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Physical Education

Judith Hanson Lasater's new book gives students and teachers a means of exploring anatomy through asana.

By Richard Rosen

Music is always in the mix in New York City yoga teacher and deejay Derek Beres's vinyasa yoga classes. "I prefer a strong flow with a focus on deep hip openers and inversions," says Beres, who teaches at Equinox in Manhattan. "The music I play feeds that flow with a strong emphasis on bass, a love I acquired through almost a decade of deejaying." His playlist is heavy on remixed world music, but near the end of the list, the clublike beats wind down, leaving room for quiet contemplation at the end of your practice.

As yogis, we put our bodies through poses that have us moving every which way. All those sidebends, forward bends, backbends, inversions, binds, twists, and turns are made possible by hundreds of body parts that create and control movement. When you make small actions and adjustments to a particular joint, muscle, or organ in asana, you instantly see how attention to any one of those parts can change the feel and look of a pose. That's why, whether you're a beginner or a seasoned teacher, the key to refining and exploring asana, says Judith Hanson Lasater in the introduction to her new book, Yogabody (Rodmell Press, 2009), is to be aware of your many parts. "By understanding structure and function," says Lasater, "you will be better able to quickly decide what might be able to help you...move with more enjoyment and less difficulty and pain."

That's a great promise from a physical therapist and Iyengar Yoga-trained teacher with nearly 40 years of practice and seven books to her name. But for many yoga students, studying anatomy and kinesiology (movement of the body through space) can feel like an arduous task that includes memorizing numerous details and Latin terms. Fortunately, Yogabody is no college crash course with a scary test at the end. Instead of covering every nook and cranny, Lasater explores the major structures of the body—the locomotor system, the vertebral column, the lower extremity, the trunk, and the upper extremity—as they relate to asana.

This is a fun—yes, fun—exploration of the body through basic asana to help you "feel" poses in new ways. You will see what happens when you apply even pressure on the first metatarsal bone and the center of the calcaneus in the back foot during Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose). You'll experience the neutral position of your sternum in space while in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Each chapter follows a format: Lasater reviews the relevant bones, joints, connective tissues, nerves, muscles, and the kinesiology of the body parts in question as they relate to yoga. She succinctly describes how body parts ideally move and explains common problems such as scoliosis and sciatica, sacroiliac (SI) dysfunction, and ankle sprains, and gives tips for correcting them.

Each chapter concludes with poses and adjustments (for students and -teachers)that bring to life the information in that chapter. For example, in a section on the elbow joint and forearm, Lasater asks you to come into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose): "Pay attention to the parallel relationship between the hands and shoulder joints. As your hands turn inward, so do the shoulder joints; as your hands turn outward, the shoulder joints rotate externally. This connection can be used to improve your shoulder function as well as to ameliorate pain in the elbows in the pose."

Anatomy and kinesiology can be intimidating subjects. But Lasater's writing, even at its most technical, is clear and accessible, careful to always discuss anatomy through yoga as an exploration and a way to go deeper into your body and your practice.

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