Last updated on December 6th, 2023.
Even if you’ve never practiced yoga, you’ve heard of it. But what do you really know about yoga?
When someone mentions yoga, perhaps you imagine a person sitting on a mat, contorting their body into a pretzel, as an intricate form of exercise.
And, I’m sure you’re not alone. There are a lot of other people out there who only see yoga as another type of exercise, like running or swimming.
Yoga, however, is so much more. It’s really a broad system of movement and philosophy. And movement and philosophy aren’t two separate parts of the yogic puzzle. They rely on and inform each other.
A yoga teacher who just knows how the muscles, bones and joints work together to move a limb or one who just understands yogic philosophy the Chakras, or energy centers in the body, won’t be very effective to their students.
As a yoga teacher, you need to know the whole package. Why does this part of the body feel better when I do this pose? Why does this form of meditation allow me to sleep? And how is the energy in my body affected by what I eat?
This is why yoga teacher trainees spend part of their time studying ancient traditional medicine and philosophy, and part of their time studying the anatomy of the human body.
Anatomy and physiology come together when talking about exercise, to learn deeper about the body. If you are interested in becoming an exercise physiologist check out that article!
5 reasons why anatomy is so important in Yoga!
Anyone who has gone through yoga teacher training, whether in person or a reliable online yoga teacher training, has studied human anatomy and how it relates to yoga. So, we’re going to be talking about the 5 reasons why studying anatomy is so important for yoga teacher trainees.
In yoga teacher training, you’ll learn how to guide students in and out of many yoga poses as well as sequences in which to arrange those poses.
But, training to be a yoga teacher is not just about learning how to physically perform a yoga pose or sequence. Yoga teachers have a responsibility to keep their students safe.
If you’re a prospective yoga teacher, you’ll also need to know why you are learning to help students into certain poses or through certain sequences. You’ll need to know what a certain pose can affect in the body. You need to know what poses to avoid for certain circumstances. Adaptive yoga teacher training, gives yoga teachers the ability to create sequences for a student and their specific needs.
For instance, it’s not wise for a menstruating female to do a headstand. They could become dizzy. And those yoga students with knee problems should keep their knees bent slightly when doing a standing forward fold, to keep their knees safe and healthy
And, as we’ll talk about in-depth below, yoga can be great in alleviating ache, pains and other physical complaints. It also can help with stress and anxiety. And, there are even poses that will help people sleep better.
But it takes a knowledgeable yoga teacher to pass on this information to their students.
That means they’ll have to be well-versed in the study of yoga physiology. Lucky, the main certification body in yoga, Yoga Alliance, requires yoga teacher trainees to study anatomy in yoga teacher training.
The beginner class offers a good basis of anatomy, enough to allow a new yoga teacher to be confident in their approach.
And, when yoga teachers go for higher level certifications, they will study anatomy even more in-depth.
So, keep reading as we go through the 5 reasons why studying anatomy is so important for yoga teacher trainees.
1) Understanding movement
In yoga teacher training (whether online or in person), you’ll learn about the major bones, joints and muscles.
And, if you, as a yoga teacher have a deep understanding of the movement of the joints and how the muscles, ligaments and tendons contribute to that movement, you’ll be able to guide your students into poses safely.
Plus, if one of your students informs you that they have an injury, you will be able to tell them what poses are contraindicated for their injury and you’ll be able to suggest alternative poses or subtle adjustments. There’s an amazing Yoga Adjustment Workshop Online called the Kaivalya Method, that can help you go further in learning how to adjust to the student’s physical or personal needs.
You need to know how the body works and moves so that your students won’t get injured transitioning in or out of a pose.
2) Understanding the benefits of poses
Once you understand how to safely guide your students in and out of poses, learning the benefits of specific poses will aid you in making sure your students get everything they can out of their yoga practice.
You’ll understand why certain poses are good for the digestion. Which poses will strengthen your core. Or which pose will promote better sleep.
Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years and even before X-rays and modern medicine, yogis had a deep understanding of the benefits of poses and what poses could be used to help a yoga practitioner.
3) Understanding alignment
Do you ever notice that if you fall asleep on the sofa, the next day, your back hurts. Or, if you don’t use that one perfect pillow in bed, you’ve got a stiff neck all week?
And, of course, uncomfortable office chairs can have you walking hunched over from pain. The reason for this is poor alignment.
If your head is not supported by a good pillow at night, your spine will be aligned awkwardly, leaving you with neck pain, which can become chronic if not addressed.
The same goes for sleeping in an awkward position. Your back will feel sore because of improper alignment.
And desk chairs are another common cause of neck and back pain because if your hips are not aligned properly in a seat, you won’t be sitting properly, and your neck and back will suffer.
So, a yoga teacher needs to know about alignment so that they will be able to adjust a student if they are incorrectly doing a pose.
The teacher will need to know how the movement and position of one part of the body affects other parts of the body. In yoga, it’s OK sometimes to push yourself almost to the point of discomfort as some advanced poses can be very intense, but it’s not OK to experience pain in a pose.
