If you’re a seasoned Yogi or a seasoned Yoga teacher, you know there’s so much lacking in our industry on anatomy and alignment.
In some practices, it’s “boo hoo’d” as something completely unnecessary. I’ve had world renowned teachers advise that we need to “feel” our bodies into the movements and the poses.
Those of you who know me know that I once practiced Bikram Yoga obsessively. The particular studio I was attending taught the exact Bikram way; there was no wavering from the exactness of this method in that studio. The owner and head instructor was militant, precise, and really demeaning to some students.
I practiced this way for over 4 years. During that time, I drank their kool-aid and didn’t waver from what they taught.
Over time, I began to think like the Physical Therapist and Pilates instructor that I am. I began to “activate” my muscles to keep my practice safe. I began to disagree with what was taught, as I saw students come and go who were injuring themselves to fit their bodies to the Bikram practice, rather than the other way around.
But there was no wavering from the practice in this studio, no modifications. You just had to keep pushing and doing the same 26 poses over and over.
Increasing Numbers of Injuries from Yoga
After moving away from Bikram, I fell in love with Ashtanga. For those of you who don’t know the practice, it’s very intense and physical. It’s an amazing practice to build strength, stamina, and endurance, but it’s also a good way to injure yourself.
Many students get ambitious in Ashtanga; the foundational work to understand your anatomy and alignment is required to practice safely.
A deeply trained Ashtanga Yoga teacher I was learning from told me that the only thing standing in the way of twisting into a pretzel was my mind – that if I just let go, I could get into any pose.
I was sold on this for a long time. I used to listen intently and practice this way for a while, determined to do what they advised.
Then I began to get hurt. I felt pain in my shoulders, hips, and low back. As a Physical Therapist, I knew there was something wrong.
I began to see fellow Yogis who had injured their necks, backs, and joints come to my office for treatment. The most “bendy” Yogis that can easily go into a drop back didn’t have proper stability to counterbalance such drastic movements. Then I got to thinking…..our human bodies aren’t designed to move that way.
If and when we do want to work on more challenging poses, it requires us to have a foundational understanding of our bodies so that we can learn to move in that way, safely. The laws of physics apply to our human bodies.
Ensure Your Yoga Practice is Healing, Not Degenerative
When you think about a car, we all know to get alignment checks on the wheels to avoid wearing down one tire faster than the others. This is because when we go over a speed bump too fast or accidentally go over the curb, it knocks our alignment just so and as a result, we can have uneven wearing of our tires.
Unlike our cars, we only have one set of joints. In order to move in a safe way that slows degeneration, we have to consider the structures of our joints and the restrictions of our connective tissue, as well as our tendons. But more importantly, we have to consider the nerves that innervate the muscles as well.
Another thing to keep in mind is that we live in a sedentary world. Most of you have day jobs that keep you hunched forward all day, and a few times a week you come to Yoga to get connected to your body again.
This is where I see so many Yogis create poor muscle memory and connection because they are asked to move through poses that perpetuate their compensatory patterns. Most people say they love Yoga for a while until the very practice that is supposed to be healing begins to cause aches and pains.
Yoga Anatomy Fundamentals
Our bodies move as a whole. Human bodies are designed to move. Each part of the body has a certain ROM, or range of motion – cervical spine, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, SI joint, hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows, hands, and wrists.
Each part has structural integrity and soft tissues to consider that provide stability and support. However, when moving without “connecting” the right muscles, our bodies can deteriorate fast.
Plus the health of our muscles, nerves, bones, and connective tissue is largely dependent on nutrition and biochemistry. So if you have underlying metabolic conditions such as diabetes, autoimmunity, arthritis, or even osteoporosis or osteopenia, your body is subject to weaker structural integrity, purely by virtue of improper tissue elasticity.
First consider the neuromuscular (nerves to muscle) connection, then the musculoskeletal (muscle to bone) connection. There are layers of muscles with different attachment sites which facilitate different motions. There are planes of movement which dictate how our bodies move in space – sagittal plane, frontal plane, and transversal plane.
So when moving through a vinyasa, it’s important to move slowly to make actual connections to the respective muscles, and sequentially move into and out of poses to avoid coupled motion, strain, and sprain, which can cause unnecessary inflammation.
Get the Full Benefits Out of Your Practice
Because our bodies need “synergistic” motions from all the muscles, nerves, bones, and connective tissue, the sequence of firing, balance and counterbalance of muscles is absolutely critical. You can optimize this by understanding proper anatomy and alignment because when you do, you can not only get your muscles to become stronger, but also enable impeccable posture and alignment to promote the longevity and health you expect from a Yoga practice.
When talking anatomy, it’s important to break it down by specific regions, such as the shoulder girdle, lumbopelvic region, hip complex, knees, elbows, spine, etc.
Just so you have confidence in me, I have a doctoral degree in Physical Therapy and have directed the cadaver dissection from start to finish as a student, and twice more as a teacher’s assistant during my graduate studies. I’ve also had to study anatomy extensively for dry needling certifications as well as for electromyographic studies.
I have so much to share with you. Our bodies are magnificent and something we can get to know and learn how to use to create optimal health. I want to provide you with the knowledge and insight to practice safely, or become a top tier Yoga teacher who helps students heal.
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Thanks again and I’ll talk to you next time.