Teaching anatomy to the world’s future yoga teachers

When I first dipped into the anatomy world, it was the 20 hours of training received on my 200hr Yoga Teacher Training (YTT). I was so excited to finally start to comprehend some of the secrets of the body. The weekend flew by. Images of skeletons and muscle groups, a brief rendering of the cardiovascular system and respiratory system. The latin terms of this new world flew over many of our heads, like we were being taught in another language. At the end of the weekend, I had so many questions. My thirst for knowledge was piqued, but I was more nervous now than ever before about offering physical instructions to group classes.

I know many of my colleagues came away doubtful that they could ever understand what was happening in this strange new world. Better to stick to yoga philosophy, sanskrit, and learning the ‘poses’ than try to conquer these latin diagrams.

I had already developed a fascination with the body, and the 20 hours was not going to be enough for me. Understanding why something works, has always intrigued me more than taking as read that it does. An earlier spine injury strengthened my desire to teach yoga safely and therapeutically. I knew there was more to be understood than the mechanical structure.

Which leads to it being the subject I teach for the ISHTA London Yoga Teacher Training. The study of anatomy is the study of unmoving body parts that have been dissected, sculpted from flesh that is no longer alive. Teaching yoga requires that we learn how to work with vibrant, breathing, thinking and dynamically moving bodies, which encompass minds, emotions and souls. The physiology of movement is as important as the placement awareness, and the way in which tissues move against one another, develop from birth to adulthood, are affected by life and become our shape is most useful to any teacher of movement.

I like to think of introducing anatomy to teachers like this; imagine we are going to take a city break to a place you have heard about but who’s language is foreign to you. We are going to land as a group and I am going to share with the map of the city. But the map is not the terrain, and however many times I show you photographs, diagrams, even google places of the city we are going to, until you are actually there in person pounding the streets, you will not get to know the smell of the coffee shops in the morning, or what time the bars close after hours.

However many pictures or diagrams I show you, names you memorise, parts you mentally know, until you start to feel familiar with the cellular make up of the body, until you have built stories and links in your own perception, you will not truly understand what a miracle you are living in.

We can all benefit from understanding what lies beneath the skin. And to paraphrase David Attenborough, we cannot love what we do not first understand. Beginning to learn about the body is a journey of self discovery, awareness and growth that serves us as seekers and teachers.

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