Sensational Yoga Anatomy
Learn your body by directly experiencing it
Published: 2019 11 29
Updated: 2020 11 04
Why just "study" anatomy when you can directly experience it (in your own body).
Sensational yoga anatomy is designed to help you better feel your body and control it.
By learning to feel and control the bones, muscles and joints of your own body, it becomes easier to understand it. The understanding comes in part from studying texts and articles on anatomy and biomechanics. But in a larger part it comes from directly experiencing your own body.
Why study anatomy in the first place?
A large reason for learning anatomy the sensational yoga anatomy way is that it can help you deal with problems, or figure out how to deal with problems related to joint and/or muscle pain and poor posture. It can also be useful for helping you understand how to improve flexibility and strength.
The key to all of this is learning to feel and control your own anatomy. And that's what sensational yoga anatomy is intended for.
For knee, hip, low back, shoulders, spine and breathing anatomy, that is included in the categories dedicated to those body parts (links are at the top of each page).
For general anatomy, including joints and joint lubrication, muscles, etc, see the TOC (table of contents) below.
Sensational Yoga Anatomy Index
A page with an alphabetical list of articles on sensational yoga poses relating to: Anatomy, biomechanics, muscle control and proprioception
If you want to teach yoga then having an understanding of anatomy can be very helpful. However, because as yoga teachers, we are dealing with our own body and also that of our students, it helps to have a slightly different perspective of anatomy, one that looks at anatomy not as something separate from ourselves, say a body lying on a slab, but rather the anatomy of your own body that we can directly experience and control. Experiencing Your Anatomy is an overview of this perspective of anatomy.
Closely related to the idea of anatomy for yoga teachers (and people who do yoga in general) is the idea of the Anatomical Position. While it can be useful to understand the anatomical position when reading medical texts, or texts that rely on traditional anatomical terminology, in terms of doing yoga, the anatomical position is not that useful. What's more important is specifying the starting position for any movement and the end position. If you can clearly state this, then you don't have to use the anatomical position.
Doctors and surgeons and physiotherapists study anatomy in a way that is suited to their profession. As yoga teachers we should do the same.
You don't need to understand anatomy to teach yoga. (There are many different types or styles of yoga!) However, it can help, particularly when dealing with problems. And it can serve as a road map of sorts. You can read anatomy as a road map to find out more about using anatomy as a guide to feeling and experiencing your own body.
An important aid to learning your anatomy is to practice drawing it. That might seem like a scary idea, but it doesn't need to be. A simple tip is to focus first on drawing isolated elements, the various bones for example. Then use the bones as references for drawing individual muscles.
The better you can draw anatomy, the easier it is to visualize your own anatomy.
And if you make mistakes, don't worry about it. You learn from it. In the process you'll actually get a better idea of your own anatomy and how it all relates. Read more about this in learn anatomy for yoga by drawing it.
One of the key assumptions when dealing with sensational yoga anatomy is that ligaments are directly affected by muscle tension. This is the rule rather than the exception. For the why of this and some related ideas, read Sensational anatomy. One of the advantages of viewing ligaments as active structures is that it means that sensing via the ligaments isn't limited to extreme positions. Proprioception is then easier to understand and use as a result.
Another benefit of viewing ligaments as active structures is that tension in ligaments (and tendons) can be used to affect joint capsule tension. The offshoot of this is that muscles can help keep joints lubricated, particularly when joints are under load. You can read more about this in Hydrostatic lubrication in articular joints.
Basically, muscle tension can be used to tighten joint capsules which results in synovial fluid being pressurized. This then resists joint surfaces from rubbing against each other. This in turn means that tension can be distributed throughout the joint capsule and via it to other connective tissue structures.
If you run your car engine without sufficient oil, you can ruin it. Likewise with our joints. If they aren't kept lubricated, you'll ruin them. And while you can get hip joints and knee joints replaced, it's not a pleasant experience. And ironically enough, one of the ideas that the makers of artificial knee and hip joints study is how natural synovial joints are lubricated.
With a car, you have an engine oil warning light to let you know when oil levels are low. With our body, the brain might use pain, or inhibit function as a way of protecting our joints.
Understanding this simple idea you can begin looking at muscle activation and relaxation not just as a way of controlling movement and posture, but as a way of keeping joints lubricated. The question you can ask in the case of pain or lack of function is "what joint is my brain trying to protect?" For more on this read how to know if your joints are lubricated.
This article was written before I understood the importance of joint lubrication. However, Joint pain yoga still offers some good ideas on how to explore movement to when dealing with various types of joint pain.
