An understanding of anatomy is key for the safety and development of your students. Integrating this knowledge can encourage injury prevention and facilitate the healing process. It can connect a deeper understanding of the philosophies in creating yoga sequences for public and private classes. For private classes, if there is a specific area of focus, then you can design a practice that addresses those concerns. An anatomical awareness also prepares you to take on students with injuries in a safe and effective manner. Using variations, props, and mindful sequencing to compliment this information can create an inclusive yoga class.
An understanding of anatomy also gives you the tools to analyze your practice and teachings to create effective movement patterns. This encourages proper sequencing techniques that include adequate warm-ups and poses with appropriate counterposes. It also reinforces the importance of alignment for the purpose of safety for our joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments rather than for an esthetic appeal. The patterns we create on our mat have the ability to affect how we progress outside of yoga, meaning that our muscle memory creates healthy habits to impact other activities in our daily lives.
The evolution of yoga suggests that one day it can be utilized for rehabilitation in a clinical setting – perhaps a connection can be made between medical providers and the application of yoga as therapy. This is one of the many reasons anatomy should be part of the curriculum in any yoga teacher training.
In teaching yoga, it is important to realise it is your awareness of anatomy that is useful to the student. In modern yoga it is common for teachers to cue anatomical jargon which becomes problematic. Your students likely came to you for the experience of yoga, not an anatomy lesson, and as a teacher this intention should be your priority. There are a few reasons why this creates a barrier between the teachings and your students.
It is unnecessary
There is no reason to cue the glenohumeral joint when you can substitute shoulder joint in its place. This can be said for other complex anatomical terms that are not common knowledge. Think of basic terms you learned in elementary school – liver, ankle, and wrist for example would be appropriate for verbal cueing. It is likely that any of these technical terms would not be appropriate in a yoga class. There are a few explanations as to why this is commonly used – 1.) Ego and the insecurity of the yoga teacher 2.) Lack of spirituality.
Although an awareness of anatomy is important, some believe this gives more credibility to their teaching, therefore it’s necessary to share. They want others to witness their knowledge even when it has no benefit to the student experience. It is also common for teachers to have a medical-model approach emphasizing the body without any regard for the holistic needs of the student. Introducing spirituality through breath and energetic awareness can encourage deep transformation. Turning inwards can be a powerful tool that goes beyond the physical, which opens the door to the deeper aspects of yoga. If the focus is merely on what’s external, this connection is difficult if not impossible to find – it becomes dulled down to fitness without any space for growth. Although we want to encourage physical wellness for our students, we do not want to neglect holistic health and well-being.
Using complex anatomical terms in public class settings creates confusion and alienates your students. Students will become confused in understanding the cue unless they have a background in anatomy and physiology. This makes the student feel inadequate and uncomfortable – they may not even want to ask questions after class to avoid the potential embarrassment. There are a few questions to ask yourself before adding that anatomical cue into your yoga sequence – 1.) Does it add to the student’s experience? 2.) Am I saying this for their benefit or mine?
It is important to share the benefits of the practice so a student knows how to use yoga for improving their health, wellness, and well-being. The modest use of simple anatomical terms can express these advantages, giving student’s confidence as to why we practice certain aspects of yoga. To avoid excessive anatomy, try to focus on a few points per class with intentions that add to the experience. When it does prove to be useful in a class, it may also be necessary to explain where this area is located so there is no confusion. The second point would be to consider if your intention is to help your students, or to bolster your ego. It is essential to reflect upon your intentions and re-evaluate when necessary. A lack of inclusive wording reveals a teacher’s ambivalence towards a supportive student-teacher relationship. Demeaning others in an attempt to reinforce your credibility goes against many of the values we want to embrace and instill in others. As teachers, the goal should be to elevate your students by cultivating a healthy relationship with oneself. By creating an inclusive environment the student feels confident in their ability to follow the class.
It is clear that anatomy and physiology have significant roles, specifically for teaching, however the emphasis should be on the experience of yoga as a whole. An understanding of anatomy can have a profound effect on your cueing, sequencing, alignment, safety, and inclusivity in your teaching as well as your own personal practice. Developing a healthy relationship with anatomy to refine your knowledge can benefit your teaching while creating a supportive learning environment for yoga.
This is an excerpt from the Yogacara Yoga Teacher Training Manual from Emily Kane. Emily has a Bachelor of Kinesiology from the University of British Columbia with extensive experience in anatomy, physiology and rehabilitation. To learn more about upcoming yoga teacher trainings with Emily, please visit the Yogacara Yoga Teacher Training website.