Anatomy and Kinesiology: An Introduction

Lesson 9: An Introduction to Anatomy and Kinesiology

Somatic based spiritual practice requires an understanding of soma, the embodied expression of spirit. We will start with the obvious for a yoga student, the muscles/bones/connective tissue structures we feel in our asana practice. Later in the course we will bring in the organs, physiological energy flows and the cellular levels of consciousness. In lessons 4 through 6 we explored the three basic movements of the pelvis in relationship to the thigh bones: mammalian flexion and extension, like the cheetah and other mammals; lateral flexion and extension or ‘fish body’ images-3like the carp or lizards; and rotation, the fundamental power move of the human. Unknown




Now we will examine the basic action of the feet, ankles and knees that integrate with the hip joints to allow coordinated movements and to relieve unnecessary stress on spine. Tom Myers’ “Anatomy Trains” will be our our integration Unknownguide foucusing specifically on the deep front line. Originally written for body workers, Anatomy Trains allows all somatic explorers to have maps that outline pathways of integrated action based on the connective tissue system. As we feel these connections and begin to use them, our practice will become more and more effortless. Patanjali describes this progression of asana in sutra Ii-47;  ‘prayatna shaithilyaananta samaapattibhyam’.  With the relaxation of effort and absorption into the deep support of the cosmos (asana is mastered).  But before jump into the modern view, yoga students should also have a sense of the Vedic view of anatomy. What is meant by ‘body’ from a yogic perspective?

In the Vedic tradition, human ‘anatomy’ consists of three nested bodies:

1. The gross body (Sanskrit: sthula sharira) is the body of mass and weight. It is tangible, and includes all structures from muscles and bones to cells, water and more. This is where most beginners land when they come into their body. Our key word here is ‘stability’, sthira in Sanskrit. (sthira sukham asanam, PYS II-46)


2. The subtle or energy body (Sanskrit: sukshma sharira) includes the energies of the body such as heat, electricity, motility and motion, including the physiological and psychological processes of aliveness. It can be directly felt, but is not ‘tangible’ like the gross body. Neither is it separate from the gross body, as matter, as Mr. Einstein points out, is just a very dense form of energy. The key words here are flow and fluidity, or sukha, sukham in Sanskrit and new students are introduced to this level through feeling the breathing.

3. The causal body (Sanskrit: karana sharira), seed of all seeds: There is no perfect English translation but rainbow light body or the body of limitlessness can be useful. Another way to consider this ‘body’ is as the organizing intelligence of the cosmos, manifesting as fields: gravity, electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear. The key words here are space, spaciousness and light.

For a yogi, kinesiology, the study of movement, is more important than anatomy, because it explores relationships and energy flow. Anatomy is usually studied as collection of separate pieces and, although this can be helpful for memorizing, it can create a powerful confusion in the mind. There are no separate parts. Life, the body, and the cosmos are an unbroken whole, with a multiplicity of possibilities continuously emerging, transforming and dissolving. When we feel movement, we can find the wholeness.

The main principle of kinesiology describes what is required for elegant, effortless movement and is known as joint congruence.  Any joint, whether still or in motion, is most stable and safe when the center of one of the bones remains exactly centered on the opposite bone. UnknownThis is where alignment in yoga meets kinesiology. If my hip joint is aligned properly, the center of the femur head will remain exactly centered on the mid-point of the acetabulum of the pelvis throughout any healthy movement. This implies that all the muscles and muscle groups in the region are in balance throughout movement. An unhealthy movement will disturb the alignment by contracting one or more muscles asymmetrically and pulling the femur slightly off center. This will be felt as having a ‘tight hip’. As we build perception and begin to feel our way through the sensations, we can start to use simple movements to re-align the hip joints. Here the energy body and gross body work as one and we will start by moving in and out of the basic yoga poses. See Notes from St. John for details on working in the poses.

For our anatomical inquiry into the gross body structures, we will approach the muscles and bones from a holistic perspective, using as our primary reference “Anatomy Trains” by Tom Myers. image01Anatomy tends to be taught by learning/memorizing the body as a series of parts: muscles, bones, organs, nerves, etc. This approach totally misrepresents the reality of the human body which is a living, dynamic, integrated presence. We will use Tom’s work as a map to begin to see and feel the fascial continuities that link and integrate the layers and levels of the body in action and perception. Later on in the course, we will take a deeper look at four levels or layers of fascia: the pannicular or superficial fascia; the axial fascia with anterior and posterior compartments; the meningeal fascia and the visceral fascia.


The key Anatomy Train line for yogis is the ‘deep front line’, orimgres-2 DFL, which allows us to connect the myofascia of the muscles with the visceral fascia of the gut body, as it includes the diaphragm and pericardium. This line integrates the core of the body from head to feet and is the root of tadasana, our primary standing pose.


1. Find the DFL origins in your feet. The heel bone is bypassed, so the gastroc/soleus muscles, which become the achilles tendon where it attaches to the heel, is not part of the action. Overusing these outer muscles is a habit that is difficult for beginner to overcome. Learn to be ‘on your toes’, which actually means to carry your weight on the tarsals and metatarsals with the heels very light. This allows instant movement in any direction and is the foundation for all skillful movements that begin with the legs. Watch a cat or dog as they move and notice their heels and wrists never touch the ground.


