Shoulder pain in sun salutations, back pain in camel or wheel, hip pain in warriors ...
Sometimes yogis experience physical pain in their practices. It may frustrate or trouble them, but often they live with it. Some have even seen healthcare professionals who recommended avoiding yoga altogether. Many reject that as a possibility and continue on with the pain for the love of the practice or the necessity of their yoga teaching schedule.
Hear this loud and clear: Your yoga practice shouldn't hurt.
There is another way, and although it might involve some changes to alleviate the pain, it doesn't require abandoning the practice.
Let's begin with a few assumptions that can lead to a painful practice:
Instead, what if your practice were an adventure? YOUR adventure.
What can you do if you have pain?
Yoga will take you on a lifelong journey and teach you things. It will help you to filter the noise, to evolve, to grow, to thrive. If your practice is painful, it's time to make a change.
If you'd like to enhance your practice and teaching by learning more about anatomy and kinesiology, there is one very powerful place to start: study the breath. It's the centerpiece of strength and function and is also an effective assessment tool for the balance of effort and ease in yoga.
Move through the cycle of the breath several times. As you inhale, your hands move down. As you exhale, your hands move back up. It's not uncommon for this to feel opposite. We have been taught to hold the belly in and the pelvic floor up, but the breath is dynamic, not static.
Relax through your shoulders and neck, and take the breath slow and low. Focus around the bottom of the ribcage, 360 degrees. As you inhale, energetically root into the ground (diaphragm and pelvic floor move down). As you exhale, gently draw the energy up (diaphragm and pelvic floor move up). Yes, we often move our arms overhead when we inhale and the energy of the arms moves up, but think of the energy of the breath providing balance by rooting down. At first there will be a lot of thinking, but then move toward what you feel. Find an ease of breath. The breath is our center. It is both automatic and under conscious control. It can lead us to relaxation or increased energy, stillness or strong movement, and it can let us know how we're doing at any given moment.
If you are interested in learning more and experiencing these concepts in person, join me for How You Breathe Matters. We'll explore the anatomy and function of the breath and integrate it into yoga postures, transitions, practice, and teaching.
Learning the language of anatomy is an important step in building a strong foundation.
Anatomy for Yogis on Quizlet helps you to study this list with flashcards, games and quizzes.
THE STARTING POSITION
anatomical position - the starting point for all descriptive terminology: location/position/motion; it is the same as mountain/tadasana in yoga
LOCATION: COMPARATIVE TERMINOLOGY
anterior - toward the front (also ventral) posterior - toward the back (also dorsal)
medial - toward midline lateral - away from midline
proximal - near the attachment to the trunk distal - away from the attachment to the trunk
superior - above/toward the head inferior - below/toward the feet
superficial - toward the surface deep - away from the surface
supine - lying face up prone - lying face down
PLANES OF MOTION
frontal (coronal) plane - divides the body into front and back (anterior and posterior)
sagittal plane - divides the body into right and left
transverse plane - divides the body into top and bottom (superior and inferior)
flexion - decreasing the angle at a joint and/or moving in an anterior direction in the sagittal plane
extension - increasing the angle at a joint and/or moving in an posterior direction in the sagittal plane
abduction - movement away from midline in the frontal plane
adduction - movement toward midline in the frontal plane
internal/medial rotation - movement toward midline in the transverse plane
external/lateral rotation - movement away from midline in the transverse plane
lateral flexion (spine) - movement away from midline in the frontal plane
anterior pelvic tilt - the bowl of the pelvis tilts forward
posterior pelvic tilt - the bowl of the pelvis tilts backward
dorsiflexion - movement of the top of the foot toward the shin (foot flexed)
plantarflexion - movement of the top of the foot away from the shin (foot pointed)
inversion - sole of the foot toward midline
eversion - sole of the foot away from midline
supination (foot) - combination of inversion, adduction, and plantarflexion - raises the arch
pronation (foot) - combination of eversion, abduction, and dorsiflexion - lowers the arch
protraction (scapula) - movement away from the spine (anterior/lateral)
retraction (scapula) - movement toward the spine (posterior/medial)
upward rotation (scapula) - movement of the inferior angle away from midline
downward rotation (scapula) - movement of the inferior angle toward midline
elevation (scapula) - movement in a superior direction
depression (scapula) - movement in an inferior direction
supination (forearm) - palm up or palm forward (anatomical position); radius & ulnar are uncrossed
pronation (forearm) - palm down or palm backward; radius & ulna are crossed
horizontal adduction - anterior movement in the transverse plane (from 90 degrees of abduction)
horizontal abduction - posterior movement in the transverse plane (from 90 degrees of abduction)
PDF of the terminology
Bony landmarks are prominent, identifiable places on bones. There are many of them, but we'll start with some important ones of the scapula and pelvis. Once you learn them, find them on yourself or someone else. Then look at where the landmark moves when you move your arm or your pelvis. More on that later.
The idea of this blog is to share a little bit at a time. There are lots of good anatomy-related blogs, but many of them have so much information and detail that it can be overwhelming. My goal with this blog is to share things that I teach in yoga teacher training anatomy sessions. We'll build knowledge with accessible content and begin to integrate it into yoga postures and skills for practice and teaching. I hope you find it helpful.
The skeletal system is dynamic. It remodels throughout life and responds to demands. It gives us structure, helps us move, protects us from harm, produces blood cells, stores minerals, and even has a role in endocrine regulation. It's also a fast and easy way to start the study of anatomy. Yes, there are 206 bones in a typical adult, but when all is said and done, for yoga anatomy, you have less than 30 bone names to learn. Many of them are grouped (like the carpal bones in the wrist) and sometimes learning one name covers 56 bones (phalanges). If you want, you can learn all of the bones in the head, but for our purposes, we'll learn two - cranium (skull) and mandible (jaw). See? This is accessible!
Use the image below to learn the bones. Run through them several times, and find them in your own body. Download this free app to learn more. Review, integrate what you learn into your practice, and teach someone else about the bones. This is a strong and solid start to learning anatomy.
Tips for Retention
Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Get creative with your study habits, and figure out what works best for you.
Integration. Bring small pieces of knowledge directly into your practice and/or teaching.
Teach someone. The best way to solidify what you've learned is to teach it to someone else.
Be patient. There is no shortcut. It takes time and effort.
Yoga teachers-in-training consistently say that there is so much more to think about when teaching a class than they ever knew or imagined. I remember the feeling, and I often joke that if you can get your music to play and everyone lives, you're off to a strong start! In addition to surviving class, we also want students to leave feeling better than when they arrived. And of course, we want to prevent injury. Here are some tips to decrease the risk of injury in your classes.
Remember, it is outside the scope of practice of a yoga teacher to diagnose and treat.
Students with injuries/conditions will attend your classes. The safest action is to recommend medical evaluation when a student tells you about an injury or asks for advice.
More information: Yoga Alliance Statement on Yoga Therapy
A student at heart, Jen is passionate about learning and sharing what she has learned to empower yoga students and teachers. Jen is a physical therapist, yoga therapist, and yoga teacher. She teaches at Kindness Yoga and practices physical therapy at Vernon Physical Therapy & Wellness.