Another important idea for joints in general is working to keep them "centered" or as centered as possible. A key to doing that is being able to feel your joints and the muscles that work on them. There's a taste of that in this article on Joint centration.
I've written a fair few articles on tensegrity, in the process trying to understand how it relates to posture and movement. One of the key points about tensegrity structures are that they respond instantaneously to any forces that are applied to them. So they actually provide a good model for what we can aim for when creating yoga poses, or when doing movements where we need to be responsive. However, having practiced tai ji, there are times when you don't want parts of your body to respond to being pushed or pulled. You can read more about this in some problems with biotensegrity
For more on how tensegrity relates to posture and movement you can read fluid tensegrity joint anatomy.
In the category that focuses on the hip joint I mention using a bicycle wheel as one way of modelling a hip joint. Here's another look at bicycle wheels, but from the perspective of tensegrity: Tensegrity, Motor Control and Proprioception. The article goes over how you could modify a bicycle wheel to make it smart by using motors to control spoke tension while at the same time adding sensors to measure spoke tension. You could then use these to intelligently control the relationship of the hub to the rim.
It's a useful analogy for how muscles and connective tissue help our brain not only to move our body and control it, but also allow it to sense how the parts of our body are related and changes in those relationships. Read more about this in Tensegrity, Motor Control and Proprioception
Anatomy texts tend to be fairly cut and dried in how they present the body. They focus on the parts in isolation. Anatomy trains offer a slightly different perspective for looking at the parts of the body. They show you how muscles can connect to and effect each other in series, literally like the carriages of a train.
With an understanding of anatomy trains, you have slightly more options for anchoring one end of whatever muscle or muscles you are trying to control. That can be helpful whether you are dealing with pain, woking on better flexibility of getting stronger. It can also be helpful when simply trying to work more efficiently.
I first started learning about muscles when I began lifting weights as a teenager. And so my first exposure to anatomy was learning various muscles and there names so that I could then work at making them bigger.
For an overview of muscle anatomy, and in particular how understanding it pertains to yoga read Anatomy for muscle control.
I'm still interested in muscles but my focus now is more on controlling them and also using them to feel my body. That's because muscles can be used as force sensors. Read more about this in the article Muscle are Force Sensors
For more on controlling muscles, you can read Motor control for yoga as well as Muscle Control Principles and Muscle Control Basics.
Getting back to the idea of joint lubrication, one of the benefits of muscle control is that muscle activation is what allows us to proprioceive our body. This is doubly advantageous. Not only do muscles help keep our joints lubricated, particularly when they are under load, they also enable us to feel our body. What that then means is that we can learn to feel when our joints are being lubricated or not. You can read more about this idea in Muscle control for proprioception and joint lubrication
- Achilles Tendon Pain Muscle control exercises: Are Stretches What You Need?
- Activating the Latissimus Dorsai Muscle: Anatomy for Yoga Teachers
- Alternatives to the Anatomical Position
- An exercise for learning to feel your spine: with a focus on the lumbar and thoracic spine as well as the pelvis and ribs
- Anatomy and Biomechanics of Low Back Stability: How is the lower back stabilized? Why does it matter?
- Anatomy as a Road Map to Experiencing Your Body
- Anatomy for Muscle Control: Improve muscle control, proprioception and understanding of your body
- Anatomy of the lower back: Understanding the low back so that you can begin using it effectively (and work towards a pain free low back)
- Anatomy Trains (Myofascial Meridians): Using them for Improving Body Control
- Arm Stability Via the Elbows and Hands: For Handstand, Chaturanga and Other "Arm Supported" Yoga Poses
- Articular Joint Hydrostatic Lubrication: Using high speed movement to keep joints lubricated
- Body Awareness and Muscle Motor Control for Yoga: Why the Brain Turns on the Brakes and How We can Release Them
- Breathing Anatomy For Yoga Teachers: Easily Feel your Breath by Understanding Your Breathing Anatomy
- Dealing with Anterior Hip Pain Near the ASIC
- Dual SI Joint Stabilization: In Spinal Forward Bends and Spinal Backbends
