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  • Anatomy as a Road Map to Experiencing Your Body

    Do you need to know anatomy when doing yoga? Not really.

    If you’ve already got good body awareness and control, if you are good at clearly defining what you feel and experience, then you don’t really need to learn anatomy to do yoga.

    However, if you are going on a long cross country drive, it can help to have a map so that you know where you are going and so that you can figure out where you are.

    And that’s what anatomy is like, it’s a potential road map to the experiences of your body.

    Now if you are experiencing problems with your body, pain, an inability to do certain actions or poses, anatomy is doubly useful because it can be used to guide how you explore your body.

    But it helps to have some basic understanding of how the body works as an integrated whole.

    Tensegrity is an important quality, but mainly with respect to the joints.

    If you want to get really good at feeling your body and tuning it so that it is responsive then tensegrity can be thought of as part of the end state to which you are working towards.

    Part of what is important with respect to tensegrity, the body and in particular the synovial joints, (since those are the things that allow us to move the body) is the idea that ligaments are active structures.

    Ligaments and tendons are all part of the same structure until an anatomists knife separates ligaments form tendons and vice versa creating the nice neat connections that we see as muscle activate tendons and passive ligaments in common anatomy books.

    This isn’t to say that all that understanding of muscles is totally invalid. This is still a useful view of the body. The part that isn’t useful is the idea that ligaments are passive.

    Understanding that joints are critical structures, more so than muscles, can be useful in fault finding. Joints are critical because there is no overlap. Once a joint is gone it’s gone, but muscles have overlap. They can compensate for each other like alternate branches of a network. So when there is a lack of flexibility or pain, it may be a result of muscle patterning designed to protect joints. Assuming that the material of a joint has been fixed, a lot of yoga practice problem finding is overcoming the habits that are built around an injury and replacing them with muscle habits that allow you the access to the full potential of your body.

    An important point with anatomy is that names of muscles are not the same as the actual muscles. Learning the names of muscles isn’t as important as actually being able to feel them activate and being able to control them. And in some instances a single name may point to a muscle that is functionally, more than one muscle. A good example of this is the gluteus maximus.

    That being said, names of muscles are useful for looking up information.

    Learning to feel and control your anatomy is a recursive process. You can use bones as references for feeling and controlling muscles. Muscles in turn help you to locate bony landmarks which in turn can then be used to fine muscle awareness.

    In addition, at a particular level of muscle control you run into circular problems where you chase problems only to arrive back at the original problem. That’s a sign that you need to go deeper.

    While initial muscle control may focus on learning to feel larger muscles, this is simply because they are easier to feel and control. As you get better at feeling your body you can begin fine tuning your awareness noticing the more subtle changes in tension that occur in connective tissue and are the result of smaller, thinner or less numerous muscle tissue activation.

    This is when you can begin working towards doing poses with full integration and minimum effort.