Anatomically Correct

by Katherine Rae


Anatomy is not an easy subject. It involves much more memorization than I am comfortable with, and it’s memorization of Latin, of all things. But knowledge of how our bodies are made and how they move is of utmost importance for every yogi, and especially essential for yoga teachers. It had been quite a while since my own teacher training, the anatomy portion of which was not very extensive to begin with, so even though former YJ anatomy columnist Julie Gudmestad’s Saturday morning class was called “Anatomy for Beginners,” I had a feeling it would be just what I needed.

And I was right. But it wasn’t just a refresher course on what certain bones and muscles are called and the difference between flexion and extension, it was more of an inspiring introduction to the infinite wonders of the human body. Surprising, because not much about anatomy has really excited me before. But Gudmestad, a physical therapist and Iyengar yoga teacher based in Portland, Oregon, has a particular matter-of-fact way of explaining things that just makes sense to me. It’s why her anatomy articles are some of my favorites in the YJ online archives: the woman just knows how to explain the mysteries of movement, and backs it up with her knowledge of both western medicine and eastern healing practices. She also realizes that some students learn better kinesthetically. For someone like me, whose eyes glaze over during lecture (especially if there is Latin involved), it’s really helpful to have a teacher that recognizes there are multiple ways to learn and who also doesn’t assume a certain level of exposure to (or retainment of) the subject matter!

According to Gudmestad, when we experience some sort of physical or emotional trauma we often unconsciously engage in what is called muscle guarding. All that stuff that we “are not prepared to deal with gets lodged in the body in what become closed, damaged, and guarded areas.” This is why one minute we’ll be settling into pigeon pose, and the next we’ll be sobbing into our mats. It’s a good thing when this happens, and means we are accessing those closed, guarded areas and beginning to process pent-up emotions. It’s why yoga is so incredibly helpful at addressing repressed or residual issues and the physical imbalances they can create. The two hour session was over in what felt like two minutes, but I walked out standing taller and with renewed confidence in the inherent wisdom of my body. It is a wondrous and magical thing, these incredible walking, talking, singing, dancing vessels that we get to inhabit. The very least we can do is learn how they work! Many thanks to Gudmestad for an educational and eye-opening morning, and I promise to never call my ilia hip bones ever again.