One of the most influential aspects of our bodies on our yoga asana practice are our bones. The shape, the length, the ratios, how they fit together all have quite a profound influence on our individual ranges of movement. And in turn, this impacts our ability to get into the various shapes that we call a yoga pose.
But what about the muscles?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the most important part of anatomy to understand for the purpose of yoga asana is the muscles. That’s what teachers learn about when they first study to become a teacher. That’s what many teachers will refer to in their classes and even on their social media.
If you’ve been to one of my classes, you will notice that I also primarily talk about muscles. (Or in a Yin class it will be the fascia related a particular muscle group). Whether that be guiding your attention to what your muscles are doing or what you are feeling in a particular area of the body. I do this partly because the muscles are the easiest thing for us to connect to in terms of body awareness. And partly because I take a functional approach to yoga asana. In other words, what is the purpose behind each pose?
Down to the bone
However, whilst I won't talk about it as much as muscles, underpinning what I am teaching is an understanding of the skeleton and how bones affect yoga poses. (No, I don’t have X-Ray vision but I wish I did!)
I was fortunate to study with Paul Grilley, a leading yoga teacher trainer renowned for his influence on Yin Yoga. What he shared about skeletal variation – the huge difference in the shape of any given bone from one individual to the next – was a game changer for me, both as a practitioner and teacher of yoga asana.
To give just one example of skeletal variation, check out these photos of different femur (thigh) bones.
Now, as a student you don’t need to be an expert on skeletons or even care two hoots about what the differences in these photos mean. But what I want emphasize passionately is that if you have ever wondered why you can’t do a specific pose in the same way that you see other people, the teacher or people on social media do, that it is NOT because you “aren’t any good at yoga”. AND there is more than one way to do a pose or obtain a certain function.
For some people, when we first start out yoga we might aim to “master” certain poses that don’t initially come to us with ease. And we can be misled into thinking that all it takes is practice and dedication. (Ever heard the line from a famous yoga teacher from back in the day that “Practice, practice and all is coming”? Well I am calling b*lls#it.) Part of our yoga practice is to learn which poses can benefit us, which can harm, which we can develop and which we should abandon.
If you are interested to learn more about what limits you in certain poses, then seek out a teacher who can help you to understand when to apply dedicated focus and when to practice acceptance. Who can help you find modifications, adjustments and alternatives that work for your unique body, all the way down from muscles, through connective tissue, and deep into your bones.
PS I’ve written a lot about this topic. If I’ve peaked your interest you might like to read these old blog posts.
PPS I am SO passionate about this topic that I have created a Yoga Teacher Training about it. So, if you are a teacher who would like to learn more about understanding the skeleton and the role of bones in yoga asana, check out The Inclusive Yogi here: https://www.santosha.com.au/ytt