Anatomy and physiology are often used together or one term is used instead of the other. We use both when we talk about the human body, but there is a difference. In anatomy we look at the structure of body parts. In physiology we look how body parts function. So we either look at how the body part is built and shaped or we look at what it is doing in the human body.
An example will make it a bit more clear. If we look at the heart – from anatomical point of view – we see a muscular, pear shaped organ heart that is more or less the size of a large fist and weighs 280 to 340 grams in men and 230 to 280 grams in women. It’s made up out of different types of cells and connects to an artery and vein. If we look at the same heart from a physiology point of view we see that the organ is pumping blood through the body through the circulatory system. By doing so it’s responsible for bringing oxygen to all the cells of the human body; together with nutrients and at the same time removing carbon dioxide and other waste.
Anatomy and physiology play a big role in yoga
In yoga anatomy and physiology plays a big roll. The anatomical structure of your body is what allows you and restricts you to do yoga asanas. The way your skeletal system is built, decides which poses come easily to you, which poses are hard for you to do and which poses you can’t do. That’s right: which poses you can’t do. Not all poses are doable for everybody. In some poses there is an option you will have one bone pressing on another bone. You can lengthen your muscles, but you can’t change the way your bones are. Unless you want to undergo surgery, but that might be a little bit too much to get into a pose.
For yourself and as a good yoga teacher you want to know which anatomical restrictions there are. You can spent ages on getting into lotus for example, but this can be a pose that is not for you. It requires a big outward rotation of your thighbone. Your thighbone looks a bit like a walking stick; a long straight bone (the longest in your body) with a sharp bend on top; forming the handle. The end of the handle is shaped like a ball. (We will see this when we look at joints). The outward rotation for lotus happens in your acetabulum. Depending on how deep this acetabulum is and how the bend on top of your thighbone is, you can or you can’t get into lotus. This has nothing to do with flexibility, but all with the way you are built. Knowing which restrictions there are, is essential when you do yoga and when teach yoga.
Yoga influences physiological processes
With yoga we influence the physiological processes in our body. Thing of how pranayama and meditation are changing our breathing rate, but also the effect assanas have on our endocrine system. Knowing these effects for yourself and as a yoga teacher makes you able to pick the asanas people can and can’t do, based on their health. For example: you don’t want to give a person with a high blood pressure an asana that will raise his / hers blood pressure even more. So to do and teach yoga you need an basic understanding of anatomy and physiology.
Anatomically not everybody is able to bend her / his legs in lotus or half lotus, like the Italian yoga teacher Sara Bigatti on this photo.
You’ll find the rest of my anatomy blogs on my Yoga Teacher Training Course page.