- Effectively Activating Transverse Abdominis: Exercises for Activating All Three Bands of the Transverse Abdominis Muscle
- Elbow Joint Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: Stabilizing the Shoulders from the Ground Up
- Experiencing Your Anatomy Helping You to Better Feel and Control Your Body While Doing Yoga
- External Obliques : Using them to Twist and Bend Your Thoracic Spine
- Fallen Arches: And Foot Exercises for Fixing Them
- Feeling Your Spinal Column: Basic anatomy and exercises for experiencing the parts of your spine and understanding it
- Fixing Forward Head Posture: Simple (and Comfortable) Exercises for improving posture and some breathing exercises to relax
- Fluid Tensegrity Joint Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: How synovial joints are maintained as tensegrity structures so that we have the choice of doing poses and actions with or without tensegrity
- Foot Exercises: for Improving Balance, Proprioception and fixing flat feet
- From Slouch to Zero-Slouch, Exercises to Fix Your Posture: Use Your Body's Built-In Sensors, Smartphone Not Required
- Glute and Hamstring Anatomy for Yoga: Yoga Anatomy for Back Bending and Forward Bending the Hips
- Gluteus Maximus Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: (Back Bending And Using it to Help Stretch the Psoas)
- Hip Joint Anatomy: Muscle groupings that can help keep the hip hip joint centered
- Hip Joint Pain: Three Simple Actions for Alleviating Hip Joint Pain While Doing Yoga
- Hip Joint Popping and Centering the Hip Joint to Avoid It: Tips for Dealing with hip discomfort and understanding your hip joints so that they last longer
- Hip Joint Questions and Answers
- How to know if your joints are lubricated
- Inner Body and Outer Body Tensegrity: Maintaining tensegrity at the joints even when poses or actions are non-tension integrated
- Intercostal Muscles : Feeling and Controlling Them for Better Ribcage Mobility and Control
- Internal Obliques: Using Them To Help Twist Your Ribcage
- IT Band Anatomy and Bio-mechanics: Helping to control the hip or helping to control knee rotation
- IT Band Knee Pain, Pain Along the Outside of the Knee while Squatting
- Joint Centration: : The Position of Balanced Space and Tension
- Joint Pain Yoga: One Possible Approach to Alleviating Joint Pain While Doing Yoga
- Keeping your hip joints lubricated: How your hip joints are lubricated and how to keep them lubricated
- Knee Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: Controlling (and stabilizing against) knee rotation
- Knee Joint Stability: Controlling Knee Bend and Shin Rotation (Relative to the Thigh)
- Knee rotation: And It's affect on the foot, knee and hip with knee bent and straight
- Learn Anatomy for Yoga by Drawing It
- Learning to Feel And Control The Respiratory Diaphragm: Anatomy for Yoga Teachers
- Learning to feel your diaphragm and psoas: (while going to the bathroom)
- Levator Costarum: Improve Thoracic Awareness and Mobility, Learn to Feel and Activate These Back Muscles
- The long head of the Adductor Magnus: Your Backbending Friend
- Long Hip Flexor Muscles: Adding Tension to Take out the Slack For More Effective Forward Bending
- The Long Hip Muscles: Improve Hip Control and Shin Control
- Low back pain: Yoga Teachers Get Low Back Pain Too
- Low Back Pain Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: Does Your Low Back Hurt In Forward Bends and Squats?
- Low Back Pain and Fallen Arches: (And How To Fix them Both)"
- The Lumbar Multifidus: Anatomy for Yoga Teachers
- Medial Collateral Ligament Pain
- Motor Control Basics for Yoga,: It's Not Just Contracting Your Muscles
- Mula Bandha Anatomy: Feeling and Controlling the Elusive Root Lock"
- Muscle Control for Proprioception and Joint Lubrication: If we didn't have muscles we wouldn't be able to feel our body
- Muscle Control Principles: Understanding How Muscle Control, Joint Lubrication and Proprioception Interact
- Muscles are Force Sensors: How activated muscles and connective tissue tension allow you to proprioceive or feel your body
- The Obliques and Intercostals: Shaping and Controlling Your Ribcage and Your Waist
- Obturator Externus: Anatomy for Yoga Teachers
- Obturator Internus: Stabilizing the Hip Joint for Increased Mobility and Control in Standing Forward Bends
- Pectoralis Minor: Flipping the Shoulder Blade with
- The pelvic floor muscles: Helping to stabilize the SI joints (whether nutated or counter-nutated)
- Peroneus Brevis: Anchoring the fibula or stabilizing the outer arch of the foot
- Peroneus Longus: Helping to anchor the fibula and shape the foot
- Psoas Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: Hip Flexion, Active Psoas Stretches and Preventing Lumbar Shear in Reclining Hero
- Psoas Major Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: Learning from Richard Freeman how the Psoas connects to the kidneys and the 12th ribs