2. Feel the inner thighs awakening. We overwork the quads and hamstrings, neither of which are part of the DFL. The adductors can be taught to be engaged in trikonasana, parsvakonasana and ardha chandrasana. They are the ‘mediators of the legs, the muscles in the middle that bring a balanced energy flow. Find this. Repeat. Again.


imgres-33. The iliopsoas is a major player in the DFL’s healthy functioning, but these muscles tend to be overly contracted and isolated from the legs. Most lower back issues stem from this dissociation. By learning to slowly move in and out of the standing poses such as uttanasana and trikonasana, without collapsing the upper torso, we can begin to reconnect the psoas muscles with the rest of the DFL in the legs. Ida Rolf, pioneer somatic innovator described the psoas as linking walking and breathing, as the diaphragm is the next section of the DFL to be integrated. Moving in and out rather than holding brings the breath more clearly into focus. Most beginners ‘hold’ their breath if they are ‘holding’ a yoga pose. This is an unconscious habit that needs to be transformed asap.


4 Diaphragm: He we find a huge muscle dividing abdomen from chest cavity, attaching to images-4ribs, spine, heart. It has opening for the blood vessels and esophagus, but is pretty strong and relatvely unconscious. Our work in exploring the breath will help differentiate ribs from diaphragm and learn to recognize the pressure cavities that play a major role in the shape they take on. Most important is to feel an upward lift to the lower dome of the diaphragm coming up from the feet. The diaphragm should ride on the aliveness of the feet through the integration of the DFL.


Now Into Skull and Upper Limbs: As the diaphragm receives support from below, the intercostals can awaken and support the ribs from the inside. this then relieves pressure on the scalenes from trying to hold up the front ribs. The shoulders can also relax and the arm connections through the blood vessel highways can now be felt. Hands can connect directly to the feet, head to the tail.


Unknown-1From the awakening and refining of the DFL, we can see the role of some of the other Anatomy Train Lines. The Superficial Back Line, or SBL, and the Superficial Front Line, or SFL, work as a pair when integrated with the DFL.Unknown-2 In a forward bend such as uttanasana, the SBL lengthens if the DFL maintains its core support and low. In a backbend, the SFL lengthens, again if the DFL is supporting. Notice the SFL breaks at the pelvis. The quads need to lengthen for everyone. They chronically over work. The upper SFL is trickier as the abdominals are often weak and the inner muscles of the chest wall to tight. There needs to be two differetn action for most beginning students to fully open the SFL.


Unknown-3The lateral lines, right and left, are opened in the lateral poses like trikonasan, parsvakonasana and ardha chandrasana, again with support form the DFL.Unknown-4


The spiral lines can be explored in standing twists, using the support of a wall for extra clarity.


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Micro-Cosmic Orbit: Pt 2

Exploring and Embodying Three Dimensions

In the previous post we explored the micro-cosmic orbit as a means to refine our focal attention (samadhi) through bringing our attention to specific points along the orbit and linking these points into lines, arcs and circles. As we work more deeply this way, we may discover that we can find these points at three levels. The first is out beyond the confines of the skin, in an ‘orbit’ in the energy field around the body. The second is directly on the skin, where an acupuncturist or shiatsu practitioner would apply needles or pressure. The third is in the interior of the body along the planes of fascia interwoven through the organs, blood vessels and nerves. When we can feel all three of these levels simultaneously, we are inhabiting our spherical energy field and can begin to fully realize the possibilities of having three dimensional/spatial sensitivity, perception and consciousness.

images-5The girdle vessel (Dai Mai,) the fourth vessel we use, is a latitude line and is essential in finding our three dimensional perceptual field. This yang vessel pairs with the yin ‘thrusting vessel, the vertical center axis, creating horizontal stability, and allowing us to rotate/twist. Rotation inherently builds the third dimension of depth ( A circle has length and width. To create a sphere you add depth. ) and is the gateway to cosmic awareness as well as a more vibrant embodied presence.

Rotation drives the whole manifest universe. In our solar system, the planets spiral around milky_waythe sun. In our Milky Way galaxy, the stars, including our sun, spiral around a center (probably a giant black hole! If you can find Sagittarius in the night sky, and you will probably have to wait until next summer, look through and imagine 26,000 light years off in the distance.) The earth rotates on its own axis creating weather patterns as well as a sense of day and night.

The spinning top (one of the oldest toys known to humans, found in archeological sites all over the world) demonstrates the cosmic principle in physics we are embodying. The faster it rotates, the more stable the vertical line. When the top slows down it starts to wobble and when it stops spinning, it falls over. To keep the rotation, you need to keep feeding it with energy. The bicycle uses this same principle, flipped 90 degrees. Another aspect we explore is the radius of the horizontal circle. Rotation pushes from the center outward (yang) in what is called centrifugal force. As this is counterbalanced by theGM2434B-1 yin centripetal (center seeking) force, we can change the volume of the energy field by playing with this ‘expanding – condensing’, yang – yin relationship.

