What You Need to Know and What You Don't

What You Need to Know and What You Don’t

I have been leading yoga trainings, workshops and classes for close to ten years now. Throughout that time, I’ve come to one very basic but profound understanding. KEEP IT SIMPLE. The human body is a vastly complex organism with multiple systems working independently and interdependently. Just think about the eleven major systems working right now in your body:

  1. Muscular (muscle fibers, connective tissue)
  2. Skeletal (bones, connective tissue)
  3. Nervous (Brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves
  4. Endocrine (hormone)
  5. Lymphatic (immune)
  6. Reproductive (testicles, ovaries, uterus etc.)
  7. Integumentary (skin)
  8. Urinary (kidneys, bladder, urethra)
  9. Digestive (small and large intestine, gallbladder, pancreas, liver, stomach)
  10. Cardiovascular (heart, veins, arteries, blood)
  11. Respiratory (lungs, esophagus, larynx, mouth, nose, muscles)

Each one of these systems carries out multiple tasks and coordinates with multiple other systems to create an internal balance regardless of the always changing outside stimulus.  

So exactly how much anatomy does a yoga student, or teacher for that matter, need to know? It’s a great question. My answer is this. One, you should have a basic understanding of the systems that relate to the practice of yoga. Two, you should keep it simple to avoid paralysis through analysis. Remember that yoga is a practice. It needs to be engaged with and explored through action. Yoga does not live in the pages of a book, it lives in you. I’ve tried to keep the anatomy and physiology to a level that is easily digestible (no pun intended), and that will be useful to you in your practice. Throughout this book I have included anatomical information as they related to the practice being discussed. This is not solely an anatomy book. It is a yoga book.  

That being said, some people truly enjoy learning about the detailed workings of the human body. If you are one of those people there are some wonderful texts on the subject, including work by Mel Robin, David Coulter, Ray Long and David Keil to name a few. 

Your depth of study in anatomy, will largely depend upon your intention with yoga. For those who are interested in becoming teachers I have included below “key terms” that you will see in many anatomy books. Knowing these terms will help you in your studies.

Key Terms

Anatomy: The branch of science concerned with the bodily structure of humans. . . especially as revealed by the dissection and the separation of its parts.

Physiology: The way in which a living organism or bodily part functions.

Kinesiology: The study of the mechanics of body movement.

Flexibility: The quality of bending easily without breaking.

Stretch: (of something soft or elastic) Being capable of being made wider or longer without tearing or breaking.

Isometric: Muscular action in which tension is developed without contraction of the muscle.

Isotonic: Taking place with normal contraction.

Muscle: A band or bundle of fibrous tissue in a human or animal body that has the ability to contract, producing movement in or maintaining the position of parts of the body.

Connective Tissue: Tissue that connects, supports, binds, or separates other tissues or organs, typically having relatively few cells embedded in an amorphous matrix often with collagen or other fibers, and including cartilaginous, fatty, and elastic tissues. 

Fascia: A thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle or other organ.

Ligament: A short band of tough, flexible, fibrous connective tissue that connects two bones or cartilages or holds together a joint.

Tendon: A flexible but inelastic cord of strong fibrous collagen tissue attaching a muscle to a bone.

The kinetic chain: All human movement occurs via the Kinetic chain. This is the interconnectedness of three systems: the muscular, skeletal and nervous.

Planes of Movement

The body moves through a variety of planes. Each one has associated movement patterns. The planes of movement are sagittal, coronal, and transverse. The chart below shows the associated movement patterns in more detail.


In the proper sequencing of a yogasana class, we move the spine and limbs through all planes of motion. 

  • Coronal - Adduction/Abduction
  • Sagittal - Flexion/Extension
  • Transverse - Internal Rotation / External Rotation

Anatomic Locations

  • Anterior – Towards the front
  • Posterior – Towards the back
  • Superior - Above
  • Inferior - Below
  • Medial – Towards the midline
  • Lateral – Away from the midline