It's hard to believe that yoga training is halfway over. I feel like we're just getting into the good stuff! This week was all about anatomy and how it relates to yoga (and movement in general).
We discussed how important it is for instructors to have a functional understanding of the anatomy, as it allows us to safely guide students through a yoga sequence. Having basic knowledge of joint structure, muscle groups, ranges of motion, and proper alignment is paramount to effective body-reading and cueing as a yoga teacher.
While this stuff may not be earth-shattering for many of you, just bear with me. I was a finance major in college, so my mind = blown. (I think that's an official anatomical term).
Since I'm now an expert (can you hear the sarcasm?), I could give you a full anatomy lesson and list the names of every muscle and bone in our bodies. Don't worry, I won't.
Instead, here are a few key anatomy takeaways, as it relates to yoga:
Neutral Anatomical Position: all yoga postures branch from the fundamental principles of Neutral Anatomical Position. Sounds fancy, but it's really just when you're standing straight with your arms at your sides and palms facing forward. It is the foundation of our yoga sequence and helps teachers immediately read for signs of misalignment in students.
Bones: did you know that resistance training activities (like yoga!) help stimulate bone growth and contribute to increased bone density? Doing yoga makes you stronger - down to the bone.
Fascia: the fibrous tissue that is located right beneath the skin (your IT Band is made up of fascia). It connects everything in the body - from bones to muscle fibers to nerves. When in a cool environment, fascia has a firm state - preventing full mobility in the body. Conversely, it forms a soft state when warm, which is why it's so important to warm up during yoga and other physical activities. Interestingly, fascia density varies from person to person, which is why some of us are more naturally flexible than others.
Muscle Balance: is driven by the relationship between the Agonist and Antagonist muscles in any given movement. The Agonist is the primary muscle responsible for the desired motion, while the Antagonist is the opposing muscle, located on the other side of the joint. Having strength in both the Agonist and Antagonist is what creates muscle balance and ultimately, helps prevent injury.
Muscle Tension vs. Joint Compression: tension occurs when the soft tissue is not elastic enough to stretch to its full range of motion. It is the tightness we feel in a hamstring stretch, when our muscle or connective tissue is restricting our movement. This elasticity can be changed over time through stretching. A consistent yoga practice will help to eliminate some of the muscle tension you may be experiencing today. Compression, on the other hand, is when solid matter comes into contact with another piece of solid matter, stopping the range of motion. It is the restriction we feel when a bone hits another bone, or muscle/fat tissue gets squeezed between two bones. During your yoga practice, you experience both tension and compression in your body.
EveryBODY is Different: for this reason, yoga poses will naturally look and feel different for everyone (and that is normal!). Our bone structure, body proportion, strength in soft tissue, muscle and fat tissue mass, genetics, past injuries, lifestyle, emotional state, and internal body awareness are all variables that cause our yoga practices to look different from one person to the next.
I often hear discouragement and defeat in people's voices when it comes to the relationship between their anatomy and yoga.
"My thighs are too muscular to fully bind them in Eagle Pose" - some very modest human I actually know
"I'll never be able to get into crow pose, my legs are too long" - Me
Or the very worst: "I can't touch my toes, so I don't go to yoga" - pretty much everyone that doesn't do yoga. I want to ask them if they've ever heard of the chicken or the egg analogy...
"My heels don't touch the mat in Down Dog, I must be doing it wrong" ...at least you don't look like this bony guy in Down Dog...
As I learn more about our anatomy and how much it can vary from individual to individual, it becomes clear to me that yoga is for everyone, but your own practice shouldn't be for everyone. You got that?
What I mean is, don't limit yourself on your mat by worrying what other people think of your poses. No one is looking at you, and don't worry about looking at them! If you're following the teacher's cues and practicing in a way that feels good in your body, you're doing it right.