As part of the anatomy section of this yoga teacher training program, all students are required to complete 10 hours of anatomy study on their own. Our anatomy teacher gave us a pre-work assignment to do before each of our anatomy classes, but it took me an average of 30 minutes to complete each homework item – so by the end of the formal, structured anatomy training of this program, I had only completed two hours of anatomy-related independent study.
One option I had to fill the remaining eight hours was to read/do The Anatomy Coloring Book – which many consider to be the quintessential med student’s guide to the human body. The book is definitely remarkable; it’s technical, precise, detailed, interactive, visual, and does a very good job explaining crazy-difficult concepts in as relatable and understandable a fashion as possible. However. In engaging with 20-or-so pages from the book (as part of my formal anatomy class pre-work), I found it to be an exercise in memorization, but not necessarily application. For example, after studying the page on the axial and appendicular skeleton, I understood the general jist that the axial skeleton is the spine and ribs, and the appendicular skeleton is the arms and legs – but 1) it took me a good five minutes (literally) to extract that information from the technical jargon on the page, and [more importantly] 2) this information was pretty void of meaning. It was data, but not knowledge. It was facts I could memorize if I worked hard, but that I couldn’t really apply. So while it is critical that a medical professional memorize every term and fact in the coloring book, that isn’t the same level or even type of knowledge I need as a yoga teacher.
Fortunately, in one of our anatomy classes, the instructor mentioned a reference text that he has found helpful over the years: Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff. This book is all about the way various muscles, bones, joints, and the breath are impacted/affected in a variety of standard yoga poses. This was information that I felt would be more valuable to me than rote memorization of body parts – so I purchased the book, and over the past month got very cozy with skeletons and a highlighter.
I completed the book yesterday – and I think it is truly fantastic. The author explains “the basics” of human anatomy clearly and concisely, yet also at a pretty decent level of detail; and he always ties in the yogic application to the physical/physiological topic at hand. In my opinion, his first two chapters on the breath and the spine are ‘must reads’ for every yoga teacher; the information presented there is completely understandable, yet so important and profound… I also adored the asana illustrations and explanations that comprised the majority of the book – they were much easier for me to understand than the illustrations and explanations in The Anatomy Coloring Book (and, therefore, more valuable to me as a tool to learn from). I suspect when I have questions in the future about how a pose should align/be held/feel in the body, I will reference this text.
It’s funny – I’ve spent 36 years living with a body, but I have really learned more about it in the past year of this yoga teacher training program; and certainly a lot in this past month of yoga anatomy study. Interesting… and amazing.
P.S. If you are curious about the Yoga Anatomy book, and want to get a few semi-detailed samples of the type of information the text holds, you can read over some of the notes I took from it.