4) Understanding how to manage pain
Yoga has been proven to alleviate pain in some people, with certain poses helping correct imbalances and misalignments. Doctors and mental health care providers regularly suggest yoga for patients suffering from depression, PTSD, anxiety, arthritis, etc., because yoga has been found to help people mentally and physically.
Yoga teachers, for instance, will suggest child’s pose for students who suffer from lower back pain, as the pose will gently stretch out the lower spine.
Standing forward fold can relax the mind, while the exhale on the forward fold will aid in releasing stress from the body, hopefully causing anxiety to lessen.
The entire Sun Salutation sequence is great for people who suffer from arthritis. It will warm up their body, get their joints moving and strengthen their muscles.
5) Understanding when to let go and not push
Yoga teachers who have a firm understanding of yoga physiology will be able to guide their students through difficult poses.
And they’ll also have the knowledge to determine when they need to tell their students to back off of a pose. A student may see the person next to them stretching deeper and going farther, and think that they can, too.
But, if a teacher really knows their anatomy, they will be able to talk their students through the poses.
They will be able to describe to a student what they should be feeling and what sensations could signal that they are going too far.
It’s also a good idea for a yoga teacher to ask students before class if they have any injuries or past injuries so that the teacher can determine if the poses will be appropriate.
They will have the knowledge to guide the injured student through the pose safely, perhaps making alterations, so that the student doesn’t re-injure themselves.
There are many more things to learn when it comes to anatomy and yoga. It is important to invest in a yoga anatomy course online.
Why is it important for yoga teachers to understand anatomy?
As we said above, yoga teachers need to understand the human anatomy for a variety of reasons. They need to make sure their students don’t injure themselves; that’s first and foremost.
But, one of the positives about yoga is that students can find relief from a variety of problems just from properly practicing a yoga pose. The belief that health issues can be tackled from specific yoga poses has been around for thousands of years and can be found in ancient yogic texts. Some of these beliefs may not be proven by modern medical science, but they have a basis in Ayurveda or traditional medicine.
Let’s go through some specific poses and how they can benefit a person.
- Plow Pose: The pose positions the neck in such a way that the thyroid glands will be stimulated, which could alleviate thyroid issues.
- Fish Pose: Will stretch the neck to stimulate the thyroid, also helping to alleviate issues with the thyroid gland.
- Supine Spinal Twist: This pose is fantastic for sufferers of lower back pain.
- Seated Forward Fold: By folding forward, you can find relief from indigestion, bloating and constipation.
- Headstand or Supported Headstand: Increasing the flow of blood to your brain can do wonders for relieving a migraine.
- Lotus Pose: This pose can also help counter the effects of a migraine as it’s a meditation pose. So, by relaxing your mind, you may find that you can thwart a severe headache.
- Bound Angle Pose: Can help with depression. Also, this pose stimulates the organs, stretches the inner thighs and groins, and can help with menstrual discomfort.
What is yoga physiology?
Yoga physiology differs from the science of human physiology in that it is part of the ancient belief system of yoga that focuses on channels of energy in the body.
These energy channels cannot be seen on an X-ray but have been discussed for thousands of years.
Practitioners believe that by practicing certain yoga poses, these energy channels can be activated and can positively affect the yogi’s physical and mental health.
Believers of yoga physiology believe the human body consists of:
- The gross body
- The subtle body
- The causal body
In ancient yogic texts, the causal body is favored because contains energy channels that intersect with the chakras, or energy vortexes.
Yoga teacher trainees typically discuss energy and how it flows through and affects the subtle bodies during yoga teacher training.
They are also required to read ancient yogic texts that can also help them understand yoga physiology.
So, not only does a yoga teacher need to study human anatomy from a modern medical standpoint, they also need to study the more philosophical approach to the human body, found in the study of yoga physiology.
After reading our article, we hope it has become clear that yoga isn’t just an exercise that you do at the gym.
It’s so much more. It can be calm, fun and acrobatic as well. (You can learn acro yoga online too!) Nevertheless, all the different types of yoga involve the serious study of the human body, with a focus on joints, muscles, bones, etc., as we talked about above. A yoga teacher must have a firm foundation is yoga anatomy to be able to keep their students safe and healthy.
Yoga students are looking to the teacher to offer up series of poses that help them. They may be coming to the yoga class to improve their sleep. Or perhaps to alleviate lower back pain. Or even in hopes of decreasing the aches and pains associated with arthritis.
So, when a student goes to a yoga class promoting that it can help with arthritis, they’re trusting the teacher to have the know-how to help the students avoid injury. And, they are also trusting the teacher to teach them the appropriate poses for their ailment.
If the class advertises that it can help arthritis patients, but all of the poses are more geared towards people with sinus ailments, then no one is going to come out of the class feeling any better.
We hope that by discussing the 5 reasons why studying anatomy is so important for yoga teacher trainees you’ll get a better understanding of how important it is. And by going even further in depth into yoga physiology and the best poses to tackle a variety of physical and emotional complaints, we hope you can put this information to good use during your yoga teacher training.