Turning the Wheel: A Review of Yoga Critical Alignment by Gert Van Leeuwen published by Altamira-Becht in the Netherlands.
The most important contemporary book that came out on yoga, the book that became the basis for the spread of yoga around the world was B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. That book set the emphasis on asanas and gave a clear description of some 600 asanas and photographs of the same. The descriptions and explanations were confined to the external position.
This book, Yoga Critical Alignment, is the first significant advance after Iyengar’s contribution. It offers an insight into the minutiae of inner movement and how that plays out in the whole body from dysfunction to realization of freedom from a significant understanding of balance. This has come into being from an exploration of the particular nature of posture and movement in yoga. This understanding of the moving and static body challenges the outdated medical anatomy based on corpses. It is a distinct logic based on the understanding of the movement patterns in the body that are critical for the meaningful realization of asanas, for the removal of dysfunction and for developing that silence in the mind that is ultimately necessary for the survival of this beautiful planet. The focus is under the skin and it is a knowledge gained from insight. The book looks inward.
This challenge to traditional anatomy is far more serious than one realizes at first consideration. This practice aims at stabilization through the use of the postural muscles. Most traditional therapy is based on the movement muscles. This work investigates the dynamic between the postural muscles, the spine and the movement muscles. Relaxation of the movement muscles while generating consciousness of the postural muscles does not make use of will power or desire. Therefore basic stilling of the mind is initiated at the deeper body level of movement. This is the real source of meditation and not the symbolic quasi-religious teaching that is usually presented.
The book is imperial octavo in size, 368 pages illustrated with over 800 illustrations and 120 photographs that give detailed instructions, logically presented, with the general configuration first, then information on specific asanas that are arranged in standard groupings. The instructions indicate correct movement and possible wrong movements. The significance of correct and incorrect movement is directly examined in accordance with the schemata of connections. This detail given to each asana makes it possible to realize the purpose of the asana and what it can offer by way of resolution of blockages and pains in the body and disharmony in the mind. It is rather difficult to misunderstand which makes one wonder about the standards of yoga practiced today that revel in something more ambiguous. Like traditional teaching, this is so clearly presented that you cannot, in good conscience, go wrong.
Chapter 6 is the schemata of connections in the body and the chain of events around each movement. This provides a foundation for building up movement making use of 11connections that are the basis of all asanas. This teaches the student how to see their own movement, how to think about it in terms of consequences and how to be challenged and creative in realizing movement. This visioning of movement is a radical departure from the proscriptive symbolic learning systems which serve the dominance submission systems of economics rather than the individual, living body. This chapter provides a basic rationale for the detailed study of individual asanas and teaching methods for all ‘fashions’, styles and traditions in yoga. When you learn to ‘see’, attempts at monopoly become meaningless.
The last chapter is a guide to creative teaching and the language of teaching. This chapter talks about how to break the negative patterns of thinking and movement that have become preferential unconsciously. This is a movement from unconscious bad attitude to consciousness. This is very important because, working with balance muscles is entirely different from using one’s will power and commandeering the movement muscles. The balance muscles only come into play when the movement muscles do not intervene. Critical Alignment is not based on imitative or proscriptive concepts but on a personal creative understanding of movement and stillness.
The books that have come out since Light on Yoga – and there have been a lot of them – have not had much to offer either by way of insight or standards with the exception of Yoga Touchstone and Dead Birds which set a standard in asanas and provided the basis for an asana-based metaphysical or spiritual discipline. The Lonavla Encyclopedia of Traditonal Asanas and Vol 12 of the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophy:Yoga have been important publications for their extensive surveys of texts and, from that, asanas.
The book Yoga Critical Alignment details specific groups of asanas and discusses the possibilities that can be realized from cracking open the reality that is the basis of any serious yoga. This is not a book of prosciptions but one that teaches you how to ‘see’. Serious and original books on yoga have been few and far between in the last thousand years. This work will permeate all the myriad levels of yoga.
N Sjoman 2009