Yoga Anatomy

What should yoga teachers know about yoga anatomy?

Learning about yoga anatomy is a process. If you try to understand everything then being a yoga instructor may seem ridiculously complicated and frustrating. A better strategy for a yoga instructor is to read and absorb the information that will help in the yoga asana you are currently practicing and then come back later to know more about anatomy. You will be amazed how much your understanding will grow over time.

Anatomy is a huge scientific field, so applying it in yoga asana can feel like a hefty task for a yoga instructor. You could spend years learning it, do a master’s degree and get a handful of scientific awards, and you might still remain quite uncertain about the structures of the body. Fortunately, you don’t need to be an expert yoga instructor or a scientist to have a useful working knowledge of yoga anatomy. You just need to be curious, interested, and willing to learn.

Difference Between Yoga Anatomy and Physiology?

Anatomy refers to the structure of the body and the physical relationship between body parts. Physiology refers to the function of body parts and the functional relationships between them. Consider the nervous system: how and why it transmits messages belongs to the science of physiology. Where the nerves are located in their paths around joints or through bones is the science of anatomy.

In practice, anatomy is often about bones and muscles, while physiology is often about organs.

How do I learn the Anatomy of Yoga?

The Skeleton

Bones, ligaments, muscles, and tendons all weave together into a dynamic whole. The skeletal portion of the musculoskeletal system is made up of the bones, ligaments, and other tissues that make up the joints: synovial fluid, hyaline cartilage, and fibrocartilaginous discs and wedges. The muscular portion is made up of the muscles and tendons that cross the joint space and attach to the bones, as well as the nerve endings that organize the exquisite sequencing and timing of our muscle actions. All of these tissues are either composed of or wrapped in layers of connective tissue.

The human body is built from approximately 206 bones (approximate because that too can vary between people). About a quarter of these bones are in the hands and feet, which typically contain 53 bones altogether.

The Neck or Cervical spine

There are seven vertebrae in the neck that a yoga instructor needs to know. Most of the forward and backward bend asanas happen because of the flexion and extension in the cervical spine which comes from the top joint where the skull meets the first vertebra. Major neck rotational movements come from the joint between the first vertebra and the second vertebra; the rest of the joints in the cervical spine allow movement in multiple directions, adding up to greater flexion forward, backward, and sideways than any other area of the spine.

The rib cage and thoracic spine (upper back)

The ribcage is structured out of 12 (rarely 13) pairs of ribs that find their way back to the spine at the back. At the front of the ribcage, the upper ribs connect to each other and to the breastbone or sternum.

The ribcage has two primary roles a yoga instructor should know about:

  • It protects the thoracic organs such as the heart and lungs
  • Aiding respiration – interestingly enough the lungs don’t move by themselves, they are expanded and contracted when our muscles move our ribs and diaphragm.

The spinal bones of the upper back are called thoracic vertebrae. There are twelve, each with a bony outcrop to each side for the ribs to attach to. Movement in the thoracic spine is limited by the joints between the vertebrae, and the bony shape required for the rib attachments. The thoracic spine has less range of motion to bend forward and backward than the neck or lower back. However, it has more rotation (twist) than the rest of the spine.

Basic Joint Knowledge for a Yoga instructor

  • Joints should move only in the directions they were designed to move. A yoga instructor should be very careful and should not tell students to force other knee movements that can cause injuries. It is important to take care with asana progressions that press joints in multiple directions. Some yoga asanas like Pidgeon Pose, require knee rotation which is a very limited movement.
  • The same joints are slightly different shapes in different people. Could be fascinating for new yoga instructors and confusing because this means one person can have a greater range of movement than another person due to the shape of the bone which they were born with.
  • As a protective yoga instructor do not ask students to stretch a joint beyond its normal limits as it can weaken the ligaments and connective tissue that are supposed to support and protect the joint.
  • If your yoga students experience Popping and clicking of joints during normal movement that may not necessarily indicate injury. It often suggests that joints may be a little unstable and might benefit from muscle strengthening around the joint.
  • It’s crazy but, sometimes yoga students intentionally ‘crack’ joints on a frequent basis which is not recommended by any yoga instructor as it can cause wear on the joint surfaces and weaken the supportive tissues around the joint.
  • Strength and flexibility go hand in hand, one shouldn’t be compromised to achieve the other. Strong coordinated muscles protect our joints. A yoga instructor should keep flexibility postures teamed up with muscle-strengthening yoga asanas.
  • Hyperflexion and hyperextension are movements that should be avoided or adjusted in an asana. These are the movements that go beyond the normal limit permitted by a joint.
  • Some yoga students have naturally occurring hypermobility (extra flexibility), and they are likely to be at greater risk when performing any hyperflexion or hyperextension movements.

Muscle Yoga Anatomy Knowledge for a Yoga Instructor

    • There are over 600 muscles in the human body. We do not need to learn all of them to practice or become good yoga instructors.
    • There are some involuntary muscles like the heart and the muscles that propel food along the digestive tract.
    • The muscles we use intentionally to move are called voluntary muscles. However, there are some muscles that have both voluntary and involuntary control like muscles that helps breathe.
    • Each muscle used to move our skeleton has an origin and an insertion: the points to each end of the muscle attached.
    • The muscles work together as a matrix of potential movement choices. This matrix affects every articulation in the body.
    • Muscles do not work in isolation, and a single muscle never works without support and modulation from other muscles.
    • Each muscle has an effect on every other muscle, whether they are nearby or far away. Historically, muscles have been presented in a simplistic, linear paradigm, which leads to misconceptions such as: -Muscles work as discrete units.
    • For everybody, the same muscles always create the same joint action.
    • The more tone a muscle has, the better it can function.
    • Muscles always relate to each other in the same way.
    • There is a correct set of muscles for executing any movement.

    Hope all yoga aspirants will gain some insight into yoga anatomy with the help of this help. For any questions and queries about yoga anatomy or yoga teacher training, write us back.

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