When practicing Asana, the physical practice of doing yoga poses on a mat, having a general understanding of your own anatomy can enhance your practice in many ways. Practicing yoga is not just about physicality, it’s about awareness. Studying anatomy gives you more awareness of what sensations in your body mean, and how to move efficiently and effectively. Learning anatomy can help you get more out of your yoga practice in these 3 ways:
1. Understanding Your Body
When you learn anatomy, even just musculoskeletal anatomy, you have a better understanding of your body. You understand what muscles to engage when you move in a particular way, when you are stretching, and when you are strengthening. Knowing which muscles to use when you are trying to balance in Tree pose, for example, helps your balance. Otherwise you are just floating out there in the wind, hoping not to fall over. Learning anatomy gives you a better inner knowledge of how to use your body and how to move it through space.
Learning anatomy connects the mind to the body. It’s one more layer of knowing yourself and what it takes to move, whether you are doing Downward Dog, or just walking to work. When something hurts, it helps you put the pieces together to figure out how to get out of pain. When a muscle is overworked, for example, sometimes stretching that muscle will relieve the tension. If you don’t know what muscle to stretch, you can’t help yourself.
Related to understanding how your body works is building awareness. Awareness is what separates practicing yoga from many other physical activities. When you are aware of your body as it moves, you are more connected to how it feels. You also have more control over your movements. Awareness brings you into the present moment to notice what is. When doing Warrior 2, feeling that your arm is shoulder height rather than looking at it builds awareness. Feeling the scapulae moving downward and apart deepens your experience of the pose. Knowing where your scapulae are in your body, and what they are, increases your ability to control them.
Understanding your anatomy, gives you better control over your body and how it moves. Knowing that the hamstring attaches to both the sit bones at the base of the pelvis and behind the shin gives you information on how to stretch them. When you move the ends of a muscle in opposite directions, it stretches.
That is why so many people with tight hamstrings never actually stretch them. They stretch their lower back instead by just reaching for their toes. When you move the sit bone away from the shin keeping the spine straight, the hamstring lengthens and stretches. If you round the lower back, it doesn’t stretch, it stays shortened and contracted. Learning anatomy helps you avoid these types of compensations and helps you get even more out of your yoga poses.
Knowing the Purpose of Each Pose
There are a lot of poses in a yoga practice. Some are for stretching, some are for balance, some are for strength, and some for all of these. Understanding your anatomy helps you understand WHY you do each yoga pose. What muscles do I need to engage to keep my balance? What am I attempting to stretch? Why can’t I touch my toes? How do I modify a pose when my body doesn’t behave like the teacher’s?
Do you know where your Quads are and what they do? What about your Glutes? Do you know how to use your Lower Traps instead of your Upper Traps when lifting your arms over your head? Learning anatomy can answer all of these questions and more, giving you more efficient and safer ways to move your body, in a yoga class, or in life. Getting to know your muscles and bones, helps you know yourself a bit better.
I have always been a bit of an anatomy nerd. My background in dance, swimming, yoga, and as an acupuncturist have given me a deep knowledge of anatomy which has enhanced my yoga practice. I know the muscles involved in compound movements and how to fire the muscles intentionally. I know how to stretch each muscle properly without compensation that can lead to injury. When I balance, I know how to engage the muscles that will hold me up.
My study of anatomy over the years has given me the tools to move efficiently and safely. I understand why I choose certain yoga poses over others to give my body what it needs. It helps me understand the sensations in my body when I practice and when I move through the world doing my daily activities. Anatomy has increased my awareness when I practice yoga, making it a much more satisfying experience.
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Coming in October: Diving Deeper into Your Yoga Practice is an 8 month course that explores the 8 limbs of yoga, both on and off the mat! Learn poses, anatomy, meditation, mindfulness, and breath control, all culminating in how to build your personal yoga practice. If you’ve ever wanted to learn what they do in a Yoga Teacher Training but are not interested in teaching, this is the course for you! Click here for more information or to sign up!
Coming in November: Back to Yoga Basics is a course for a brand new beginner, or someone coming back to practicing yoga after a long break. Learn the basics of 25 yoga poses, meditation, and breath work. This step-by-step course will give you the foundations to be able to go into any group class with more confidence and understanding, of the poses, and yourself. Click here for more information or to sign up!
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Move your body daily with Purple Room Yoga! Take a variety of classes for beginners through experienced students, in formats that fit easily into your busy life. 30 minute classes include: 30 Min FitFlow, Head to Toe Stretch, and Mindful Core. All classes can be taken live online or on demand! Click here to see the full schedule of live classes, or here to see the On Demand Library!