How and why Anatomy, Biomechanics, Kinesiology helps in the process of teaching and practicing yoga

By Adam Ballenger

Experienced Certified Anusara® Yoga Teacher




This is a question I receive a lot when I travel and teach. Granted I tend to meet a lot of people who are already interested in learning about the body and about how we move or move well, I regularly come across students who are required to take some sort of body-oriented course. I don’t like studying the body, it’s not part of my practice, there’s too much to memorize, and the biggest one, this is too much thinking for me, it creates a busy mind and takes me out of my body.

Listening to these comments for decades has encouraged me to develop other conversations on the same topics. There’s a common idea that learning about the anatomy of the body will help a practice, even help a person heal their physical injuries, and I couldn’t disagree more with this notion. Or that studying biomechanics will help with alignment and again, I couldn’t disagree more. Most likely, if you’ve taken a yoga course on anatomy and biomechanics it was tied into some form of alignment practice, and that may have helped a student understand more, but knowing the names of the parts of the body (anatomy), or typical and common movements of body parts (biomechanics), in themselves is similar to knowing the name of the steering wheel or handlebars or learning that they can turn and affect the direction the front tires point and believing this will make you a good driver. As well, knowing that a car tire can be turned up to 30 degrees doesn’t help a driver navigate around a corner or down a windy road. How to use movement science, anatomy, and biomechanics to move more healthy is a whole unique topic in itself that has general information and practices that need to be tailored to the individual.

A new conversation for studying the body in yoga training.

When done well, there is an entirely different benefit (than therapeutics or fitness) from studying the human body. If you’re a yoga teacher, you may have noticed a lack of familiarity students may have with their bodies. Anatomy provides names & descriptions of parts that may only bring a student so far in developing their sense of familiarity yet, it provides a title to a landmark, a name to a street, or a clarifying symbol, this term equals that part. When you feel something there, you now have a personal and internalized concept of where that was rather than an ambiguous “over there, near that thing”. If you’ve ever had the experience of going to a doctor and telling them exactly where you believe the discomfort is, it’s relieving and offers the doctor a clear and concise landmark to begin working from rather than progressing through a guessing game and exploratory assessment. Anatomical terms can help personalize the body, but even those aren’t necessary. An accurate context more clearly understands of some background information can do wonders for helping an individual feel just a little more comfortable with some part of their body they’ve been living with their entire life.

It’s normal in course work to ask students to write down the names of structures, what they connect to, how they might work. In my experience though, it can be even more effective for a learning process to ask a group to write down something personal, some story or experience that’s connected to a patella (knee cap) or scapula (shoulder blade) while connecting technical information as well.  All too often, an individual’s experience of the body is as a giant emotional beacon,  an emotional component overriding the body’s nature as a physical aspect of individuality.  As well, we may also hold close a history of physical injury or malady, simply as a survival mechanism.  As we age, we become more likely to lose that beautiful sense of physical self, newly overridden with comparison to some other time when this physical self appeared more vibrant or smooth.  These are the moments I love, when a simple introduction to a part of the body, it’s the story, how impressive it is, re-ignites an individual’s curiosity and interest in themselves.

Have you got an unfix-able knee? Would you like some feet you can feel better about?  Did you know a big toe can be one of the most powerful parts of your body and help prevent you from falling?  Did you know that the back of your legs are connected to the back of your neck and stretching them may help reduce the feeling of a stiff neck?  Did you know that infants learning to rollover is vital to them learning how to walk, and adults might benefit from practicing this too (has a lot to do with the nervous system)?  Can we as teachers rekindle an intrigue in our self, through education and a little guided experience?

There may be some busy mind in the learning process, that’s our challenge, to make that busy mind worth it.  And, once someone moves through the busy mind part of the learning process, deeper self-knowledge and self-awareness can lead to deeper states of flow.  If you can think of using the information about the parts of the body, how they work, how they can integrate and improve function, then the value of that new knowledge can far exceed knowing the names of the parts.  At the same time, we can help people overcome avoiding what’s unfamiliar.  As humans, we seek the comfort of familiarity.  As yoga teachers, we can help develop that familiarity so we may find even more comfort in our bodies.  

Studying the body sciences can indeed help a person understand movement and alignment, and support a healing practice.  As well, there are other opportunities and other areas of healing that can come from a more developed relationship with our very own physical form.  

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