thigh muscles

Get a feel for quadriceps, adductors and hamstrings. Improve knee and hip stability and control.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

4 Long thigh muscles

Work towards better knee, hip joint and hip bone control via your long thigh muscles.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

5 Deep Hip muscles

Improve hip joint stability. Get a better feel for your hip muscles and hip joint.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

6 SI joints

Get a taste of coordinating SI joint control with control of your spine, arms and legs.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

7 Shoulders

Improve touch control, basic shoulder blade awareness, shoulder stability.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

8 Ribcage

Improve ribcage awareness and control. Improve ribcage stability and mobility for better shoulder control.
Buy now: $42

Learn more

9 Spine

Improve spine and ribcage mobility. Improve awareness, understanding and control.
Buy now: $60

Learn more

Intent driven muscle control bundle

1 Hip flexors, 2 Hamstrings, 3 Thigh muscles, 4 Long thigh muscles, 5 Deep hip muscles, 6 SI joints, 7 Shoulders, 8 Ribcage, 9 Spine.

Buy now: $360

Learn more

Beginners

From why do yoga in the first place, to how to start a yoga practice, and how to modify yoga poses. At the beginning level you could simply focus on getting started, even if it's at home.
Scroll sideways in the list above for beginner related articles.

Dance of Shiva

Dance of shiva can be used as a warmup for your brain, and for your arms. Some basic memorization is involved. It helps you get used to clearly defined positions and movements and trains you to recognize different possibilities.

Yoga poses

Yoga poses could be looked at as a context for learning your body. Learn the basic shape of each pose, how to modify it, and how to counterpose it and even how to sequence yoga poses. From there, you can then use each yoga pose as a way of better learning your body.

Poses by position

One way to categorize and group poses is by position, i.e. standing, sitting, kneeling, prone etc. It can be possible to do yoga routines that consist solely of one group of poses, i.e. all standing, or all seated. Or it can simply provide an easy way to find yoga poses on this website.

Poses by action

In this section, the "action" can be a side bend, a twist, a back bend or a forward bend. This can be handy if you want to focus on any of these actions, or if you want to find modifications or substitute postures that have a similiar affect but may be more appropriate for whatever reason.

Strength

Improving strength can be about strengthening muscles. But it can also be about getting your muscles to work well together. When your muscles are active, they generate sensation. If you can feel your muscles activating, you can get them to work together.

Arm Strength

When working on arm strengthening yoga poses, it can help to be aware of your ribcage and shoulder girdle. From there it helps to also be aware of your elbows (they rotate!) and your wrists. If you want the parts of your body to work well together, you have to understand the parts!

Leg Strength

As with working on arm strength, when strengthening the legs, it can help to learn how to operate your hips, knees and feet/ankles. Another important element when working on leg strength (and leg flexibility) is the SI joints.

Flexibility

Flexibility is not floppiness! You could look at flexibility as learning to be strong in end ranges where one set of muscles is lengthened and their opposing muscles shortened. But, flexibility also includes being able to relax in end ranges.

Arm Stretches

As with strengthening the arms, when stretching the arms it can be helpful to be aware of your neck and ribcage as well as your shoulder girdle, elbow and wrist/hand/fingers.

Leg/Hip Stretches

When working on leg flexibility (which includes hip, glute, hamstring, adductor, quad flexibility...) it can be helpful to be aware of the hip, knee, foot and ankle of the leg you are stretching. It can be helpful to also be aware of the SI joints.

Psoas Stretches

Psoas stretching can be challenging. Before stretching your psoas (or if your psoas keeps tightening up) you might want to ask yourself why it is tight. In any case, while stretching your psoas, work at anchoring it. Give the muscle a stable foundation from which to stretch. And if you want to release it, maybe try making your hip joints, knee, and even your foot and ankle stable.

Spine Stretches

Spinal stretches include side bends, twists, front bends and back bends. One idea to bear in mind with the spine is that it is designed to be flexible. So rather than simply trying to maintain "neutral spine", instead learn to feel it and control it and stabilize it where and when necessary.

Meridian Stretches

I've always assumed that the meridians are embedded in connective tissue. These are meridians from Traditional Chinese medicine. They provide a Map of sorts, and one very pleasant way to use this map is as a guide to stretching the body. You simply follow the flow of the meridians to guide the sequence of stretches.

Learning your body

There are ways to operate your body to make it more "feelable". In addition, you can practice feeling and controlling parts in isolation so that you can better feel and control your whole body as the sum of those parts. Scroll sideways in the list above for more details.

Muscle control

Flow state

Proprioception

Breath

Balance

Pain

Posture

Stress

Tensegrity Articles

Anatomy

Connective tissue

Joints

Hip joint

Knees

SI joints

Lower back

Thoracolumbar junction

Ribcage and abdomen

Foot and ankle

Shoulders and Ribcage

Shoulders and Arms

Transverse abdominis

The psoas

Hip flexors

Hamstrings

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