I taught a two day anatomy training yesterday as part of a 200 hour teacher training program. I absolutely love meeting new teachers and sharing this aspect of yoga and teaching. My focus and passion is to take this broad subject of anatomy and determine the KEY parts to share with teachers to make it more understandable and basically, give them a chance to focus on a FEW things rather than EVERYTHING. Anatomy isn’t something we learn once and then move on. As a teacher, it’s something you’ll be learning forEVER. I started as an undergraduate Physical Therapy student and over the past 30 years have been learning anatomy through academic means, practical means, through jobs I’ve held in the clinical setting and as a yoga teacher and trainer. But when I teach anatomy to yoga teachers, it’s necessary to hone in on what’s most helpful for them to know. In that way, you give them a shot at retaining the information and applying it right away. The long term learning is for picking up all the other aspects of the subject.
Over the past two days of our training, a few key points stood out to me and I wanted to share them in a blog post. These came up as a result of discussions we had, questions teachers had or comments made to the content I was presented:
Yoga cues can be more artistic or focused on anatomy but focusing on the anatomy will most likely give you a better shot at clearly communicating what you want the person to do.
Yoga is an expressive practice but it’s also a movement practice. Like dance, it blends the technical with the expression of the practitioner. Many of us can relate to the idea that through yoga, we’ve worked out personal issues, felt empowered on the mat or felt yoga was a way to express our uniqueness. But as a teacher, should we lead with cues that focus on the artistic side of yoga or more on the fundamental aspect of the practice, which is the anatomy?
I always suggest that cues be focused on what most people can easily understand. Cues that are short and use action words are almost always better understood than those that touch on the more expressive side of yoga. Even something like, “Do what you need to do or what makes you feel good” might leave too much room for a newer student to know what to do. But in most instances, I’m referring to cues that use words like “soften” “melt” or things of that nature. I’d suggest clear action words like “root” “press” and “push” because they’re short and generally understandable. Is there a place for the more expressive words? Of course? Just not all the time.
Is there a time to tell a student what they should be “feeling” in a pose?
This came up when we were talking about how to address student questions while in certain poses. It’s pretty common for a student to be unsure of the anatomy at work in pose and many come to yoga with a desire to be more flexible. Students also often think there’s a “right” way to do a pose and a “wrong” way, so it stands to reason that they’d think there’s a “certain way you should feel in pose”(muscularly speaking) and feelings that might be warning signs that you’re not doing it correctly.
When I have these questions come up, I always use it as a chance to explain the anatomy at work in the pose. I stay away from “what the person should be feeling” and instead explain what’s happening anatomically. So, for Pigeon, I might share how the bent knee leg (flexed hip) is in a position where the gluteus maximus is stretching because that’s a muscle that extends the hip. I offer that this might be the source of any pulling sensation the person might be feeling on the back of the hip. Given all the variation in people anatomically speaking, it’s impossible to definitively say what someone “should” be feeling in a pose. But the more you know about anatomy, the more you can use these opportunities to teach anatomy to the student and give them some valuable information about their body.
As a newer teacher, create a sequence or get one as part of your teacher training and stick with it for a few years.
We talked about building your knowledge of anatomy and how it takes time and experience. We then talked about how there is so much for teachers to manage in the class; the sequence, the energy in the room, the environment itself, assisting (if you do that) and other factors that you won’t even know will come up but do as a result of the people in the room. So, one of the best things you can do is give yourself the peace of mind that you know what the sequence is that you’ll be teaching. This frees you up to be of service to students, to be present and to manage all the other things that will happen. Forget the idea of creating a new sequence every week, of bringing a notebook to class with your sequence written out. Create one, learn it, record yourself saying it many many times, listen back, refine your language and use that regularly. Sure, you might add something in or remove one thing or two but for the most part, you’ll be teaching the same thing each time. Yoga has stood the test of time and we don’t need to make it harder, flashier or more complex in order to keep people interested.
So these were some of the things that came up in discussion, along of course, with the main course content, which was all about the key aspects of anatomy and applying that to teaching and practice. The content was taken directly from my anatomy manual, The Bare Bones Yoga Guide to Anatomy, and my online course called, “Your Yoga Anatomy Blueprint” so if you’re interested in learning the anatomy piece, either or both of those things will definitely help you learn the anatomy and grow your knowledge. Once you do that, you’ll be better able to express the key actions of each pose to your students, you’ll be better able to answer questions and you’ll have more confidence in sharing the practice itself. Knowledge just does that.
Thanks for reading!