On anatomy of yoga

Every yoga teacher training has (hopefully) an ample amount of anatomy lessons included. And I wholeheartedly support that. But if I tell you the truth, my first 200hr training I participated in, I was not keen on the anatomy sessions like other students.

I felt lost, confused, and DISCONNECTED from all the anatomical terms. My English was pretty fluent at that point but specific terms were still difficult to comprehend. I knew I had to keep cramming words in my head and remember them all for exams, but I didn’t have the same spark and interest in anatomy as I did much later in my path.

Fast forward to now, I am a yoga teacher trainer who teaches anatomy of yoga. As I watched my own teachers in training crumble their faces in anatomy, I realized something. I started asking a different question to myself. What is my intention in this? What do I want them to know in this moment? Do I want them to rememberwhat I was saying or do I want them to be interested?

Anatomically keen students catch on right away. But for some, I remember what it was like for me. Mere 200 hours does not teach all there is to know about yoga anatomy and it’s so easy to get overwhelmed. So, what is the most important thing I want them to understand about anatomy?

I realized that my commitment to connection to my students in class far outweighs the accuracy of anatomical terms or technical knowledge. For me, if my rough and sometimes informal wording can get the job done for my students and keep them safe, then I’m satisfied with it. I knew I was not going to be the anatomy expert. But I wanted to be the one to inspire intricate and subtle sensations in our bodies that come from practicing yoga with renewed awareness in human bodies and their movement.

Once my intention was clear with anatomy, the process changed from LEARN AND CRAM to LEARN and UNLEARN.

Let me explain.

The feelings of confusion I felt as a brand new yoga teacher in training can be echoed by many of yoga students. But often, as teachers, we’ve been caught up in the desire to educate ourselves more (in order to serve the students), we start to deviate more and more from what the students are really thinking and feeling in classes. I know that some of anatomy geeks would proudly and diligently learn as many muscle and bone names as possible in order to impress upon students how interesting and necessary these things are and I also know that it all come from the right place in the heart. And thank goodness for them, otherwise, yoga anatomy would never evolve to serve yoga students. Yoga teachers are much more educated than before and yoga injuries are being pulled into the light more and more every day to prevent students’ further suffering.

But for some students and great many, it was not their intention to be lectured about muscles and bones in yoga classes. They just simply wanted to feel good.They certainly didn’t come to yoga to feel isolated or confused just as I was before and be excluded from the rest of the class because they don’t know what the heck the sacrum is.

Great teachers know how to teach without excluding students for any reasons.

I teach students from all over the world. Many of them speak English as a second or third language and still many others don’t really speak English. So when I say something as simple as “point your tailbone down” or “lift your sternum,” they have no idea what I’m talking about. As yoga teachers, we need to be prepared to approach at two levels: an enthusiastic yoga teacher who is committed to continuing education AND a yoga teacher who is dedicated to serving her students in the moment.

That’s why in my trainings, we spend time in anatomy AND we focus heavily on breaking it all down to simple “normal” people language. How many words can you use to explain sitting bones, pelvis, rotator cuffs, or even navel? In most vinyasa classes, you only have seconds to convey what you want your students to do with absolute clarity. You’d want to make it count. If students want to know more after the class, hey, you’ve done a great job!

When you are teaching in the moment, it’s not about how many anatomical terms you know. It’s about how clear your words are to them and how fast they can understand what you are saying. In the end, do you want to be accurate or do you want to connect?

About the author: Tomomi Becot

Tomomi is the owner of Flying Elephant Yoga in Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia. She started practicing yoga when she first moved to Canada as a teenager in 2000. She then became a certified yoga teacher in 2008 and has been an integral part of extensive yoga teacher training programs both at a 200hr and 500hr level. After teaching and traveling in North America, Mexico, Australia, and Bali, Indonesia, she established her own independent yoga school in 2014. Her classes are based on vinyasa or flow mixed with her own personality and experience, and various styles of yoga she studied along her journey. With the background of vinyasa, power vinyasa, yin, pre- and post-natal yoga, she encourages her students to observe their minds while nurturing their own individuality. Her classes are about honoring both the traditional and the modern, physical and mental aspects of yoga.