Are you practicing Virabhadrasana 2 with your hips "square to the side" and your front hip bone lifted in an effort to "make your pelvis more level"? These two cues seem to be very popular in Warrior 2, and while they might have some benefit early on, as your flexibility increases there is a good chance that they will lead to bony compression in your hip joints, which over time might wear down the cartilage and other soft tissues in and around the hip. This isn't going to benefit you in any way, and could potentially lead to osteoarthritis later in life, so it's good to learn how to recognize compression when it's happening so that you can back off. And if you're teaching asana, it's good to know how to cue the posture to help your students avoid compression.
The day I first learned about the adductor magnus in massage school was a great day... one of those light-bulb moments that would become so common as I dove deeper into the study of anatomy. Our instructor was covering all of the muscles of the inner thigh that day - adductor this, adductor that, and I was trying to focus but it was hard because I felt like I already knew all I needed to know about the adductors, which is that they can adduct the thighs when they contract, and that you'd just abduct the thighs to stretch them. But then we got to the adductor magnus and the teacher said:
An expression that I often see written and hear discussed in reference to the physical practice of yoga asana is that it “brings balance to the body.” The suggestion seems to be that if you practice yoga regularly, it will naturally result in a more muscularly balanced body. But is this really true? What is a balanced body, anyway?
Ariana Rabinovitch, New York City yoga teacher and ASFYT alum, recently started a new blog and podcast series called Yoga & Beyond. She has done some great interviews with a few of the leaders in the mind-body movement field (Brooke Siler, Chrissy Carter, Brooke Thomas and Katy Bowman so far), and more are sure to come. I was happy to be one of her latest interviewees. If you want to learn more about ASFYT, this is a great way to do it! But we also just have a fun conversation about yoga, anatomy, yoga-related injuries, chaturanga and the importance of cross-training for yoga. If you get a chance to listen, please share your comments and/or questions below.
Dandasana, staff pose, is a great assessment posture to determine whether or not a student will be able to skillfully practice seated forward bending postures like Janusirshasana and Paschi-mottanasana. The ideal alignment in Dandasana requires that the thighs are flexed 90 degrees at the hip joints with the knees fully extended, while maintaining the natural lordosis of the lumbar spine and the natural kyphosis of the thoracic spine. If a student has tight hip extensors this won’t really be possible, as the pelvis will posteriorly tilt at the hip joints, the lower back will round and the student will either just slump forward or overwork in their thoracic erector spinae muscles to maintain some semblance of sitting up straight. If you notice that a student is having quite a bit of difficulty sitting upright, you could have them transition to a supine position so that you can get a better idea about how tight their hip extensors actually are. In the following video...
This past Wednesday I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion with Brette Popper (moderator), Amy Matthews, Alison West, James Bae, Alan Finger and Swami Sadasivananda. The panel was sponsored by YogaCity NYC and was hosted at Yoga Union in New York City.
A lot of people turned out to hear us explore a variety of questions, including:
While I probably shouldn’t have favorites, I do confess to having a special fondness for the piriformis. It’s got a super cool name that just kind of rolls off the tongue (click here to hear it pronounced), it feels great to stretch it, and when it’s flexible it’ll add much more sukha to your Sukhasana (Comfortable pose) and make postures like Eka Pada Galavasana (Flying Crow) more accessible. However, if it’s tight it will limit the ability of the femur to laterally rotate within the hip joint, which has a lot of potentially not-so-great consequences (both on and off the yoga mat). By taking the time to learn more about this little muscle you’ll be able to more skillfully stretch it in your own practice and help your students find ways to safely stretch it in theirs.
Check out this fun little video that I put together awhile ago showing a posture progression that prepares for Eka Pada Galavasana, Flying Crow. I’ve updated this post to include some bullet points after the video indicating which muscles need to be stretched, and which postures you can stretch them in.
When discussing the anatomy of yoga, it’s important to have a commonly agreed upon terminology, a language of movement, so that we’re all on the same page and can communicate more precisely when discussing such things as the location of bones and bony landmarks; the locations, attachments and actions of muscles; and the anatomy of yoga asana. Familiarizing yourself with these terms will help you understand the yoga anatomy articles that you read on this blog and elsewhere, create more consciousness within the muscle and joint actions in each posture, and enable you to more skillfully articulate those actions to your students through effective verbal cues and hands-on assists.
When coming into pigeon pose, if a student is unable to laterally rotate the thigh at the hip joint sufficiently they may inadvertently overstretch the ligament on the outside of their knee (the LCL) and/or compress the soft tissue on the inside of the knee (the medial meniscus). In the video below we explore how this might happen, and offer a few suggestions that can remedy the issue.
Jason was interviewed by Joelle Hann of Yoga City NYC over the summer of 2010, about the Anatomy Studies for Yoga Teachers program that he created. The interview is no longer available on the Yoga City NYC website (their archives only go back to 2012), but we’ve copied the original article here.
When Jason R. Brown completed his teacher training in 1998, it met the minimum standards set by the Yoga Alliance. But he felt bewildered by his lack of knowledge in anatomy. In too many situations he was making educated guesses about people’s injuries and limitations. So he took some workshops, only to find that three-hour intensives were still not enough to help him feel confident in the classroom. If you’re a yoga teacher, you might relate to Jason’s frustrations. Depending on which training you did, the anatomy coverage might have left you feeling less than equipped to meet your students’ various needs and to plan effective classes. Luckily for you, Brown’s long road of self-education motivated him to become an educator himself. After training at the Swedish Institute as a massage therapist, Brown went on to design a rigorous program called Anatomy Studies for Yoga Teachers (ASFYT) which does much more than fill in some gaps—it completely educates yoga teachers in the anatomy they need to know.