Is it something reserved exclusively for yoga nerds (like your yoga anatomy teacher) or is it useful and beneficial for all yoga practitioners? I believe that yoga anatomy can benefit anyone and everyone in yoga practice, and here’s why:
1. YOGA ANATOMY is like having GOOGLE MAPS for YOUR BODY
Imagine owning a version of Google maps for the human body. For YOUR own body. Feel a pain in the butt? Zoom in, locate the exact spot of the sensation, ahh… there it is. According to your anatomy map, It’s actually coming from the head of the hamstring, not the glutes (buttocks)! Time to apply your yoga anatomy knowledge here: Okay… I should go easy on the Uttanasana (standing forward fold) and engage the hamstrings slightly to prevent over-stretching.
Without this yoga anatomy knowledge, you could have gone on and on trying to stretch or massage your buttocks, mistakenly thinking that you have tightness there. Just like a driver without a map, driving on and on in the wrong direction and going nowhere.
2. PRACTICE SMART
Yogi A – practices for ten years, repetitively and conscientiously. Plenty of sweat and tears, numerous injuries and much pain involved. Has to give up on certain asana practices due to irreversible injuries.
Yogi B – practices for ten years, repetitively and conscientiously. Plenty of sweat and tears, BUT much less injury and pain involved. Still maintaining a strong asana practice daily.
What is Yogi B’s secret?
Answer: Strong awareness of the body. To be more precise, strong awareness AND knowledge of the body’s functions, capabilities and limitations.
This is exactly what we seek when we study yoga anatomy. If you understand that there is a difference between the function of the knee joint (hinge) and the hip joint (ball and socket), you will not force your body into that Padmasana (lotus pose) when the hips are not ready for it. You’ll stabilize the knees and work on the movement from the hips, where it matters. Practice hard AND practice smart. Practicing blindly without awareness of the body is just a recipe for disaster.
3. KNOW WHEN TO BACK OFF
Practicing asanas fervently and aggressively without awareness of the body structure is like speeding on the highway without brakes. There is an inevitable crash waiting around the corner when the body is exhausted and breaks down. With anatomy knowledge and applying them to your yoga practice, you know when is a time to slow down for muscle recovery and avoid injury. You also learn to recruit and co-activate different muscles in different poses, avoiding fatigue and over-using certain muscles. It’s the skill of knowing when to slow down, back off, respecting the limits of the body for a safe, sustainable practice.
4. SEE THE BODY AS A WHOLE
Admit it, we micro-manage the body. Let’s take the lower back as an example. When we feel pain in the lower back, we tend to focus only on that area and starting thinking of ways to fix it. Maybe I should just apply a heat pack? Should I take some painkillers? Maybe more supplements for joint health? Perhaps I just need to stretch it. Typically, we seek quick relief from symptomatic pain. Once the pain subsides, we think no more of it. Until the next time the same pain shows up.
The truth is, joint pain is very often a result of muscular imbalances in the rest of the body. The most common being the upper cross and lower cross syndrome, which requires an understanding of different muscle groups working together. We need to see the body as a whole, connect the dots and work towards restoring balance. We can start by analyzing which muscles groups have been overly active, becoming too strong and stiff, and which muscle groups are weak and not providing support that is vital to joint health. We can manage pain and issues in the body by looking at the big picture to heal the body for the long term, instead of just seeking short term pain relief.
5. DITCH THAT EGO
I love anatomy. Yet there will always be days when I feel frustrated and defeated by its complexity and technicality. There is something new to learn and the learning never ends! Researchers and scientists are constantly discovering and unravelling new mysteries of the human body and anatomy. As you embark on the study of yoga anatomy, you have no choice but to humble yourself and ditch that ‘know-it-all’ ego. Soon, you’ll be comfortable with saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll work on finding out more.” Trust me, nothing humbles you more than the complexity and beauty of the human body. You will realize that the more you study, the less you know. A truly eye-opening and humbling journey.
These are my top five reasons why yoga anatomy is important for yoga practitioners.
Of course, I could go on and list a hundred more reasons, but let’s save it for another day, another anatomy article or another anatomy class.
The yoga anatomy nerd in me bows to the yoga anatomy nerd in you. Namaste.