So what are the basics of yoga? Philosophy? Breath work? Connection to the divine? The list could go on, as could the debate.

Collage of varius Gray's muscle pictures by Mi...
Image via Wikipedia

Well, for me, it’s the body.

In my experience most people start yoga because they want to move their body. Maybe they feel tense. They’ve got a bad back. They want to tone up. They want to increase their flexibility.

All this starts with the body. Moving it. Noticing how it feels. Feeling when and where it’s stiff or more flexible in different postures. Observing how your mood or energy levels affect your body. Becoming aware, week on week, how the body feels and how these sensations change and how your movement capability develops over time.

Extra homework for teacher!

I’m training to be a yoga teacher: I need to understand the body and how it moves. I think I’m safe in assuming that most people in my class couldn’t locate their sartorius or sternocleidomastoid even if they knew what they were! I know I couldn’t before starting my training.

So I’ve been doing some extra homework on anatomy.

And the more I read about, and the more I understand, the intricacies of the bones, joints, muscles, spine and nervous system, the more I’m amazed and in awe of the wonderful human body.

I can’t believe I got this far in life without knowing what goes on underneath my skin! (And it makes me a little sad that so many of us mistreat our bodies through neglect or lack of awareness.)

Developing awareness

I’m bringing this deepening awareness into my own yoga practice, getting to feel the different muscles, locating them and consciously trying to activate them.

Consciously contracting my quadriceps and iliopsoas to facilitate stretching my hamstrings in Paschimottanasana. Contracting my gluteus medius to stabilize my hip in Vrksasana.

What’s in a name?

I’m also slowly learning the names of the muscles and the terminology used to describe their moment (all together now … contract the pectoralis major and minor to adduct the humerus.)

But just learning the names and locations of muscles is not where the real value of my developing knowledge lies.

Quadratus lumborum muscle
Image via Wikipedia

OK so now I know that it’s my right quadratus lumborum (highlighted in red in the picture) I’ve pulled various times over the years stretching too far for my capability at the time in Utthita Trikonasana.

But now I know that it’s a muscle I have twanged (ahem, the technical term of course ;-). I know what and where it is, and the functions it performs. I can visualize it; I can bring awareness to it as I practise this posture and others which stretch this muscle. I can listen in to how it feels as I move. And over time I can feel it becoming more flexible as I’m able to stretch further to the left in this triangle posture.

A deeper connection

I’m developing a deeper connection with my body. It helps me to come into the present more when I’m practising yoga postures, and throughout the day.

And I know that this will enrich my ability to teach yoga.

I won’t go around quoting anatomical terminology to my students, but I’ll be able to help them refine their postures, or advise them with postures with which they are struggling.

What it’s all about

I love yoga philosophy and spirituality too. I read and try to bring yogic principles into the way I live my life. I practise Pranayama and meditation.

But for the moment, I’m bringing my awareness to connect to my miraculous body, to feel the subtleties and power of its movement. It’s grounding me. It brings me into the present. As I focus on my body moving, my mind quietens and I’m finding a stronger connection to the subtle feelings of energy shifting within me.

I feel gratitude for the body that I have and the person that I am. A feeling of union. And this, for me on a very personal level, is what yoga is all about.

Back to yoga basics
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