Inside The World of Yoga and Anatomy

back pain flexibility joint movement yoga and anatomy
Yoga and Anatomy

Anatomy is a hot topic in the yoga world today. A majority of yoga instructors who have graduated from traditional 200-hour teacher trainings complain that there is not enough emphasis on anatomy in many of these trainings. Currently the Yoga Alliance only requires 20 hours of Anatomy and Physiology as part of a 200-hour teaching curriculum. This can leave a newly certified yoga instructor at a loss for what asana may or may not be suitable for certain populations in their classes.

Creating a Safer Environment for Learning

Many clients come to yoga classes to feel better and oftentimes fix issues they may be having in their own body – whether it's back pain, flexibility and movement issues, or wanting to get stronger. It is up to each of us as a yoga instructor to provide the best instruction based on our training and promote an environment of safety and support for our clients. This is where personal responsibility and yoga instruction meets the pavement. Continuing education in anatomy, biomechanics, kinesiology, and musculoskeletal dysfunction can amplify your teaching skills two fold.

While learning anatomy and biomechanics can be daunting, it is important to know that it just takes time, memorization, critical thinking, and application of the information you are learning. Even learning one piece of information and applying it in your classes or theming a class around it helps you readily use what you have learned.

Tips for Learning Anatomy and Biomechanics

  • Emphasize Muscle Action – while understanding the origin, insertion and innervation of muscles is beneficial, the easiest way to understand and apply anatomy to your teachings is identifying what movement or action each muscle produces. This will allow you to speak toward what you are trying to achieve in your classes. For instance, whether you want to stretch the hamstrings in Pyramid pose or activate it for stability in a lunging posture.
  • Understand Joint Movement – each joint in the body moves and operates in its own way, known as arthrokinematics. Knowing the difference between the types of joints and how they move improves awareness of alignment and optimal joint positioning in each posture. Joints either roll, glide/slide, or spin. For instance, during a squat the femur moves on a stable tibia. The femur rolls backward while sliding forward on the tibia. With an anterior force already present on the front of the knee, it is important to cue students to draw the knee joints behind the toes and balls of the feet to protect the knees and keep the joint in Optimal Functional Position (OFP).
  • Familiarize Yourself with Agonist/Antagonist Relationship of Muscles – in order to produce movement in a joint, opposing muscles must work together. When one muscle contracts, the opposing muscle relaxes. For instance, if you were to sit in a chair and extend your knee – the quadriceps muscle, located at the front of your thigh, would contract to produce the movement, where as, your hamstrings, located at the back of your thigh, would relax to allow the movement to occur. The awareness of this relationship is important when encouraging students to stabilize in certain postures or allow for relaxation of muscle you may be targeting.

When learning the ins and outs of asana and alignment, it is beneficial as a yoga instructor to continue the study of anatomy and biomechanics beyond your initial training to not only improve teaching skills, but also to keep your students safe and in Optimal Functional Position in the joints. The silver lining in all of this is, now more than ever we have access to information, training, and educational material to gain as much knowledge as we want!

Below you will find, Tristan’s Top 3 Favorite Anatomy Resources:

  • Anatomy Trains by Thomas Myers
  • Trail Guide to Movement by Andrew Biel
  • Your Body, Your Yoga by Bernie Clark

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