When discussing the anatomy of yoga, it’s important to have a commonly agreed upon terminology, a language of movement, so that we’re all on the same page and can communicate more precisely when discussing such things as the location of bones and bony landmarks; the locations, attachments and actions of muscles; and the anatomy of yoga asana. Familiarizing yourself with these terms will help you understand the yoga anatomy articles that you read on this blog and elsewhere, create more consciousness within the muscle and joint actions in each posture, and enable you to more skillfully articulate those actions to your students through effective verbal cues and hands-on assists.
Some teachers like to use anatomical language when they teach, and others don’t. I want to say first and foremost that I don’t think it’s imperative to use anatomical language in your classes, and that you can be an amazing teacher without ever talking about anatomy. That being said, I also think the more knowledge that you have about anatomy the more confident you’ll feel sharing it with your students whenever it might be helpful and appropriate. My opinion is that we shouldn’t inundate students with too much anatomy in a single class, as it will likely just go in one ear and out the other, but sprinkling it in here and there can be very valuable as using anatomical terms can cultivate more awareness and precision within the practice. It can also make your job easier because your students will be able to more clearly understand what you are asking them to do within each posture. Besides, you’re probably already teaching them Sanskrit so why not teach them Latin and Greek as well? If they can learn Yogah Citta Vritti Nirodhah and Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, then surely they can learn lateral tilt and gastrocnemius!
A joint action term that I use in Trikonasana to help students create length in the bottom side-waist is lateral tilt of the pelvis, which refers to a rotational movement of the pelvis within the frontal plane. If you imagine the pelvis as a basin full of water, laterally tilting the pelvis to the right would be like tipping the basin to the right to pour the water out. From the preparatory position for Trikonasana, you could imagine tilting the pelvic basin over the front leg so that the water flows down over the thigh to the floor.
Here’s how you might share this with your students and teach them the joint action term lateral tilt. Either at the beginning of class, or just prior to taking them into Trikonasana, you could describe the pelvis as a basin full of water (as above), and then demonstrate tilting the basin to the right to spill the imaginary water down over the thigh. Bring them into the preparatory position for Triangle and have them practice the tilting action with you. After they’ve done this a few times, tell them that this action they’re doing is called lateral tilt of the pelvis. Then later in class, when you are actually transitioning them into the posture, you could say something like:
“As you exhale, reach through the right arm and laterally tilt your pelvis to the right until you feel a good stretch in your hamstrings. Keep working this lateral tilt to keep your right side waist long as you place your right hand on your shin bone. Rotate your trunk to the left and reach your left hand toward the ceiling.”
You could of course also give additional alignment cues about the feet, front leg/hip, rotation of the trunk, etc., depending on what you’re seeing in the room. Explore this cue in your own practice, and then try it out with your students. I’d love to hear how it goes for you, so be sure to come back and leave a comment if you take me up on the assignment!
Now, on to the language of movement… anatomical position, terms of position, planes of movement and joint action terminology pairs, oh my! Bookmark this page if you want to come back to it again. We’ll also link to it frequently in future post.
Anatomical position is simply a symmetrical standing position that serves as a reference point from which to identify terms of position and direction. It’s essentially Tadasana/Mountain Pose, but with the palms facing forward.
TERMS OF POSITION
- Medial: closer to the midline of the body (e.g., the tibia is medial to the fibula)
- Lateral: farther away from the midline of the body (e.g., the fibula is lateral to the tibia)
The positional terms superior and inferior are only used within the axial body, which consists of the head, neck and trunk.
- Superior: above (e.g., the head is superior to the pelvis)
- Inferior: below (e.g., the pelvis is inferior to the head)
The positional terms proximal and distal are only used within the appendicular body, which consists of the upper and lower extremities.
