I agree with the notion of being as precise and accurate with anatomical language as possible, and if as a teacher you don’t know, refrain from saying. That said, it’s not easy to always articulate accurately, and some of these insights almost sound like some rather smug one-upmanship. Case in point: “Hip extension occurs when the thigh is in line with the torso, as opposed to the thigh angling forward.” What does “in line with” mean? Out to the side? My thigh is in line with my torso when it’s angling forward, no? Or straight down, when I’m standing, right? What exactly does “angling forward” mean, in fact? It’s not easy to get it right, and that should be acknowledged. Language is fluid, and anatomy is complex, and we need to have compassion. And THAT said, I’m returning to my anatomy books post haste! Sheesh! This is HARD!
A great article that many yoga teachers should read. I think many teachers unfortunately feel like they have to be anatomy experts as soon as they jump out of teacher training (or without much further study), because of the increase in alignment-based practices. It's unfortunate that, in order to sound knowledgeable, they feel the need to use terms that they might not be 100% comfortable using, or familiar with, which just leads to confusion at best, and misinformation at worst.
As a teacher myself, and a bit of an "anatomy nerd" (but not an expert), I try and stick to clear terminology that is accessible to all my students, and language that I am comfortable with, and know what it means.
In other words, teachers, take a step back, breathe, and don't be afraid to use simpler language that both you and your students understand, as well as the old, "I'm not sure, but I'll look it up for you."
There is a huge demand for us to be both yoga teachers and medical/anatomical experts, and I would venture to say, the vast majority of us are just yoga teachers, with better than average knowledge of anatomy (and perhaps physiology). I can totally understand the pressure to be more knowledgeable in anatomy, biomechanics, etc., though! At the same time, don't feel inadequate if you're "just" a yoga teacher!
Thanks for writing this! I really appreciate these observations. I often have a hard time comprehending what is being asked of me and translating it to my body. Sometimes teachers say, "move the pubic bone toward the coccyx" - is this possible?
I am a long-time yoga student and have had many teachers over the years who do really well with anatomical descriptions. The one thing that drives me crazy, however, is when someone describes moving the spine "vertebrae by vertebrae." It's important to notice that the singular is 'vertebra'; more than one is vertebrae. This is not as frequent as it used to be, but still it's a simple fix that can make a teacher sound more knowledgable and professional.
That was very nice reading. As a anatomy nerd, I go crazy when I hear similar comments.
I believe focusing too much on being "anatomically correct" takes the focus off the breath.It also can be a bit boring to me as a student.I truly think we need to move away from being so robatic and embellish the art of yoga quieting the mind.:)
I have the same terminology issue in Juj Jitsu. I hear over and over, "this technique will break the arm." But really it is very rare and hard to break a bone on someone else. What is reallly happening is a dislocation. Ligamanets and tendons are being torn, bones are not being broken.
As a Pilates instructor and a practicing student of yoga, it would be interesting if all yoga instructors did not believe that anatomy is a supportive vehicle for our physical bodies and our skeletal systems. To not understand basic anatomy leads to many unneccessary injuries. Trust me, learning anatomy is like learning a whole new language, but as teachers it is our responsibilty to be as informed as possible, for the safety of our students. Thank you for these articles.
I was happy to read that I´m doing something right: I just don't use anatomical vocabulary. All I will say when bending forward, for example, is: " bring your atttention to the spot where you feel the stretching."
Or, just make it visible with your words: " stretch the crown away from the shoulders."
When performing any pose to show my students, I just feel what's happening when I'm doing it correctly, like: " Contract the pelvic floor muscles as though you really need to use the bathroom!" (maybe we, the Dutch, tend to be a bit more explicit.....)when doing a backward bend.
Let's admit that we are no medical doctors, nor should we try to display their knowledge.
I must admit, in Dutch (I live and teach in Amsterdam, the Netherlands) we don't usually use as much anatomical vocabulary. But a yoga instructor who will tell you to relax the neck while performing any trikonasana just isn't in touch with the reality of he or his own body! I mean, you can feel your own neck, can't you???
What usually bothers me is the misuse of vertebra vs. vertebrae. "BRAE" is plural. But teacher will say "each of your vertebrae."
What I have problems with is the description of the action of the upper arms and shoulders in downward facing dog. I used to say, "externally rotate" the shoulders, which I was told is impossible. So now I don't say anything....how can I cue that in a way that makes sense?