June 26, 2014

Will The Real Yoga Anatomy Please Stand Up? ~ Victoria Watts


I have a simple wish.

I’d like to learn how to teach yoga safely.

The path there is proving to be complex. The more I read and the more classes I go to, the more confused I become. Never bend your knees, always bend your knees, denounce Wild Thing, or embrace it? The opinions and information are mind-boggling.

I want to learn anatomy and how to move the body safely in yoga.

I had presumed this to be a science with rules that were understood, but the answers are not forthcoming. And when some teachers says that straight-legged forward bends are a route to hip degeneration, and others say that bent knees puts stress on the spinal muscles, the consequences of not knowing appear quite grave.

Teacher Matthew Remski is currently doing an investigation called What Are We Actually Doing in Asana? (WAWADIA), which looks at injuries related to asana (yoga poses). It will eventually become a book, but in the process, Remski is posting some of his findings in a series on his blog. If you scroll down to the comments on any of these posts and follow the links within, you’ll come across a whole range of different opinions, many claiming to be fact. The same thing happens if you look at any discussion on William Broad’s book The Science of Yoga.

I fell into a similar rabbit hole last year when studying nutrition.

Foods are continuously hailed as life-saving or deadly depending on who you read. I soon realized that there was no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Food affects people in different ways. That said, there are some things that are agreed upon by all, such as soda being unhealthy.

As with food, I imagine that different people benefit from different asanas. The question is how to tell? And are there some rules, like with soda, which are universal to all?

I want to learn the best rules but I’m confused about where to turn. I have done a 200-yoga teacher training but the requisite 20 hours of anatomy teaching fell far short of being enough. I’m looking for something in-depth. I want to be a responsible yoga teacher that helps, rather than hinders, students’ health. But in a landscape where trained movement therapists, allopathic professionals and yoga teachers themselves compete with different theories, which way should one turn?

Will the real yoga anatomy please stand up?

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Danielle M. Jul 12, 2014 9:36am

Couldn't agree more!! I am a physiologist with a decent academic background in Anatomy and still haven't found a way to apply this to safe yoga practice. There needs to be a go-to guide for bridging these fields, unless I just haven't found it yet. I'm willing to consult on the academic side (I have an MS) if anyone has or wants to start a project like this!

brittany Jul 5, 2014 11:58am

Check out Paul Grilley’s yoga anatomy DVD

David Forest Jun 27, 2014 1:33pm

I've been teaching and training new teachers for several years and yes, there are wildly opposing statements out there. First, never stop learning. New information is found all the time; what used to be ok could now be not so great. It is very individual, so yes, the best is our inner wisdom. However, when teaching new students, we have to provide some guidelines. A great resource is Injury Free Yoga http://injuryfreeyogapractice.com/. Steven Weiss explains a lot of anatomical reasons why certain postures are unsafe and/or how to do them safely/modifications.

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Victoria Watts

Victoria Watts is a writer and trainee yoga teacher dedicated to learning a safe and healthful method of yoga. She left her job working for a humanitarian organisation in London more than 2 years ago to explore the world and her place within it. She writes about her journey on her blog, Bridges and Balloons. Follow Victoria on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus and Pinterest.