The more I learn about anatomy, the more I become more convinced of the need for yoga practitioners to understand some of the basics. This can help us avoid reinforcing unhealthy patterns of movement and help to create new muscle memories that reinforce healthy alignment.
When you consider that most people come to yoga a few times a week, that’s barely enough time to undo unhealthy habits they may have in the other hours of the day. However, if teachers are able to communicate the key anatomical positions and information in such a way that it’s translatable to daily living, we can help students to self-correct when they’re off the mat.
Here are some of the key reasons to learn more about anatomy:
1. It helps you practice with greater safety and stability.
Once we understand how the body moves, the shape and construction of the spine, the size, shape and construction of bones and joints and how the body’s stability changes based on it’s relationship to gravity, we can approach yoga practice with a better understanding about how to go into each pose and create a steadiness.
2. It informs you about healthy movement on (and off!) the mat.
When we understand what makes for comfort in a pose, we can start to translate those actions into the day-to-day movements. We can create healthier patterns of movement, self-correct when we’ve shifted into poor posture, and find natural ways to relieve tension in the body.
3. It gives you information to protect against incorrect (or missing) instruction.
When you’re more informed about the basics of anatomy, this allows you to move through your practice as an educated practitioner, without having to rely solely on the teacher.
4. It allows you to build strength and flexibility with less risk of injury.
There’s risk inherent in all kinds of exercise and that risk will vary depending on the exercise, the condition of the practitioner and the knowledge of the teacher and student. The more one understands the basics of anatomy involved in movement, the greater the opportunity to create strength and flexibility in a healthy way.
5. It enables you apply yoga to help manage your unique characteristics, such as being double jointed or having scoliosis.
As students are more educated about the basics of anatomy, they are able to go into any group class and create customizations that allow them to experience the practice in the best way for them.
6. It helps you understand the anatomical impact of some poses compared to others.
While students don’t need to do every pose in a group yoga class, the tendency is to try what’s offered, even if one might not have the proper positioning to enter and stay in the pose safely.
Without a general understanding of anatomy, it can be hard to discern between one pose and another when it comes to the shape of the pose and what might be involved from a positioning perspective. Some poses are generally harder than others and require things like greater stability and flexibility or strength. Additionally, some poses move the body in ways that can create stress on joints or the origin and insertion of muscles. Some of these characteristics can be inherent in even basic poses, such as the risk of over-stretching the hamstrings in Downward Facing Dog.
Once we give students general anatomical information, they are better able to understand why the knee in Pigeon is potentially at risk, or why the vertebral discs are compressed in different ways, depending on the way the spine is bending and our body’s relationship to gravity.
7. It’s empowering!
When we understand the basics of anatomy, we can feel as if we’re taking a greater responsibility toward our bodies. We can make adjustments in a way that acknowledges our uniqueness as a practitioner.
Ready to learn more about anatomy?
I love the work of Dr Ray Long.
I also appreciate the work of Jill Miller and the teachers she trains under her Yoga Tune Up program.