Functional Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: How Essential Is It?

by Soha Akbar

When we embark upon our journey of teaching Yoga, one aspect to be considered is the importance of Yoga anatomy knowledge and how essential it really is for Yoga teachers. Usually, our first brush with the subject is a month of anatomy classes in our TTCs. Is that enough or do we need to build upon that and expand our knowledge of the same? Let’s take up these questions in today’s blog.

Coming to the anatomy classes in Yoga teacher trainings, how well we learn the subject depends on the duration of the TTC as well as the depth of the curriculum. For sure, a subject as large as anatomy, and then connecting it to various asanas, cannot be covered completely in the standard one- or two-month courses. Hence, as teachers, we should definitely build upon that knowledge and continue learning about it. The more we understand the subject, the better equipped we are as teachers.

Friends, there is deep value in understanding how our bones, muscles and connective tissues work. Not just this, but knowing how to safely navigate our limits in physical practice help us work with students to improve their practice within safe boundaries. It will only make us better, compassionate, informed and responsible teachers. Let us take a look at some aspects of studying Yoga anatomy that are crucial for yoga teachers, specially the ones dealing in asana practice.

  • To understand how the human body moves: Asana requires movement. Forget complicated asanas, even the act of sitting down in Sukhasana involves the coordinated movement of bones, muscles and tissues. To properly understand asana, one must understand movement and the internal mechanics of the physical body.
  • To understand that students are anatomically not identical: Even though we broadly share the same anatomy as humans, we can be structurally very different if we get down to the details. For instance, a detailed anatomical analysis will show us that different people can have varying shapes of the same skeletal bone.
  • To teach safely: Once we understand the mechanics of movement and take structural differences into account, we can prevent or limit injuries during asana practice. How? By understanding that different students will have different range of motions, largely due to three factors. First, the difference in the shape and size of their bones, second, the ability of their muscles to stretch, and third, the flexibility of their connective tissues. Using this knowledge along with keenly observing the students, we can guide them according to their individual needs and limitations. It will help us refrain from pushing the students too much to achieve the so called ‘final posture’ and inviting physical injuries.
  • To give clear instructions and cueing: One of the most important aspects of teaching asana is clarity of instructions. The instructions should be clear, to the point and free of jargon as much as possible. This can be achieved only by having a solid base in anatomy basics. Faltering and non-clear instructions confuse the students and take away from the credibility of the teacher.
  • To modify asanas as per student requirements: As asana teachers, we should be observant enough to understand our students’ physical capabilities, limitations, and their range of motions with respect to different joints in the body. This will help us suitable modify the asanas for them, and suggest the appropriate use of props.
  • To become better planners: Understanding asana alignment and the mechanics of the postures help us plan better and effective Yoga sequences in our classes. This is because we understand progressions and modifications of the postures.
  • To move towards empathy and away from judgements: Let’s take a scenario. The teacher asks the class to do Prasarita Padottanasana. One student has a comparatively longer torso and flexible hip joint, and is able to touch his head to the mat when bending forward. The other student places a block in between his head and the mat to be comfortable in the pose. Who is better? Or is any one necessarily better than the other? Our job as yoga teachers is not to compare and judge two students, but to help each student progress intelligently in their respective journey of Yoga.

To list a personal experience here, a few years ago I studied under Hardik and Prutha from Sayujya Yoga. The course was STHIRA SUKHAM ASNAM: ASANA ALIGNMENT AND PROP SPECIALIST. And let me tell you, it changed my practice not only as a student of yoga but also as a teacher of asanas. Of course, I have studied anatomy in my TTCs, but coming across Hardik and Prutha, along with their resident demonstrator Dr. Raghu (he deserves an article of his own!) made me evaluate my self-practice and also the way I taught asana to my clients. And I firmly believe the knowledge I gained there has made me a much more empathetic teacher.

Friends, keeping in mind the above listed points and my own experience of putting this theory into practice, I will always advocate for the knowledge of anatomy and its importance in the journey of Yoga teachers. This is a subject that a serious student of Yoga can simply never escape!

About the Author

Sohaila Akbar

Sohaila is a Yoga teacher, keen on bringing about positive changes in the lives of others through the knowledge that she has received from her teachers. Prior to this she was a school teacher working towards imparting academic, social and ecological knowledge to young learners. Sohaila is an avid reader of books and have an undying love for fiction. She prefers paperbacks and hardcovers over e-books anyday. She loves travelling, and a good cup of coffee is always welcome!