Subjective Or Objective

January 23, 2011     SI joint | nutation | Yoga | Yoga Injuries

Balancing what we feel and what we think we “know” in practice

I feel the need for a fresh post. This is directly related to the “debate”, and I use that terms loosely, about nutation and counter nutation of the sacrum. The discussion has been going on in the blogosphere and as of late, right here on my own blog.

I have been contemplating my own writings and particularly my last post to come to some basic agreement about the movement of the SI joint. It brings up a larger issue of what is “real”? I’m not going to get too esoteric about this, but what is the balance between subjective and objective reality as it relates to our own body?

How do we balance out what we “feel” with what we think we “know” objectively? As I stated in the very first post, I can’t argue with anyone’s experience. We feel things in our practice and our mind naturally tries to uncover what it is if we’re so inclined to look at it. The feeling is real and can add to the larger overall understanding of what is going on.

We can also look at the skeleton, ligaments, muscles etc., and add to the overall understanding of what is going on. Dare I say both are needed and valid.

My own understanding is based on my body and my own study of anatomy. Does this make it right? No, it just makes it mine.

Related to SI joint movement, I’ve never surely felt my SI joint nutate or counter nutate in any obvious way. I know enough anatomy to know that it probably does, but differentiating 1 to 3 mm of movement is not easy. Can others feel their SI joint moving? I would imagine so. Who am I to debate that? I’m not in their body.

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Where does the subjective and objective merge, clash, or simply not make any sense at all? Can we trust our felt sense as the truth? It’s certainly real, but is it the truth?
I have no answers.


  1. I have written to you before and no doubt I will write to you again to Thank You. I teach a therapeutic Yoga for people between the ages of 40 and 80. Your blog, youtube videos and your anatomy DVD are invaluable to me as a teacher and a practitioner. This conversation about objectivity and subjectivity is (I believe) an extremely important conversation. Thank you.

  2. Nobel,

    I know exactly where this leaves us. In agreement.

    I often say in my workshops that people should question what I’m telling them. If they don’t, then they may just repeat it without making it part of their own experience.

    Regarding (1), I still stand by my statement. The question then becomes how well does someone see the individual? How many people are pretty close to seeing inside someone’s body? Can anyone really know? More questions.

    I look at this pretty closely as it’s exactly how I’ve set up my workshops for teachers. 1. Understand the anatomy. 2. Learn to see the anatomy as it moves and functions or dysfunctions. and… 3. Make adjustments (through various means) based on what you think you know and what you think you see. 4. Be ready to be wrong, adapt, try something different until the knowledge and the experience connect in some way… which doesn’t always happen.

    Regarding (2) Yup

    Regarding (3) Yup. I actually get to hear about this one all the time. I usually get emails about injuries that happen. In fact, I got one yesterday. A girl who told me that she came to the ashtanga practice and didn’t meet a pose she couldn’t do, but her vinyasa weren’t strong as she put it. She got adjusted in kapotasana deeply. I’m guessing she was already in and grabbing her heels from the description she gave… but someone wanted to, had to, thought it would be good if… she were beyond what the pose needs to be. She ended up in the hospital unable to use a leg very well.

    I can’t say this was the result of ego, but there must of been some “stuff” in the way of the observation from my point of view. If she’s in the pose fully, why take her deeper? Boy, now I’m bringing up all kinds of questions!!!

    I don’t know jack!

    Jan, you reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a long time ago. He was into Paul Lowe and they talk a lot about the stories that we make in our minds. Anyway, he would say something like “You can’t know that, you can’t know anything” and my response was, well than you can’t know that you can’t know anything.

    I think the universe formed like this on purpose just to give us something to talk about.

  3. This reminds me of someone who said something like: “If you can’t trust yourself how do you know if that is true…”

    I have thought about these issues quite a lot. I don’t have the answers either but it still puzzles me that some people insist that they know what is best for them (“I know my body best”). How do they know?

  4. Interesting. You said, “I guess I was asking the question about whether or not we could fully trust ourselves as mind, ego, all kinds of stuff can get in the way of the felt sense.”

    Well, we probably can’t trust ourselves fully all the time (although we should definitely listen to our bodies) because, as you mentioned, ego and all kinds of stuff get in the way.

    But then again, we can’t fully trust the observations of others either, not even those of so-called experts or anatomists (no offense :-)). This is so because: (1) It’s not as if others can “magically see inside the body and watch the physical anatomy as it moved”, (2) Others are observing my body through the lens of their own experience and knowledge, which may or may not be applicable to my experience. Besides, what counts as state-of-the-art knowledge about how the body actually works is constantly evolving and changing, (3) Ego and all kinds of stuff can also get in the way of the observations and recommendations of others.

    Hmm… I don’t know where this leaves us.

  5. Good question… yes it is a bit semantical but that’s ok. It helps me be more clear about what I’m thinking or trying to say.

    The short answer is I was speaking of the former, not the latter of the two definitions you offered. I wasn’t trying to define an ultimate truth anyway.

    There is the truth of what we feel and there is the truth of what’s literally happening in our body objectively. The only way to know what that is would be if you could magically see inside the body and watch the physical anatomy as it moved.

    All of us anatomists are mostly imagining what would happen as the anatomy moved with real living tissue.

    Yes, I agree, both senses of truth are related but distinct. I guess I was asking the question about whether or not we could fully trust ourselves as mind, ego, all kinds of stuff can get in the way of the felt sense.

    Again… I have no answers… just questions today.

  6. “Can we trust our felt sense as the truth? It’s certainly real, but is it the truth?”

    I hope I’m not getting into a purely semantical issue here (I don’t think I am), but how do you define “truth”? By “truth”, do you mean “what is actually happening in my body, independently of how I feel/perceive things”? Or do you mean “the state of muscular-skeletal alignment that is best for my body and overall well-being, independently of how I feel/perceive things”?

    These 2 senses of truth are related to each other, but are distinct.