“I have to take notes,” I find myself thinking during Richelle Ricard’s Advanced Alignment yoga classes at Aditi Yoga/Bodywork. Richelle’s instructions, so carefully, precisely worded, guide us to become more aware of integrated movement and how adjustments or changes in stance or posture can make a difference in ease, strength and functional movement. Her small classes, populated with students of varying experience and always yoga teachers, provide valuable learning time that larger group classes can not so easily do. As a long-time yoga student, I like to learn the safest and most efficient means to move and set up poses to prevent injury, look good and to practice for a long time yet. Good news! There is time for note-taking, practical hands-on practice with others and more in her upcoming intensive workshop, The Hips at Aditi on January 23, 2016.
Richelle’s career began in high school when she found a natural affinity to studying and working with bodies. She started in athletic training and teaching. She completed massage school and then taught and wrote anatomy curriculum. Then she dived into yoga where her previous background and trainings set her on course to teach anatomy for yoga teacher trainings. She teaches yoga and yoga teacher trainings, does bodywork and massage, provides anatomy workshops and has more plans as her career continues to blossom. Richelle has dedicated her professional life to studying bodies in motion and teaching the practical applications of kinesiology and anatomy to yoga and movement.
Cathy Geier: When did you begin to practice and study yoga?
Richelle Ricard: My first yoga sessions were in Spokane in 1997. I really committed to regular practice in Seattle in 2002. I was so fortunate that my three primary teachers at the time all taught a full, well-rounded form of yoga to class. Even though I took classes at a gym, the yoga was Yoga…not just group exercise. We practiced pranayama, mantra, mudra, kriya…it was a few years of solid, immersive practice. It was a really intense time of growth for me personally and professionally, and I believe that this yoga practice is what got me through.
I’m so thankful that my teacher, Jennifer Isaacson, was so supportive of my desire to go deeper. With her encouragement, I started studying within different teacher trainings in 2005, but it wasn’t until I found Yoga Works in 2007 that this aspect of my study really fell into place. My teacher there, Catherine Munro, changed everything for me. Her education style, energy, deep knowledge, and utter commitment to her practice were an inspiration. She really got me rolling in the professional anatomy-teacher business.
Cathy Geier: What intrigued you to begin, continue and then intensify your studies to become a specialist in anatomy for yoga practitioners and teachers?
Richelle Ricard: I’ve worked hands-on with the body since becoming a student athletic trainer in 1994. I fell in love with the body and its mechanics, the physiology and the physics. I did some teaching back then; so it turned out that both the healing artist and the educator were there from the beginning. I went on to massage school in 2000 where anatomy and kinesiology came very easy for me, so again, I started tutoring and eventually teaching.
My experience as a bodyworker has deeply informed my work as a yoga teacher. I lay hands on those who hurt themselves doing things they love to do…including yoga. Many of my long term clients are yoga teachers, in fact. I have seen the negative impacts first hand and want to help people avoid the conditions that cause injury whenever possible. Within asana practice there are inherent physical risks, but some postures, styles and cues are just not appropriate for every body. They might even be typical postures! How you do those postures matters to your tissues, your joints. I’m very much interested in the HOW and the WHY.
Through my various yoga teacher training experiences, I found that the thing that was seriously lacking was the physical anatomy portion. It makes sense…it’s a whole different language that very few of us are taught through our standard education. It is intricate and complex and conditional. There’s so much to know!! So when you build a teacher training, even if there is a solid outline for muscular anatomy, if you don’t have a really knowledgable instructor, that information will fall flat and be hard to apply. I recognized that learning only about the structure wasn’t enough. Instead, yoga teachers needed functional, applicable knowledge translated into layman’s terms that had direct continuity with asana practice.
Luckily, Catherine Munro helped me pick up the anatomy portion of the YTT’s she was doing in Seattle and Vancouver, BC. That’s when I started rewriting the curriculum and eventually developed advanced trainings and workshops for both teachers and students.
Cathy Geier: How does learning anatomy and its application to movement increase the effectiveness of a yoga teacher and his/her teaching?
