Post #7 in The Elliott Lexicon of Satisfactory Yoga Terminology
Totoor Turtle was a character in an old cartoon from the 60’s. He was ambitious and often got into trouble. When in need of help he cried “Help, Mr Wizard!” and a ponce-nez be-speckled anthropomorphized lizard would appear. Funny a turtle would ask a lizard for help. He was a behind the scenes kind of lizard, which reminded me of the scene in The Wizard of Oz where the Great and Mighty Oz is blustering and pontificating on a huge screen, commanding everyone’s attention until it is discovered there is a man behind a curtain, the real Wizard of Oz, pulling all the levers to make the show happen.
These two wizards merged in my head one day in class as I watched my students struggling to “find” a pose. “Pay attention to Mr Wizard! Look behind the curtain!” I blurted. They just looked at me and my obtuse instruction. Fair enough, but from that time on “Mr Wizard” became the name of the stable or working leg in a pose, the foundation from which the other, “The Fancy Leg,” gets to show off the all hallowed range of motion or agility.
Mr Wizard and The Fancy Leg doesn’t just apply to a lone individual but can be seen in groups, like a rhythm section that supports a lead singer, or in partnerships, like an acro yoga act I observed. The guy on the bottom was clearly not meant to be noticed, and the “fancy” girl he was supporting got all the attention. Obviously there was skill on her end, but how many people recognized that without his not-so-flashy support, there was no fancy? Even more telling, how many people, given a choice, would choose to be the unnoticed part of the ensemble? He was the unsung hero, the man behind the curtain making it happen. He was Mr Wizard.
I like to call balance poses by this distinction in function. Mr Wizard as the stable leg, and the mobile appendage as the The Fancy Leg, instead of trying to say “right leg” or “left leg.” Partly I am right left challenged, which is compounded by calling directions in reverse: all yoga teachers must learn to call in mirror image when they are facing a classroom. I also find many students share the right left conundrum. But more to the point, right vs left is a a more superficial way to view a pose and I find my students easily adapt and internalize functional calls.
Move the head of the femur under the pelvis
Ardha Chandrasana, also referred to as half moon pose, is a common balance pose that bamboozles students. Most will put the cart before the horse by moving the the top leg back in an effort to lift the pelvis into its semi-vertical orientation. This torsions the pelvis, throws the standing leg off its axis and puts the sacroiliac joint at risk. The key to the pose is Mr Wizard. By initiating with the external rotation of the standing leg and moving the head of the femur under the pelvis via the contraction of the rotators of the rump, the pelvis is effectively brought into its semi-vertical orientation, which in turn “lifts” the fancy leg into position. Add a little abduction and a little external rotation to The Fancy Leg and, especially if you are blond and female, you are ready for the cover of yoga journal.
Right or left “legged”?
We have a right left preference in our legs just as we do in our hands, and our “handedness” can give us insight into how our legs operate: if you are right handed chances are your left leg is the stable side. For example, if you were bowling, the left leg is Mr Wizard, and think about the right one, how it swings around to the back at a diagonal. . . pretty fancy, eh?
One of the great beauties of yoga is we do both sides of any given pose, a rule not shared in all physical endeavors. Mr Wizard and The Fancy Leg get to roll swap in yoga, and although they may struggle mightily learning to do the other’s job, consider the alternative. As a 12 year old gymnast I witnessed what happens when we don’t challenge our preferences. My team mate always did her back walkovers leading with her right leg, the left leg being the propulsion to push the pelvis over. After a few years of favoring this delegation of effort and never changing sides, when she stood upright and still, aka Tadasana, she now had a right hip that hiked up almost 20 degrees. Even as a child, I knew this was not good, and recognized she needed to do the other side, like, a lot.
It’s important to recognize your innate or practiced leg dominance, and change it up by at a minimum doing both sides of a pose. When the discrepancy is great between sides, you may need to practice in an unbalanced way. Do the “good side” once, and the not so intelligent side three times. This imbalanced practice will give your Mr Wizard a chance to practice being Fancy and vise versa, and hopefully lead to greater integration between the two sides of the body, resulting in a better functioning posture. But it may also help to avoid the always dreaded repetitive stress injuries that plague yoga practitioners just as they do the rest of the planet.
©Theresa Elliott, 2017
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