Foundational Teacher Trainings in Yoga these days typically begin with 200 hours of study. I am a facilitator and mentor for Practice Everywhere where a significant portion of the training is dedicated to anatomy and human movement since the focus of the asana portion training is centered on vinyasa or flow-based classes. If we're going to move bodies, it stands to reason we need to know a little something about how they move.
Consciously I think we all know that asana pertains to the body, but unlike our counterparts in other movement systems, the content of Yoga primarily stems from a philosophy system for lifestyle and spirituality. As such when training begins the level of interest in the topic of human movement is somewhat varied across the group. So when I begin an anatomy module with a new cohort of trainees I often start by letting them that I did not start out my yoga teaching career focusing on anatomy.
Why I started to study human movement more seriously.
I was a good science student but avoided the subject like the plague in college, figuring it was a bad idea to suffer through Bio, Chem, etc. if I had no interest in going to med school. Fast forward through an office job to my first yoga training I felt like such an outsider. The philosophy part came easily, but I struggled through the anatomy, terrified to incorporate the cues into my classes. What if I said something wrong? What if someone else in the room knew more than I did about the body and I revealed my knowledge gaps? Yes, certainly thoughts like that arose from my ego's fear. But eventually a more compelling reason to study started to emerge. What if I could offer people a better connect to their entire being if I could better articulate information about the physical part?
So, I began to study, focusing on the major muscle groups as well as joints and their actions. I got curious - what does the knee do? The spine? The shoulder? How could I use to a muscle to help a student feel more connected to a certain joint and ultimately feel the pose in a better way?
The more I mentioned part of the body in class, the more familiar it felt to me. And, to my delight, the more comfortably I got speaking to the body I observed students in the room became empowered to take charge and learn about their bodies.
MyoFascia Offered a New Layers of Understanding
I entered a new dimension when I started studying the connective tissue in my advanced teacher training. For years, I thought of the body (and taught) in terms of bones, muscles, and joint actions. I never considered the interlacing web of myofascia that surrounds those bones, muscles, and joints.
Fasia is everywhere in the body and this tissue's purpose is to provide the physical form with support, and what results is a web of relationships that sweep across the body. Myofascia specifically refers to fascia in relationship to muscles and more importantly their relationship to each other and by association joints along a fascial line's relationship to one other.
Isolated and Integrated Understanding
I could think in terms of isolated joint action and the leverage we can create from one joint or another, but with myofascia now I could also envision integrated body movements in terms of fascial lines and how they help us load and transfer force in the body. Given the way the layers run and wrap around the body, focusing on one area of connective tissue often influences another.
Rather than continuing to teach well known poses in simple flows, fascia forced me to reconsider how the physical form moved. While we can strength train a specific muscle very well by understanding joint mechanics (which is important stuff to balance out how individual muscles are affected a joint, a motion, or the strength of a joint!) I found my teaching style adapted to accommodate this new found integrative knowledge of myofascia.
Playing with Fascia in Sequencing
Suddenly I was thinking in terms of body integration because my classes primarily comprised of body weight movements that require the whole body to participate and carry our form through multiple planes of motion.
The sequences I write today integrate traditional asana as well as myofascial release with organic or primal movements, and transitions to effectively stretch connective tissue and ease trigger points. As a teacher the initial overwhelm of studying human movement ease into creativity. It certainly feels more open-ended to me to play with asana in this way. But ultimately my hope also is this new approach allowing the student to feel more balanced and appreciative of their physical body which I believe ultimately lends us to focus our attention back to the philosophy of Yoga.
We're not our bodies, but we have a body and we can develop a profound appreciation of the nuanced and layered ways that it can move.