Richelle Ricard: I am a fan of context. It’s proven that just knowing the name of something makes it more interesting and intriguing. I take that one step further, if you know how that thing works, you’ll work with it more intelligently. Our bodies can do some incredible things, so it’s possible to believe it’s MEANT to do them. The fact is though, that we are capable of extremes that we’re not built to live in repeatedly or withstand over time. If a yoga teacher understands the limitations of tissues and the nature of joints and the way bones move with reference to each other, they are less likely to take their body into places that cause damage over time. They will have the foundation to build asana sequences from a deeply personal, structural and functional place that serves their student’s opening and strength.
I don’t know how many times I’ve taught a workshop and teachers come up to me afterward saying, “This changes everything!” The physiological perspective is applicable to all the bodies coming to the mat. We are all different, but there are guidelines that are universal. For a teacher to embrace that is for them to honor the vessel as it is. Asana is not the complete practice of yoga, but it offers a powerful tool for building deeper awareness. The awareness of the physical is enhanced and expanded with a deeper knowledge of our inner workings.
Cathy Geier: What are some important tips and considerations for yoga teachers to use in their teaching to keep their students safe as well as to allow their optimal movement?
Richelle Ricard: Oh. Wow.
This is a huge question. I’m working now on a series of articles covering this exact subject, because frankly, there is a lot of rhetoric in the language of yoga. Many of us have heard similar cues from teachers across the spectrum, literally drilling this language into our brains without necessarily considering its impact or meaning. To shift out of this mode, I try to ask, “why am I moving like this? What is it really offering me? Is that thing important, necessary, or safe? What are the long-term ramifications?” My website, YogaEngineer.com is built to specifically address these questions and to hopefully begin to shift the rhetoric.
I have a Soap Box list at the moment, but one thing near the top of the list regards Psoas (a long, deep hip flexor that runs from the front of the spine to the thigh bone). There is a ton of mythology around this muscle. It can certainly have impacts on our low back and hips, but not in the way it’s often presented. In most bodies, even bodies that sit in a chair for many hours, psoas is NOT SHORT. It may be tight or taut; it may be in spasm; it is almost certainly weak, but it is rarely truly short. In yoga, there is a tendency to stretch the hip flexors with the intention of releasing pressure from the low back, but many times this just reinforces horrible postural habits and does nothing to shore up the situation with strong active musculature. I think most students benefit more from strengthening work while the hip flexors are long, and activated—in lunges for example.
Cathy Geier: What will be the class format in your upcoming workshop, Intensive Study of the Hips on January 23 at AditiYoga/Bodywork?
Richelle Ricard: My Intensive Study workshops pack a punch. There will be some introduction/review of basic tissue physiology, the structure of the hip joint and the muscles that move it. We’ll examine the hip’s relationship to the pelvis and spine as well as connections downstream to the foot. Students will practice a number of fundamental postures and make adjustments based on the engineering of their own bones and joints. There will be time devoted to letting teachers make observations and hands on adjustments. Honestly, it’s a ton of information with a little something for everyone. Yoga teachers and students alike will walk away with a better understanding of the structure and nature of the hip and lower extremity, and perhaps a more integral practice as a result.
Cathy Geier: You are called the “Yoga Engineer.” Tell us about your offerings and what plans you have for future offerings.
Richelle Ricard: I aspire to devote more time to my website, eventually including more Practice Mechanics, video, and podcasts. It’s a ton of work and I have a ton on my plate at the moment. I continue to offer private instruction as well as my regular weekly classes at Aditi Yoga and Seattle Athletic Club Downtown. I have Intensive Study of the Hips workshop at Aditi on January 23rd, and at Sattva Yoga in Redmond in April. I intend to offer sessions on the Shoulder and Spine later. In October, I’ll be offering an immersion retreat at the Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort that will incorporate the principles I teach in the workshops, as well as a well-rounded yoga practice with pranayama, mantra and mudra. I’m really, really excited about that. I haven’t offered a retreat for a couple of years so this one’s gonna be special.
I am also honored to be teaching the Anatomy Modules for YTT’s across the region this year! The Craft of Teaching in Seattle, Three Trees Yoga in Federal way, Ashtanga Bellingham and Sattva Yoga in Redmond. I’m currently developing a 25-hour module to work with the 300-hour training at Sattva, so if you’re a yoga teacher looking for even more in depth, advanced perspectives, check it out.
Cathy Geier: Thank you to Richelle for taking time to answer these questions to help Seattle Yoga News readers understand more about how yoga practitioners benefit from anatomy knowledge and application to their practice.
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