Why can’t I do a flat footed squat?!!
These guys can easily.
What is their secret?
There definitely is a secret because it took me over 7 years to figure why I couldn’t squat.
It would take getting hurt over and over trying to do yoga postures to understand why.
The Paradigm Shift
You know those moments in life when you experience a complete paradigm shift?
That happened to me in 2016.
I was in Mysore, India on my 4th trip to KPJAYI and had just started attempting Dwi Pada when my right inner knee started to hurt so badly that I couldn’t bend it.
I was so frustrated...injury after injury for years. There just never seemed to be a time when I wasn’t modifying something.
I had just healed my left knee to the point I was able to do full lotus after 3 years of pain and then the right knee began killing me.
Before that it was my back.
Getting through each injury taught me a lot, but apparently not enough.
By this point in Ekaminhale’s existence, I was fortunate to have met some long-term practitioners whom I could ask for advice.
I messaged Mark Robberds, and he told me about some Canadian doctors who had been treating people for mobility deficits.
I started to devour podcasts, blog posts and Youtube videos from Dr. Andreo Spina and his company, Functional Range Systems (FRS).
Within a month of returning back home from India, I signed up for one of their seminars in Portland.
I mistakenly took the wrong one, but serendipitously this would introduce to me a great mind who would give me a whole new view into how I learned yoga postures.
Systems Thinking & Prerequisites.
Sitting in that first class with a bunch of doctors, I definitely felt out of place.
I often don’t even tell people I teach yoga because the title has been hijacked by yoga businesses who deceive unsuspecting students & spiritual seekers.
Although I was completely lost for most of the weekend and would have to take the correct seminar (FRC) later in Seattle, I still came out ahead since I met the second half, and less visible, member of the FRS team: Dr. Micheal Chivers.
He recommended one book to me then and later another book that gave me a key insight into how I approach learning body positions, whether that is a flat footed squat or a yoga posture.
In FRS, one of their quotes is “make shit work nice,” which I found refreshing in its simplicity after years of hearing vague yoga terms with no real definitions.
Dre says that before you teach the person in front of you how to do a complex position that involves multiple joints (like asanas or a squat) you should assess if they have the parts.
What they call the prerequisites.
Do they have a shoulder?
From the youtube video's description:
"💥PREREQUISITES💥 = the MOST important (and most ignored) concept in programming.
- Determine physical capacities (FRA).
- Program training within those capacities.
- Program additional work to expand capacities where desired/needed (FRC)."
Two things happening here that get left out of most yoga classes.
1. Each person is individually assessed.
2. There is an order of operations.
The hunter-gatherers in the video above had the ability to do a flat footed squat because they had the prerequisites. The parts.
Sharath, Krishnamacharya, Iyengar, and anyone else living in India 40 years ago or longer, all showed up to their first yoga class with the prerequisites.
They had baseline human shoulder joints, wrist joints, elbow joints, neck joints, hip joints, spines, knee joints and ankle joints.
Humans who spend the majority of time surrounded by technology don't
And that is where the problems begin.
Limiting Factor & Leibigs Barrel
Limiting Factor - At any given time, the input that is most important to a system is the one that is most limiting. Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Meadows, Donella H.
Juston von Liebig developed a principle known as the law of the minimum, which states that growth is dictated not by total resources available but by the scarcest resource (limiting factor).
Photo credit By DooFi - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6627159
In that first FRS course I took, at one point we all started to assess each other’s individual joint capacity using a physical screening test they developed called CARS (Controlled Articular Rotations).
I thought to myself, “Oh...here is where I will show my physical competencies in this room full of doctors who don’t practice yoga.”
When we began to assess internal shoulder rotation, Dr. Chivers walked by and said, “You don’t have a shoulder.”
How is that possible? I’d been practicing Mysore style yoga daily for 12 years at that point.
Then we assessed my hip.
Then my wrists, ankles, neck, spine, elbows and knees.
More glaring deficits.
Here I had spent roughly $3000 dollars on the wrong course to find out I was lacking baseline human joints.
You would think I would have felt defeated, but driving home in the pouring rain after the course ended, I had a huge smile on my face.
I’d found my limiting factor.
It wasn’t the software or practice that was limiting my growth; it was my hardware, my structure.
