If you have ever registered for a Yoga teacher training course (YTTC) or even read through the details of such courses, you might have noticed that almost all of them include a section on anatomy and physiology. Have you ever wondered why? I mean, there is Āsana and Prānāyāma sessions where they explain how to breathe and move, right? Many also teach alignment – where to place the hand or foot, and such cues – so what is the need to study anatomy and physiology separately for Yoga?
What is anatomy and physiology?
If you have not been a science student, chances are, you have never really gone into the basics of the human body. So, we will start with the basics. Why are there two words? Do they mean the same thing? These are definitions from Google dictionary results:
- Anatomy – the branch of science concerned with the bodily structure of humans, animals, and other living organisms, especially as revealed by dissection and the separation of parts
- Physiology – the branch of biology that deals with the normal functions of living organisms and their parts; the way in which a living organism or bodily part functions
Two important words in these definitions – structure and function. Anatomy deals with structure and physiology deals with function. To give a simple example to explain this, let us consider the hand. If there is a physical deformity in the formation of the fingers, the fingers are not formed correctly, that is an anatomical issue. But if the fingers do not work properly, do not grip or move well, that is a physiological issue.
If you are someone who wears eyeglasses to see better, that is an example of a structural issue inside the eyes that causes a functional impairment, which is a lack of clear vision. The degree of seriousness of the structural issue determines how severe the functional impairment is.
Anatomy and physiology in Yoga
Now that we have the basics in place, let us try to understand why the study of structures and functions of the body are included in Yoga. Before you read further, can you think of any reasons for studying human structure and function in YTTCs?
I will list out a few reasons for including structural and functional studies in YTTCs and why any good YTTC must include a detailed section on this subject:
- The human body is a machine, and it is important to understand the basics of any machine before trying to work with it for the work to be useful and effective
- The human body is fascinating in how the it is built and how it functions and can make for really interesting reading if you become curious about it
- Understanding human body structure can help with better alignment in Āsana practice and target different body parts effectively
- Understanding human bodily functions can help target aches and pains, health problems, and diseases in a better way for a safe and useful practise
- When someone approaches us with doctor’s reports, we can at least understand which part of the body has a problem when reading the reports
Personally, I have never been a science student and have only studied some science till grade 12. But I have always been fascinated by what goes on inside my own body and how a problem resolves itself as well. It tells me what the difference is between the stomach and the abdomen, or how the spine is different from the back and the vertebral column. It makes my Āsana instructions clear and precise, helps me understand Prānāyāma better, and assists me in helping people with specific health problems in a way that will not hurt them more.
Let me give an example of how even basic knowledge of structure and function helped me work on my own body. I was born with flat feet, which means the arches on the inside of my feet were pretty much non-existent; the arches would collapse where I put any weight on my feet. Some kids are made to wear support shoes to correct this but I did not have that. My ankles were extremely weak and had poor stability. I have lost count of the number of times I have sprained and twisted my ankles. Ouch!
Once I started understanding the problem and realising that it could cause me severe knee and hip issues, among other things, in future, I started working on fixing my alignment and strengthening my ankles. I’m happy to say that it has been at least 3 years now since I have had a serious ankle injury. Practising certain Āsana variations and stretches helped strengthen the ankles and foot arches so that they now support me better and are a lot more stable when I move. This became possible only because I started understanding the structure and function of my own body.
We Yoga teachers and instructors are not doctors nor are we aiming to be (unless we are doctors in our professional lives) but we are still dealing with the human body. We have a responsibility as Yoga teachers to retain and build on the trust others place in us when they come to learn physical Yogic practices from us. They place their bodies in our hands and we have to take care of them to the best of our abilities.
If anatomy and physiology interest you but you are unsure where to start deciphering the science of it all, please reach out to me and I will try my best to help get you started on the path to knowing your body better!