Anatomy Through the Yogic Lens
by Sanjeev Bhanot
Despite how fixated we are in the western world with our physical bodies, most people actually know very little about their own anatomy.
When you begin a yoga teacher training or anatomy for yoga advanced training, you have the opportunity to learn about bones, muscles, joints, breathing and the circulatory system. And much to many trainees’ surprise, it’s anything but dull. Students experience frequent lightbulb moments throughout the training, moments of…
“So that’s why my right knee hates pigeon pose.”
“I think that might be what causes my back pain.”
The experience of learning about the body is fascinating in the first instance because it helps us to become more intimately acquainted with our physical selves, which are the vehicle from which we experience the world. The better we understand our bodies, the more we can appreciate our lived experience. Put simply, there’s no way that once you understand the intelligence of your body and your anatomical structure, you can fail to be impressed by it. Through the study of anatomy for yoga, we learn to approach our bodies with more wonder, more awe and more gratitude.
This can actually help to get us out of our heads, away from the constant mental speculation of our thoughts, and into the grounding of our bodies. Knowledge and appreciation can move us from:
“Argh, my forward fold is pathetic. I can barely touch my toes, even after all this practice! I’m so annoyed with myself.”
“So that’s clever that my body has realised that forward folds are potentially injurious, and it’s putting the brakes on to protect me. I’m grateful that now my old injury has healed I can work gently with my body to find a healthy range of motion.”
Why does this matter so much as a yoga teacher?
What we practise and understand in our own bodies, we project onto our students. The more we are able to fully inhabit and understand where we are physically right now, the more we are able to guide others to be compassionate with themselves. When we understand the mechanics of the body, we can educate our students to help them to respond to their physical strengths and limitations with equanimity. The best way to share this approach is through modelling it – when students see you demonstrating with integrity, caring for your own body and not berating it or pushing past its limits, they’re more likely to be able to emulate the approach.
If you’re looking for an in-depth course on Anatomy for a Yogi, be sure to check out our “Advanced Anatomy for Yoga” course
Intelligent class planning
An in depth understanding of anatomy will greatly improve your yoga teaching, as you’ll understand how to sequence a class so that students are fully warm and ready before attempting challenging postures. You’ll appreciate the benefits of different asanas and be able to tailor these to meet your students’ needs, for instance including backbends in an energising after-work class to release the effects of desk-bound work. You’ll also learn how to modify postures for those with injuries and offer a range of options to suit different body types.
Connecting with students
In hatha yoga, we seek to connect with the true essence of who we really are, and we do this through the body. By uniting the movements of the body with the mind and the breath, we are able to calm the mind, and experience who we are beneath the chatter of our thoughts.
Therefore it is in the physical realm that as yoga teachers we need to meet and connect with our students. The more we learn about the physical body, the better we can relate to what living in someone else’s skin feels like, and as such we can bring more empathy to our teaching. When students know that they are seen and understood, they feel safer, and are better able to surrender to the practice of yoga and allow it to work its magic.
Meeting students’ needs
You will likely come across students who turn to yoga as a means for pain reduction and improved function. More and more people, discouraged by conventional medical modalities, are looking to their yoga teacher for help in understanding their own unique bodies. A teacher with a solid base in anatomy will be better equipped to offer this kind of guidance.
Going beyond the physical
Remember that when we work with the physical body, it’s not the end goal. We use our understanding of anatomy to inform our practice of postures, and thus to go deeper into ourselves. In the words of B.K.S. Iyengar:
“The study of asana is not about mastering posture. It’s about using posture to understand and transform yourself.”
The body is the physical presence – many consider it to be the vessel that carries the mind and spirit. It is the most easily manipulable of the three parts of a human being and is thus an excellent starting point to create wholeness and wellness. It is through observing sensations and changes in the body that yoga students begin to experience a deeper connection to more subtle aspects of themselves.
Therefore, as yoga teachers, we have an enormous responsibility to create a safe environment for these connections to happen. Teachers can facilitate learning and healing through intuitive guidance and intelligent adjustments to expedite this process. It is with this strong grounding in anatomy that we can delve deeper, learning how to take our students on a journey to discover or re-discover wholeness and wellness.
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