The Place of Developmental Movement Patterns in Yoga II

The Place of Developmental Movement Patterns in Yoga – Part 2

yoga teacher developmentPart II – Moving Onwards and Upwards!

By Kathryn Boland

In the first part of this series on developmental movement patterns, I discussed how babies develop through a general sequence of accomplishing particular movement abilities – and how yoga practice has natural connections to, and usages of, those patterns. Such an analysis can ultimately lead us, instructors and practitioners, to frame our own practices, as well as those we guide our students in, in ways that they more closely align with those patterns. Doing so can enable us to reach closer to our potential for whole-person health. With descriptions of the first four patterns described in the previous post, I now move on to describe the last four.


With the ability to sense and support their movements through their spines (head/tail connection, the fourth connection previously detailed), babies discover that they can understand and feel their bodies in two separate parts – 5) upper and lower. Movement possibilities greatly expand at that point – because now they can stabilize in their pelvis and legs while reaching with their arms, for instance, or hold in their bellies (lying on their backs) while kicking their legs.

Asana practice similarly relies upon a “team” effort, so to speak, of our upper and lower halves to accomplish movement and posture goals. For instance, in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) the pelvis and legs stabilize one’s stance while the torso rotates upwards, and the shoulder opens. Those actions together allow for strengthening and stretching of the legs and pelvis, as well as a luxurious upper-body stretch and greater space for breath. Awareness of those separate roles of our bodies’ “halves” can lead us to use them to the fullest in our practices.


Next, little ones gain awareness of how they can also divide their bodies into two other “halves” – a movement pattern known as 6) body half. This pattern entails moving one part of the body (arms, legs, and torso structures in between) together while the other stabilizes in stillness. Yet another whole new world of movement and experiential possibilities then opens up, because babies now have the physical ability to crawl. With that, they realize that they do not always need Mom, Dad, Grandma, or another caregiver to travel long distances to where they wish or need to be.

The emergent need to chase babies, to keep them away from areas and objects that could harm them, can create lots of strain and stress on caretakers – yet so much new learning and excitement for little ones! Yoga practitioners can also find many new possibilities through engaging their senses of each side of the body separately, such as the dynamic interplay of torso muscles in a satisfying and breath-enhancing side-stretch. Other ways we can find stability through this body-half awareness include keying into the separate roles of the “working” and “balancing” legs in balances such as Dancer Pose.


Next babies open up a whole new world of movement and discovery through locomotion, with developing the physical ability necessary to take those first steps. This is the skill of 7) cross-laterality (sometimes also referred to as “contra”-laterality). In this pattern, one can simultaneously move an arm and leg in opposition – the right arm with the left leg, and vice-versa, for instance. Often this type of movement has one or both parts of the body crossing its “midline” (the central axis, which one could understand as a straight line running up and down the body from the mid-point of the belly button).

That is exactly what we do in twisting postures – which are indispensably beneficial for the conditions of the spine, organs, and in numerous other ways. Awareness of cross-lateral opposition can additionally draw one’s attention to the separate actions of individual body parts within one particular pose and therein enhance its benefits. For instance, in Revolved Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana) the most effective twist – with the most assured stable base in the lower body, comes from stabilizing the hips while rotating the torso. Keeping in mind cross-laterality can lead us to more keenly and clearly execute those necessary actions in those separate parts.


With the expanding abilities to walk, then to run (and jump and so on – the possibilities opening up daily!), young ones naturally develop stronger abilities to balance. This is the last developmental movement pattern, the 8) vestibular sense. To achieve this, the body and brain work in complex ways through multiple systems (muscular to that of the inner-ear canals) in order for individuals to balance themselves in space – whether standing with two feet on the ground or with only one of them grounded.

The vestibular sense, therefore, has evident implications for the quality of those poses we might first think of as tricky balance postures – such as Tree Posture and Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana). It also determines those poses we know of as potentially restive and grounding as Mountain Posture, however. Regardless, according to this sequential developmental movement theory, we develop this sense of balance as the last component of our overall and life-long movement “repertoire”, so to speak. We continue to improve upon it, however, or conversely lose some of our abilities within it, as the years go on. Yoga practice has strong potential to foster life-long growth within and reduce losses of, our physical handling of this movement pattern. The same holds true for all of the patterns that set a foundation for it, as were previously described.


But wait, there’s even more (as the old saying goes) – stay tuned to learn more about how the foundation of these eight movement patterns can determine the quality of whole-person health. For instance, gaps within the typical sequence thus far described can cause social, emotional, and mental difficulties throughout the entire lifespan. Look out for more explanations of such instances in the next (third) part of this series, as well as how we yoga instructors can help our students “fill in” the gaps. Through that, they can reclaim the levels of well-being that our bodies, and through that our whole persons, are meant to enjoy.


© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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