- Proximal: closer to the axial body than another point (e.g., the arm is proximal to the forearm)
- Distal: farther away from the axial body than another point (the hand is distal to the forearm)
- Superficial: closer to the outer surface of the body (e.g., the skin is superficial to the muscles)
- Deep: closer to the inside center of the body (e.g., the bones are deep to the muscles)
- Ventral: the softer, more vulnerable side of a body part (e.g., back of the knee, front of the elbow, etc.)
- Dorsal: the harder, less vulnerable side of a body part (e.g., front of the knee, back of the elbow, top of the foot, etc.)
- Plantar: the bottom side of the foot
- Palmar: the palm side of the hand
3-D means three dimensions. The planes of movement are essentially terms for these three dimensions, with specific kinds of movement possible within each dimension/plane.
- Saggital Plane: a vertical plane that divides the body into right and left sides
- Frontal Plane: a vertical plane that divides the body into anterior and posterior sides
- Transverse Plane: a horizontal plane that divides the body into superior and inferior sides
Sagittal Plane Actions
- Flexion: when the ventral (soft) surfaces of two body parts move closer together at a joint
- Extension: when the dorsal (hard) surfaces of two body move closer together at a joint
- Anterior Tilt: when the anterior aspect of the pelvis moves inferiorly, and the posterior aspect of the pelvis moves superiorly
- Posterior Tilt: when the posterior aspect of the pelvis moves inferiorly, and the anterior aspect of the pelvis moves superiorly
- Plantarflexion: when the plantar (soft) surface of the foot moves toward the ventral (soft) side of the leg
- Dorsiflexion: when the dorsal (hard) side of the foot moves toward the dorsal (hard) side of the leg
- Abduction: a movement of an appendicular body part within the frontal plane, wherein the body part moves away from the midline of the body
- Adduction: the opposite of abduction, wherein the body part moves toward from the midline of the body
- Left Lateral Flexion: a movement of the trunk and/or neck within the frontal plane, wherein the trunk and/or neck flexes to the left
- Right Lateral Flexion: the opposite of left lateral flexion, where the trunk and/or neck flexes to the right
- Right Lateral Tilt: a movement of the pelvis within the frontal plane, wherein the left side of the pelvis moves superiorly and the right side moves inferiorly
- Left Lateral Tilt: the opposite of right lateral tilt, wherein the right side of the pelvis moves superiorly and the left side moves inferiorly
- Inversion: a movement of the foot within the frontal plane, wherein the medial edge of the foot moves toward the medial aspect of the leg, orienting the plantar side of the foot toward the midline of the body
- Eversion: the opposite of inversion wherein the lateral edge of the foot moves toward the lateral aspect of the leg, orienting the plantar side of the foot away from the midline of the body
- Radial Deviation: when the radial side of the hand (the thumb side) moves toward the radius within the frontal plane
- Ulnar Deviation: when the ulnar side of the hand (the pinky finger side) moves toward the ulna within the frontal plane
- Horizontal Abduction (aka, Horizontal Extension): a movement of an appendicular body part within the transverse plane, wherein the body part is first flexed or abducted and then moves horizontally in a posterior direction
- Horizontal Adduction (aka, Horizontal Flexion): the opposite of horizontal abduction, wherein the body part is first flexed or abducted and then moves horizontally in an anterior direction
- Medial Rotation: the opposite of lateral rotation, wherein the anterior aspect of the body part rotates toward the midline of the body (relative to anatomical position)
- Lateral Rotation: a movement of an appendicular body part, wherein the anterior aspect of the body part rotates away from the midline of the body (relative to anatomical position)
- Right Rotation: a movement of an axial body part, wherein the anterior surface of the body part rotates to the right
- Left Rotation: the opposite of right rotation, wherein the anterior surface of the body part rotates to the left
- Pronation: can relate to the forearm or the foot; as related to the forearm, pronation is when the radius crosses over the ulna
- Supination: can relate to the forearm or the foot; as related to the forearm, supination is when the radius uncrosses the ulna such that the two bones are parallel to each other
Scapula = shoulder blade (singular) / Scapulae (skap-yuh-lee) = shoulder blades (plural)
Scapular movements get their own category because they are somewhat unique and often occur in more than one plane. However, it should also be noted that the mandible and clavicle can also perform some of these actions.
