Benefits of Anatomy Study for Yoga Practitioners

Knowledge is power! The more we know about our body, the more we can work with our body in a healthy way and pass this knowledge on to others. There’s a lot to learn about the human body and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. In yoga teacher training, Yoga Anatomy is part of the syllabus. Having exposed to Yoga Anatomy, I personally think that this topic is not only beneficial to budding yoga teachers but all yoga practitioners. Basic understanding of anatomy helps facilitate healthy practice and understand what’s going on in the body when we break down each yoga poses.

By learning the basic anatomy of bones, ligaments and muscles, we are able to analyze why a student can or cannot do a certain Yoga posture. We can learn to look past the surface of the body and understand anatomy in the context of yoga, as described below:-

1. Understanding movements of the body.

Yoga is a practice of connecting movement to breath. Movement can be described in various ways, but in order to understand it from an anatomical perspective, we need to know the planes of the body and how moving different body parts creates actions such as flexion, extension, internal/external rotation and so forth. The challenge isn’t in understanding these movements in theory; it’s in applying them to different body parts and poses. Often in one pose, there can be 3 or more actions taking place concurrently. For example, getting into Utkatasana (Chair Pose) involves the following movements:

– The knees flex

– The hips adduct and flex

– The back extends

– The shoulders flex overhead and externally rotate

– The elbows extend

– The forearms pronate

– The cervical spine extends to tilt the head back

2. Understanding skeletal system of the body

The skeleton of an adult human consists of 206 bones including spine, which is the support structure of the human skeleton. It is not necessary to know all the names of the bone but we need to pay attention to the more commonly used part of the bones and its function. For instance, the sacrum (triangular bone in the pelvis), is meant to stabilize. It is the most important stabilizing factor in the bridge between the upper body and the lower body. There’s very little movement there; it only correctly moves during childbirth. Some students are taught to lift their tailbone and open their chest or extend their spine in forward. This is causing instability in the sacroiliac joint (the joint between the sacrum and the ilium bone in the pelvis), which can cause chronic back pain.

3. Understanding joints of the body

Joints are between bones and understanding the types of joints in each part of the body has significant implications for the kinds of movements that are safe and the kinds of movements that are more risky. Joints come in various shapes, depending on the mobility or stability they require. There are several types of freely moveable joints (hinge, ball and socket, gliding, ellipsoid, pivot and saddle). At a minimum, it’s helpful to understand each one and to identify some parts of the body where they appear.

4. Understanding of muscles of the body

We learn the different type of muscles in the body; each muscle is grouped according to the movements of body or function. Learning them in conjunction with the movements in asanas will give us a fair idea of who can benefit from these asanas. Muscles use contractions to create all joint actions, including flexion and extension. Muscle actions like concentric, eccentric, and isometric are used to describe the effects of the relationship between the muscle and the resistance. Yoga poses can either focus on one muscle compartment, or multiple ones at the same time. It is essential to know which muscles are being engaged in various poses; this helps yoga teachers in formulating yoga sequences that benefits different students’ needs.

5. Understanding Alignment that put body at risk

With the basic understanding of the above points, we can determine the risks during yoga asanas if an asana is not performed correctly. For example, knowledge about the joint movements is particularly beneficial in guiding beginner students in avoiding injuries due to overexertion of a singular joint. When we are teaching a Yoga class, we must be able to help students safely adjust into, or out of, poses, as necessary. Many students will come into class with prior injuries and health concerns. It is the yoga teacher’s responsibility to ensure the safety of each student, offering advice on modifications for a multitude of techniques. Therefore, a yoga teacher will need to be extremely knowledgeable about each area of the body and how it will be affected by each technique.

An understanding of anatomy can have a profound effect on our cueing, sequencing, alignment and safety, in our teaching as well as our own personal practice. By becoming clear about what our body is designed to do, as well as not to do, we can prevent injury on and off the yoga mat.

– LYCHANG (200YTT Apr-Jun17)

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