Discovery of Human Variation by Paul Grilley

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Liz A
Posts: 13
Joined: Fri May 03, 2019 1:19 pm
Location: Melbourne Australia

Discovery of Human Variation by Paul Grilley

Post by Liz A »

Hi Bernie
I hope you are well! I have been trying to find the background story of how Paul Grilley discovered human variation (I'm not saying he is the first to discover this but he has made a huge impact to many of us which I am very grateful for) as part of his yoga teaching journey. what led to it... I vaguely remember a story about him not being flexible and that his flexibility didn't improve and that he went to some bone museum in the USA (as you could purchase real bones back then in the USA) where he studied various bones and then the photos were taken etc then he started educating the yoga community about it ...Something about him owning a bikram studio in the beginning and that flexibility didn't come through hot yoga?
I just think it makes an interesting story but I can't find any articles on it?
Do you know of any? As I would love to share this with my students especially the ones who get overwhelmed with the fact they aren't super flexible and have been told by flexible students that it will all come if they practice more yoga!
I hope you don't mind me asking this!
Many thanks
Liz
Bernie
Posts: 1236
Joined: Sat Sep 23, 2006 2:25 am
Location: Vancouver

Post by Bernie »

Hi Liz

Paul certainly would never take credit for “discovering, human variation. He has often pointed me to books where other anatomists have described the “problem,. For example, B.J. Anson wrote An Atlas of Human Anatomy back in 1951 and complained then that his medical students didn't want to hear about human variations because they wanted one answer for all patient's problems. Roger Williams wrote Biochemical Individuality in 1956 and showed how varied we are in terms of organs, glands and many biochemical factors. What I give Paul credit for was realizing how this individuality affects the way each of us can do yoga asana. He told me that he was looking through a bone store in San Francisco one day and found two very different femurs. The light bulb went off and he realized that the owners of those femurs did not have the same ultimate ranges of motion. I don't know the date of this visit to the store.

I would not say that Paul was inherently inflexible. Maybe, but he never told me about that. He is very externally rotated in his hips and his spine is quite flexible, but he is not as open in the shoulders. I believe that he managed a Bikram studio way back when (in the 1980's?) but he didn't own it. He also taught Ashtanga and worked at Yoga Works in Santa Monica for a while. That is where he met Sarah Powers.

In any case, what is important is not Paul's story, or yours or mine, what is important is your student's unique anatomy....or as I like to phrase it, her biology and her biography. It is important for each student to be able to determine “what stops me?, and when the answer becomes compression, that is it! They have reached their maximum for that posture in that direction. Perhaps they can go around that point of compression by varying the way they do the pose, but generally they will eventually reach their ultimate edge for which there is no going around.

Cheers
Bernie
Liz A
Posts: 13
Joined: Fri May 03, 2019 1:19 pm
Location: Melbourne Australia

Post by Liz A »

No worries Bernie. Thanks so much for your response, much appreciated!
Bernie
Posts: 1236
Joined: Sat Sep 23, 2006 2:25 am
Location: Vancouver

Paul Grilleys' discovery of human variation

Post by Bernie »

In Paul Griley's own words! (Thank, Paul.)

How I Discovered Skeletal Variation
By Paul Grilley
March 2020.



  • I started practicing yoga in August 1979. I was 20 years old, living in Martin City, Montana. I was inspired to practice yoga by reading The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.

    My yoga included the practice of hatha yoga and the study of the meditation lessons offered by Self Realization Fellowship.

    My hatha yoga practice was initially guided by the book ‘Yoga and Health' by Selvarajan Yesudian and Elisabeth Haich. But starting January 1980 I began the practice of Bikram Yoga via his book.

    In Fall of 1981 I moved to Los Angeles and was enrolled at UCLA in the kinesiology department. When not in school I studied at Bikram's yoga school.

    By 1983 I had quit Bikram's studio and was teaching yoga publicly and privately in Los Angeles. Sometime around 1985, when I was 26 years old, I studied Ashtanga Yoga with David Williams. For the next 4 or 5 years I personally practiced Ashtanga through third series, but I taught a modified version of ashtanga in my public classes. In my private classes I taught a mix of assisted yoga and self practice.

    Around 1989/90 I met Paulie Zink. I studied with him once a week for about a year. His sessions were always in the evenings and were 3 to 4 hours long. He started with almost two hours of yoga and then taught martial art and animal movement forms. I was very impressed by him and his Taoist Yoga classes, but what most inspired me were the floor poses we practiced for the first portion of the class.

    By 1991 I was practicing and teaching what I now call Yin Yoga. Yin yoga was inspired by Paulie Zink, but modified by my studies of anatomy and the theories of Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama. Dr. Motoyama's theories integrate the chakras of the Indian tantric tradition with the theories of chi and meridians of the Chinese acupuncture tradition.

    By 1998 I was 39 years old and living in Ashland, Oregon. I had practiced many forms of yoga, both yin and yang. I had always been disciplined in my practice: in my twenties I had practiced up to 6 hours per day. But in spite of nearly 20 years of regular practice, I was far from being “bendy., That was when I came across a box of femur bones.

    I was in an anatomy lab at Southern Oregon University, the school in my home town of Ashland. I was waiting for a friend of mine who was visiting his former anatomy teacher. The lab was in disarray because my friend's teacher was retiring and clearing out his office. Among the boxes laid out on the tables was one with three femur bones in it. I was initially struck by the fact that they were of three different colors. One was white, one was yellow, and the third was black. So I laid them out on the table to examine them.

    It took only a few minutes to realize that these three femur bones were different in every way, not just in their color. Their size, shape, and proportions were all different. Somewhere inside me a bell went off. Why hadn't I been told of this before? Had I been told but hadn't paid attention? Whatever the reason, this was my first experience of how different bones can be.

    I glimpsed immediately how this would have repercussions for asana practice, but I restrained myself from a wholesale reassessment of what I had been practicing and teaching for the past 20 years. I suggested to myself that this degree of skeletal variation might be unusual, perhaps pathological. I wanted to find more evidence that “variation is the norm.,

    A trained researcher would have started with a review of the literature, and this would have saved me time and money, but I took a five hour trip to Berkeley, California and visited a store that sold agates, fossils, and bones. I came home with some femur bones, purchased for $25 a piece.

    After a couple more trips to the bone store, I had a small collection of femurs, humerii, and scapulae. I traveled with these bones and pointed out the differences to aspiring yoga teachers. Some years later, a small group of us visited a museum and took pictures of various bones that were arranged to show their variance from each other. These pictures are now available to any and all on my website: PaulGrilley.com.

    The upshot is this: skeletal variation is the norm, no two people are the same. This seems obvious, but at the time I worked it out, it wasn't.

    This means that any system of exercise or asana practice that implies there is only one technique that is “safe, or “effective, is wrong. It means that no two people will ever practice asana in exactly the same way or have the same potential range of motion.

    This means that the benefits of asana practice are not determined by the aesthetics of a form. The benefits of asana are determined by the types of stress the poses create in the tissues of the body, and the body's response to that stress. This is true for all forms of exercise.

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