In September 2011 Jason was interviewed by online blog Yoga Dudes about the need for yoga teachers to study anatomy and yoga-related anatomy injuries.
Jason Brown has been a student of the contemplative and movement arts for over 30 years, and a student of yoga since 1996. In 2007, he created Zenyasa Yoga as a way to synthesize interests in Zen Buddhism, vinyasa yoga, and exercise science.
Q: Why do yoga teachers need to learn so much anatomy? How does it help their teaching?
A strong understanding of musculo-skeletal anatomy, injury awareness and kinesiology can help yoga teachers in a million different ways. We routinely ask students to take their joints to the edge of their range of motion, and sometimes toward more extreme ranges of motion. Many yoga postures can put tremendous stress on the shoulders, wrists, knees and intervertebral disc joints. So first and foremost, a strong foundation in anatomy can give teachers the knowledge required to help keep their students safe and prevent injury. But also, teachers with a strong understanding of anatomy can also “see” their students more clearly, as if with x-ray eyes, and more quickly identify the causes of misalignment within any given posture — which muscles might be tight or weak, or just not working, or if there are skeletal issues causing the misalignment. And they can then give more meaningful verbal cues and hands-on assists, as well as potentially recommend specific postures or exercises to the student that could enable them to more effectively evolve in the posture. Understanding anatomy can also help teachers become more skillful and creative in their sequencing, especially when sequencing toward a peak posture. Or work therapeutially with clients who have specific concerns. I could go on and on.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice (about anatomy) to novice yoga teachers, what would it be?
I would tell them not to be intimidated by the study of anatomy. I think a lot of teachers get intimidated by it, perhaps because it seems like such a big subject, or because it seems too left-brained, or because in their own teacher training it came at them so fast that they just got overwhelmed. But they should give it a chance. If they take a course in anatomy that starts with the basics, gives a little bit of information each week, and builds slowly, they”ll be fine. Everyone can learn anatomy, and many even come to enjoy learning it. Afterall, when you study anatomy you”ll also learn a lot about your own body in the process… it”s strengths and limitations, how to progress skillfully in your asana practice, and how to keep yourself healthy and safe.
Q: Based on your experience, what”s the most vulnerable part of the body, during a yoga practice?
It’s super hard to pin this down to just one area, because it depends in large part on the person and what kind of practice they’re doing. The top contenders would be the wrists, shoulders, knees, lumbar spine and cervical spine. For vinyasa practitioners, the injuries that I see the most involve the wrists and shoulders.
Q: How many injuries do you think could be prevented with proper anatomy training?
I think that a lot of injuries can be prevented with mindfulness and proper anatomy training. However, it’s always possible that a student could work too aggressively within a posture, despite your advice not to. Or work unskillfully in a posture, despite your anatomically precise alignment instructions. And there is always the risk that someone could fall out of a headstand, or slip on a sweaty yoga mat. But an education in anatomy and injury prevention can go a long way toward reducing the liklihood of injury.
Q: Where can students and teachers find good anatomy training if they don”t live in NYC?
Well, firstly I want to say that you don’t have to live in NYC to take the ASFYT course that I offer. The first two parts of the course can be completed via homestudy, and then if you’re able to you could fly to NYC to attend Part III during the one-week intensive that happens in June. Or if you can’t come for part III, you could just do Part I & II. I’ve had students from Sweden, Mexico, Parrot Cay, and all around the country complete the first two parts of the course, and many have come for Part III. You can learn more about the homestudy course on the website, as well as read testimonials from previous homestudy students.
Another alternative would be to see if there are other yoga or Pilates studios offering an anatomy training nearby. You could also check out your local community college, or do what I did and enroll in a massage school (which usually has a pretty strong anatomy component). There are also some great anatomy articles on Yoga Journal. My favorites are by Roger Cole, Judith Lasiter and Julie Gudemestad.
-- Paula Apro