- Psoas Muscle Anatomy:: Stretching the Psoas, The Psoas as a Lumbar Stabilizer, A Tip for Using it to Transition from Upward Dog To Downward Dog and more
- Psoas Release: Stabilizing the hip joint to release the psoas
- Quadratus Femoris: A hip stabilizer that could also help stabilize the knee and ankle
- The Ribcage: Improving ribcage stability and mobility for better arm strength in a wider variety of positions
- Rotator Cuff Anatomy: And other Muscles That Rotate The Shoulder
- Sacroiliac Joint Exercises: Practicing nutation and counter-nutation of the SI Joints while noticing the muscles that cause these actions
- Sacroiliac Joint Stability during forward bending: Adding tension to the sacrotuberous ligament so that the SI joints can resist Shear forces during forward Forward Bends
- Sacroiliac Joint Stabilization: via hip and spinal muscles that act on the sacrotuberous ligament and long dorsal sacroiliac ligament
- The sacroiliac joints: Alleviating Sacroiliac Joint Pain
- The Sacrotuberous Ligament: How Adding Tension to the Sacrotuberous Ligament or the Long Dorsal Sacroiliac Ligament Helps to Stabilize the SI Joint
- The Sacrum: and the Muscles that Connect it to the Legs, Spine and Pelvis
- Sartorius and Inner Knee Pain while Running
- Scapular Awareness Exercises: Getting a Better Feel for Your Shoulder Blades
- Scapular Stabilization Exercises: For Yoga
- Sensational Anatomy Yoga Anatomy you can Feel and Control
- Serratus anterior: Using it to help position your shoulder blades relative to your ribcage
- Serratus Anterior Muscle Awareness: for Improved Body Awareness while doing Yoga Poses
- Serratus Posterior Inferior: A Potential Anchor for the Lats and a Co-Stabilizer for the Lower Ribcage
- Shin Rotations for Heel Stability: and Knee Protection
- Shoulder Anatomy: , The Rotator Cuff, Anatomy Trains and Tuned Tension
- Shoulder Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: Shoulder Blade Landmarks
- Shoulder Impingement: And Some Awareness Exercises For Helping You To Avoid It
- Shoulder Rotation Exercises: Exercising (and differentiating) the shoulder and forearm rotator muscles
- The Single Joint hip flexors: A look at the hip flexors that work solely on the hip joint
- Single SI Joint Stabilization: Stabilizing the same side Hip Joint and SI Joint
- Single Side SI Joint Stability : Anatomy and Biomechanics of the Pelvic Floor and Hip or Hip Rotation While Standing On One Leg
- Sitting Bone Pain: In Forward Bending Yoga Poses and What You Can Do About It
- Some Problems with Biotensegrity: And how how to overcome them
- Spinal Anatomy: The elements of the spine and the muscles that affect it, an overview
- Spinal Back Bending Exercises: Anchoring your spinal erectors and using them
- Spinal Erectors: Learn to feel them and control them
- Standing Exercises for Low Back Pain: Experimenting with a variety of muscle control options for dealing with low back pain
- Standing Hip Exercises: Dealing with Low Back Pain by controlling your hip bone while balancing on one foot
- Stretching the Psoas: And understanding the psoas so that you can figure out why it's tight in the first place
- Tensegrity, Motor Control and Proprioception: Tensegrity could be thought of as the state where motor control and proprioception are optimized.
- The Thoracolumbar Fascia (TLF): Wifi for Your Spine, Arms and Legs
- The Three Yoga Bandhas (Mula, Uddiyana and Jalandhara): Related Anatomy and How They Affect Stability, Breath and Posture
- Tibialis Anterior: Rotating the shin relative to the foot (or stabilizing it)
- Tibialis Posterior: Lifting the arch of the foot or turning the soles of the feet inwards
- The Transverse Abdominis: A Tension Control Mechanism for your Abs
- Transverse abdominis Exercises: Training All Three Bands of the Transverse Abdominis
- Transverse Abdominis Training: Understanding How the Transverse Abdominis Interacts with Other Muscles and How to Train It
- The Trapezius Muscle: Using it in Lifted Arm Yoga Poses (And Controlling it with the Arms Down)
- Uddiyana Bandha: Creating Room for your Respiratory Diaphragm to Contract
- Understanding The Psoas: With suggestions on how to activate it
- Understanding Your Hip Joints: 10 ways in which a bicycle wheel can help you better understand your hip
- Upper Back Exercises for Yoga: Increase Body Awareness and Strengthen Weak Upper Backs
- Vastus Muscles: Knee extensors and tensioning devices for the overlying hip flexors
- Why Do We Have SI Joints?: So we can do movements like the splits...
- Winged Scapula: And How to Prevent It
- Yoga Anatomy, Biomechanics, Muscle Control and Proprioception Helping You to Better Feel, Control, Understand and Experience Your Body
- Your Spinal Column: Learning to Feel the Individual Vertebrae And Learning to Control Them
- Sensational Yoga Anatomy