- Retraction: when the scapulae wrap around the ribcage in a posterior and then medial direction toward the spine
- Protraction: when the scapulae wrap around the ribcage in a lateral and then anterior direction away from the spine
- Elevation: when the scapulae move superiorly, away from the pelvis
- Depression: when the scapulae move inferiorly, toward the pelvis
- Upward Rotation: a rotational movement of the scapula wherein the glenoid fossa orients superiorly; during upward rotation of the scapulae, the left scapula rotates clockwise and the right scapula rotates counter-clockwise
- Downward Rotation: a rotational movement of the scapula wherein the glenoid fossa orients inferiorly; during downward rotation of the scapulae, the left scapula rotates counter-clockwise and the right scapula rotates clockwise
- Circumduction: refers to a combination of sequential actions within the sagittal and frontal planes (e.g., to circumduct the wrists you could first extend, then ulnar deviate, then flex, then radially deviate, and then keep repeating in that order)
The following comments were copied over from the first incarnation of this post on Blogger.com. New comments are welcome!
Sue September 8, 2013 at 11:02 pm
Great. REally godd summary of descriptions and clear diagrams. thanks. will help my studies & practice.
Jason Ray Brown September 9, 2013 at 2:53 am
Thanks Sue! Happy that you will find it helpful
Emily Kligerman September 9, 2013 at 10:48 am
This is great! So clear and helpful! An excellent review for those of us who have completed the courses and an excellent resource to share with my students. Thanks for all of your hard work creating this!
Jason Ray Brown September 9, 2013 at 11:27 am
You’re super welcome, Emily — great idea to share it with your students.
Helene Kerherve September 9, 2013 at 12:24 pm
Hi Jason, what a fabulous work ! It’s perfectly clear. And it feels good to realize that I haven’t forgotten anything from your anatomy class
Jason Ray Brown September 10, 2013 at 1:09 pm
Thanks Helene.. happy to hear that you haven’t forgotten anything from class. Miss you, but hope to see you soon!
Susan Fleck Feiner September 9, 2013 at 1:10 pm
This is a great review and resource for teachers. Your material is clear and beautifully designed. Thank you for all of your hard work Jason! Now please come back to the studio and teach a few classes. We miss you! :- )
Jason Ray Brown September 10, 2013 at 1:12 pm
Hi Susan – thanks for reading! I miss you, too… but have decided to a sabbatical from teaching my weekly classes for a few months. I’ll try to drop in and do some master classes, though… and we’ll do some practice in the Thursday afternoon ASFYT class
Beth Tascione September 9, 2013 at 3:01 pm
This is great Jason! Super clear – both in the images and in the writing. I was testing myself along the way – phew – happy to say your fabulous teachings have stayed with me. Thanks for putting this together – it’s a great resource for teachers and students alike!
Jason Ray Brown September 10, 2013 at 1:13 pm
Thanks, Beth! Happy that you appreciated the images… I definitely put a good amount of time into creating them. And you’re very welcome for the resource, which I’ll continue to add to over the weeks and months to come.
Alison West September 10, 2013 at 10:47 am
This is very nicely done, Jason! Thanks for posting. Alison, Yoga Union
Jason Ray Brown September 10, 2013 at 1:27 pm
Thanks for reading Alison! See you on 9/25 at Yoga Union for the Yoga City NYC panel discussion on physical and subtle anatomy. I heard that over 70 people are already signed up… are they all going to fit in your studio?
Rebecca September 11, 2013 at 8:53 pm
Jason, I am so proud of you and your amazing and creative skill set. Your pictures are amazing. I could even see your innate humor in the latest blog. Very impressive…beyond impressive. Love Mom
Jason Ray Brown September 11, 2013 at 8:55 pm
Ah gee… thanks mom
Stuart September 15, 2013 at 1:24 pm
What a great resource – thank you!