What Does “Hip Opening” Even Mean?
“Open” is one of those words we all toss around without being able to define it.
It’s like “tight” or “microfiber.”
Finally in 2018, I was able to get some clarity on the elusive definition of “open.”
After taking the FRC seminar, I attended my 3rd course, which was the first annual FRC Summit back in Portland.
That weekend I learned the concept of workspace. (If you take their online courses you’ll see me ask a question about fractals in the video.)
Workspace is the amount of space you have in each joint.
Dr. Chivers uses the analogy of having either a shot glass or a salad bowl.
If there is only a shot glass amount of space in a joint, such as the hip, then there will be less time before the femur and pelvis hit each other than if there is a salad bowl amount of space.
When that joint runs out of space, as we are attempting a position that involves multiple joints, the body doesn’t just stop moving towards that end position; it figures out a way to get the space from somewhere else.
Less than optimal structures like knees, lower back and elbows usually fill in the gaps.
Doing this once you might be fine, but repeating movements with the wrong structures over decades results in a different outcome.
We see an example of this with “butt winking.”
A butt wink is when a person attempts to lower into a squat (bring their knees to their chest) but prematurely rounds the lumbar spine before they get to the bottom.
Compare this to when a hunter-gatherer or child squats: eventually you will see the lumbar round and the pelvis posteriorly tilt BUT it’s at the end, not on the way.
One of the reasons the back can start to flex too early is because space runs out in the hip joint.
See how this applies to the many forward bends we do in the beginning of primary series?
If a student shows up with joints that have limited workspace, will it do them any benefit to add more postures without addressing the true limiting factor?
It didn’t work for me.
I should point out that just having enough workspace for what you want to do with your body is not enough.
You also need control of the workspace.
We’ve all seen the hyper mobile yoga practitioner who is so "open" that she/he can easily be put into any position.
In this case they have a lot of workspace but they don’t have strength, a different limiting factor.
Each student’s limiting factor is going to be different, which is why for growth each person's physical capacity must be assessed on an individual basis.
We may all be practicing Ashtanga Yoga, but we aren’t all facing on the same limiting factor.
The Road Less Travelled
People practice yoga for different reasons.
Many people are fine with less demanding postures and can have an experience of breath and moving in silence without homework like FRC.
For myself I did want growth and to overcome my limiting factors.
I want to see what is on the other side of not quitting so I learned what was necessary and did what I had to.
After building my workspace I returned to Mysore for a 5th season when something completely unexpected happened.
I still couldn't do Dwi Pada without exploding as my legs flew over my head but it was definitely improving and most important my knee pain & all other injuries were gone.
The first led primary class I got about 3/4 of the way through when I realized something.
I hadn't modified any of the asanas.
Could I do the whole primary without any modifications?
In 13 years I had never done that. I focused inwards.
The hardest asana for me was Garbha Pindasana which I'd hurt my knee in previously a couple years back.
Sharath counted us through and I did it.
Then all the way to the end.
No one in the room knew but me. That was a sweet moment. So many years, so many obstacles and so much practice to get there.
I’d addressed my limiting factors that kept getting holding me back.
But my work wasn't finished. It never will be. A new limiting factor was revealing itself and there was more to learn.
When I returned back to Canada I quit doing FRC.
How come? I found something better. I'll share what that is in the next post.
But first you may be asking what the secret is to learning any asana?
Order of Operations
“If there are structural and/or physiological limitations in the joints involved in the skill, the process of motor learning CANNOT happen to the fullest extent. It really is that simple. Skill acquisition is not about grooving repeatable symbolic representations of the “skill”. It is about building physical capacity first and then the coaching and technical applications of skill based cognitive learning can aid in the acquisition process. - Dr Chivers. FRC
The chaos of the online world.
All the information at once and extremely confusing.
I needed someone like the FRC guys to tell me where to focus first.
What steps to take in what order.
Their order of operations is
Build physical capacity first.
1. Assess each joint's capability (using the CARS framework)
2. Determine what the limiting factor is for the activity you want to do - here we are looking for whether it's structural as in hip anatomy, a pathology (see a doctor), neurological (nervous system) or capsular.
Learn the skill.
It's really that simple.
This post is the second in my Strong Foundations email series. To start from the beginning click here