the anatomical ashtangi

I've injured all of these!

many people have commented that i know a lot about human anatomy, the names of bones, what muscles are where, what connects this to that. this is a trait i’ve seen in other ashtangis as well. it’s almost an obsession (see esp. gregor maehle‘s fabulous book). one might think that ashtanga selects those with anatomical awareness like it selects for type-A personalities and tall, willowy people.

for the record, i know the names of most of the bones because i spent a semester cleaning and gluing together human bone remains in greece in 1991. you see, i’m not only a yogini, i’ve also turned a few shovels and trowels as an archaeologist.

in any case, don’t be surprised if you hear comments like these in and around the studio…

  • ‘yeah, parighasana is great for vastus lateralis; eka pada sirsasana as well.’
  • ‘navasana will build hip flexors, which connect deeply into the pelvic floor and psoas. never cheat in navasana!’
  • ‘remember anterior serratus interdigitates with the external oblique there, so follow through on your jump throughs!’
  • ‘yoga butt again? you must engage the quads in prasarita padottonasana or the hamstring connections on the ischial tuberosity are going to take strain!’

[note: the above quotes were brought to you by the languages english, latin and sanskrit. you’re welcome.]

the (painful) truth is: ashtangis know about our anatomy because we’ve injured a lot of it. because ashtanga does sometimes select for type-A personalities who NEVER SAY DIE! it is also possible that it could select for people who have a real interest in human anatomy and want to know more about how amazing it is! i fall into both categories.

i don’t think i know an ashtangi, or for that matter a yogi, who hasn’t had some sort of yoga-related injury. here’s a comprehensive list of when yoga injuries usually occur:

  1. showing off
  2. attempting an asana one is not ready for
  3. demonstrating in class

i have injured myself in each of the above categories more than once, which should make you question my ability to learn from my mistakes. of note, i have never injured myself while doing yoga drunk in my 22-eye doc maarten’s, which is why i didn’t list it as a category, so knock yourself out.

if you claim that you were injured via an adjustment by a yoga teacher, take responsibility for your actions and review the categories listed above. this isn’t to say that one cannot be injured through an adjustment by an over-zealous, inexperienced (or drunk) yoga teacher. but ask yourself: would you blame your personal trainer for tearing your biceps when you were doing a bazillion curls with a weight that’s too heavy? or would you blame your friend for buying you that final shot of tequila that pushed you over the edge? i hope not.

by the way, my physiotherapist(s) love me! and not just for the extra income. not only do i create lots of odd muscle and facial pathology, i’m also really interested in how i did it. sometimes it’s as simple as an old injury or my 9-5 life as a desk jockey; sometimes it’s from doing something i thought was correct in my yoga practice, but obviously wasn’t. my physios have been my true yoga teachers through the years, helping me build healthy movement patterns and keeping me on my mat. thank you!

i take responsibility for all of my injuries, i mean, in a self-practice environment, who can i blame but myself? injuries are yogic learning opportunities- ahimsa, aparigraha, santosha, isvara-pranidhana, etc. these themes play out daily on my mat as i practice. injuries have influenced and expanded my teaching ability and have (hopefully) benefited Ekam students. though i understand that sometimes a practitioner must have their own experience in order for their practice to deepen.

because ashtanga is a very intense practice, it has the power to get you out of your head and into your body. unlike other forms of physical exercise i’ve taken on (parkour being the current one), the injuries i’ve experienced from practicing yoga are very, very specific, down to the muscle or fascial pinpoint. some injuries have actually created cascade reactions throughout my whole body. i’ve discovered that i am indeed like an onion, each asana or sequence of asanas peels back layers and brings deeper awareness into areas i haven’t even begun to contemplate yet. as awareness unfolds, i find i have a greater awe and respect for the human body, for my own body. this then sends ripples into my practice of ahimsa, aparigraha, santosha, isvara-pranidhana, etc. and with every practice the feedback loop deepens.

so whereas many would seek to avoid injury in yoga i would say, without looking for it, accept it. it is part of the process and is sometimes necessary for growth and understanding. but i would also recommend finding a good physio!


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