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Rethinking Anatomy in Yoga: Is Knowing Every Bone and Muscle Necessary?

Before diving into this post, I'd like to share some background. My exploration into the intricacies of human movement began around 25 years ago. Since then, my journey has been relentless and rich with experience. I've immersed myself in studies, witnessed dissections, handled real bones, delved into biomechanics, and pursued education at the London School of Osteopathy. My dedication to research has been unwavering, and for the past 9 years, I've been teaching functional yoga anatomy. This path has not been about simply echoing others' findings but about forging my own understanding through meticulous study. The insights shared in this blog are the culmination of a lifetime's odyssey dedicated to unravelling the complexities of how we move.

Above - my face when I ask what are the major muscles of respiration and someone shouts "Psoas!". Psoas is the go-to answer to every question.

We study anatomy in our yoga teacher training not to become experts or to impress with our knowledge, but because, fundamentally, learning about the intricacies of the human body and then trying to 'connect' with that is at its core a deeply yogic practice ⭐️. Understanding anatomy shifts our focus inward, to the remarkable inner machinery of our human body. Diving into the complicated world of anatomy fosters an appreciation for the body's complex mechanisms. While knowing the names of some major bones and muscles certainly aids in guiding students (theoretically making things safer), the true enchantment of studying anatomy lies in its ability to redirect our attention from external events to the messages our bodies convey from within. A physical yoga practice should evolve from one where we are simply finding our feet, to feeling the subtle connection our intricate feet muscles make with the floor in our standing poses. We evolve from seeing to feeling.

Yoga is all about getting personal with ourselves ✨☀️🌑. It's a journey that asks us to tune in to our body's signals, to understand its unique language. By studying anatomy, we're not just learning how to strike the perfect pose; we're learning how to connect deeper with ourselves. It's about treating our practice with care, respecting the balance and harmony of our physical being, and listening to the subtle messages our bodies are constantly conveying.

So, while studying basic human anatomy and movement has its value, I often feel that the anatomy taught in many teacher trainings is a waste of the students' time. This is because, often (in my experience and from years of feedback), anatomy is taught without the basics of human physiology. To make a meaningful connection, anatomy and physiology must be taught hand in hand, as understanding the function (physiology) breathes life into the structure (anatomy). As a quick explanation, anatomy is what your body does, and physiology is how your body does what it does. For instance, if we consider the diaphragm’s movement during breathing as anatomy, then the role of the phrenic nerve in stimulating this movement is physiology. Without understanding physiology, anatomy remains a static, lifeless concept.

In a previous blog, I explained how Shiva (the 1st yogi) is 'Shava' or corpse without his consort Parvati. The glorious Parvati breathes life into him. Without his literal other half, he is inert and incapable. This analogy beautifully mirrors the relationship between anatomy and physiology. Both are essential, but learning one without the other, particularly in our case, learning anatomy without physiology, renders the study incomplete.

Considering the basic forward bend pose, using anatomical language, we could describe the stretching of the entire posterior chain. However, this understanding is purely theoretical unless we consider the physiology that allows this stretching. Our physiology—encompassing our brain, nervous system, blood supply, hormones, etc.—dictates what our anatomy can and cannot do. Thus, it's not about complicating yoga with excessive anatomical detail but simplifying it by grounding our teaching in the basics of human physiology. This understanding enables us to appreciate that our physical capabilities are not just about structural flexibility but are deeply influenced by our physiological responses.

Hence, as yoga teachers, we should prioritize learning the basics of human physiology over memorizing bone and joint names. Understanding the intricate interplay between the brain and nerves, oxygen and blood supply, will deepen our understanding of yoga, making us more effective in guiding our students and enriching our practice. It’s a call to approach yoga not just as a physical or spiritual practice but as a holistic exploration of the dynamic and interconnected system that is the human body.

The part can never be well unless the whole is well." - PLATO

Above - My students are in safe hands

Zahir Akram - eternal seeker

If you're eager to delve deeper into the world of yoga, we invite you to explore our Yoga Teacher Training program. Whether you're starting from scratch with our entry-level 200-hour course or seeking advanced knowledge with our 300-hour course, our training equips you with the skills to become a certified yoga teacher. However, this journey isn't limited to aspiring instructors alone. If you share the same passion for learning and desire to expand your understanding of the art you adore, like me, then this course is perfect for you.

Embrace the opportunity to deepen your love for yoga.


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