This book is by no means an exhaustive, complete study of human anatomy or the vast science of yoga. No single book possibly could be. Both fields contain a potentially infinite number of details, both macro- and microscopic—all of which are endlessly fascinating and potentially useful in certain contexts. My intention is to present what I consider to be the key details of anatomy that are of the most value and use to people who are involved in yoga, whether as students or teachers. To accomplish this, a particular context, or view, is necessary. This view will help sort out the important details from the vast sea of information available. Furthermore, such a view will help to assemble these details into an integrated view of our existence as “indivisible entities of matter and consciousness.”1 The view of yoga used in this book is based on the structure and function of the human body. Because yoga practice emphasizes the relationship of the breath and the spine, I will pay particular attention to those systems. By viewing all the other body structures in light of their relationship to the breath and spine, yoga becomes the integrating principle for the study of anatomy. Additionally, for yoga practitioners, anatomical awareness is a powerful tool for keeping our bodies safe and our minds grounded in reality. The reason for this mutually illuminating relationship between yoga and anatomy is simple: The deepest principles of yoga are based on a subtle and profound appreciation of how the human system is constructed. The subject of the study of yoga is the Self, and the Self is dwelling in a physical body. The ancient yogis held the view that we actually possess three bodies: physical, astral, and causal. From this perspective, yoga anatomy is the study of the subtle currents of energy that move through the layers, or “sheaths,” of those three bodies. The purpose of this work is to neither support nor refute this view. I wish only to offer the perspective that if you are reading this book, you possess a mind and a body that is currently inhaling and exhaling in a gravitational field. Therefore, you can benefit immensely from a process that enables you to think more clearly, breathe more effortlessly, and move more efficiently. This, in fact, will be our basic definition of yoga practice: the integration of mind, breath, and body. This definition is the starting point of this book, just as our first experience of breath and gravity was the starting point of our lives on this planet. The context that yoga provides for the study of anatomy is rooted in the exploration of how the life force expresses itself through the movements of the body, breath, and mind. The ancient and exquisite metaphorical language of yoga has arisen from the very real anatomical experimentations of millions of seekers over thousands of years. All these seekers shared a common laboratory—the human body. It is the intention of this book to provide a guided tour of this “lab” with some clear instructions for how the equipment works and which basic procedures can yield useful insights. Rather than being a how-to manual for the practice of a particular system of yoga, I hope to offer a solid grounding in the principles that underlie the physical practice of all systems of yoga.
A key element that distinguishes yoga practice from gymnastics or calisthenics is the intentional integration of breath, posture, and movement. The essential yogic concepts that refer to these elements are beautifully expressed by a handful of coupled Sanskrit terms: prana/apana sthira/sukha brahmana/langhana sukha/dukha
To understand these terms, we must understand how they were derived in the first place: by looking at the most fundamental functional units of life. We will define them as we go along. To grasp the core principles of both yoga and anatomy, we will need to reach back to the evolutionary and intrauterine origins of our lives. Whether we look at the simplest single-celled organisms or our own beginnings as newly conceived beings, we will find the basis for the key yogic metaphors that relate to all life and that illuminate the structure and function of our thinking, breathing, moving human bodies.
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