In this top, the widest circle with the most outward thrust, the purple one, is below the center of the vertical axis. Lowering the center of gravity adds even more stability, which is why we emphasize the lower dantien in our breathing, movement and meditation practice. When we discover how to work with this principle in the energy field, our twisting poses can actually help expand the body. If we work muscularly, you will feel constricting in twisting poses.

SBK_1711254-24Traditionally the ‘dai mai’ girdle vessel surrounds the body at the level of the pelvis in the lower dantien. but we can move our attention to awaken other ‘latitudes’ of the body. To begin in the feet, stand with the right foot forward, the left foot back, as if you are about to move into a standing twist (without the forward bend), but haven’t yet begun. Before you move any further, imagine a spiraling coil of energy beginning below the floor (the Antarctic Circle) and traveling up the center. Notice how this mimics the girdle vessel. Now imagine the coils widening as they rise up from the base ( moving toward the equator), as the yang energy expands outward. The girdle vessel is very yang so this is quite natural. Feel the energetic volume expanding and condensing with the breath, but slowly expanding in overall volume

To awaken the front body-yin energy field, we can take the hoop forward to fully engage the arms and shoulders. Now imagine the hoops extends through the back body, receiving the rising spiral and expanding as the action of twisting. SBK_1711254-2SBK_1711254-9Most students eventually leave half of the body behind and end up contracting rather than expanding, especially along the spine column. Imagine the center of the spinal canal opening outward in an expanding circle/spiral, melting the tissue, feeling spaciousness, transcending the limitations of structure.SBK_1711254-4 (My front foot turns out much more than average to release the inner groin. Don’t feel you have to imitate this, but find out for yourself where openness and balance meet.) The hoop is moved to the front to expand the yin/organ/front body qi field and expand the ‘wings’ of the body, but also feel the back body softening and opening. This feeling can be evoked in sitting, lying and inverted twists as well. If you do not have a hula hoop handy, you can also use a thera-ball to find the volume.SBK_1711254-8


Another key component awakened here is the Pericardium 8 point, PC-8 (or P-8) in the center of the palms. Analagous to the K-1 points on the feet, P-8 is a gateway between the inner and outer qi fields. The SBK_1711254-11Pericardium, the fascial connective tissue membrane surrounding the heart, arises embryologically from the same cells and tissues that create the diaphragm and liver. The ‘heart protector’ literally does this, on many levels. As someone with a well-armored heart, I am finding that opening and nurturing the heart protector so that is does its job with over doing it is awakening a level of sweet vulnerability that is both precious and scary.

SBK_1711254-12In acupuncture, the pericardium meridian is part of the JueYin channel and connects all the way through the femoral canal to the legs. For those of you who have been practicing ‘climbing the wall’ for the last few years, you can actually trace the whole fascial continuity of the Jue Yin. (Use imagination to fill in the blanks.) Rise up from K-1 (not the heels, even though they do rise on their own) (DFL for those of you who know Tom Myers’ ‘Anatomy Trains’ system) to P-8, passing through liver, diaphragm and pericardium.

You can also track the qi from P-8 back into the body horizontally, again using the wall.SBK_1711254-14 Using the tip of the  middle finger of your other hand (PC-9) to feel the connections, trace the qi from the the wall and P-8 into the area around the pec minor muscle and then go inside the body to the pericardiam itself, along with the liver and diaphragm. Use the breath and your imagination. Then go back and try the twistings shown above with these new perceptions.

SBK_1711254-20To continue our building of a three dimensional perceptual qi field, we can return to the thera-ball to provide sensation and visualization. I like the feel of my third chakra having organ support, so I find placing the ball there and using a wall creates a powerful presence on the inside. Embryologically speaking, this is the extemely yin yolk sac which becomes the entire gut body. The conception vessel points on the micro-cosmic orbit are stimulated by the ball, bringing sensation and perception here. The liver comes from the yolk sac, so I can use this position to also find the Jue Yin channel we explored above. Lying SBK_1711254-19over the ball in a forward bend creates a similar feeling, with even more yielding and softening to the yang back body erector muscles. By moving the ball to the sternum, I can activate a new set of points on the conception vessel and engage the inner tissues surrounding the 4th chakra

If I want to build up my back field perception, I use the ball from behind and awaken sensation on the yang Governing Vessel.SBK_1711254-16 Here I have dropped it a bit lower to find the sacral-lumbar junction and here I can feel the possibility of both lumbar flexion and extension, from S curve to C curve and back.  The very important GV-4 Qi gong Image‘gate of vitality’ is here The inner abdominal space also opens and the front back and center plane begin to become conscious. This becomes trickier as you move upwards towards the liver. You can place the ball anywhere and feel different points coming alive. Feel their inner as well as outer presence. Back support can also help open the front. I haveSBK_1711254-17been trying to open my throat more for my sax sound and using the ball (or any elastic support) helps soften and melt tight tissue.

SBK_1711254-21Fish body support, opening some Gall Bladder Meridian points is another way to use the ball. I am using the wall, but this can be done on the floor as well, with slightly different effects. All of these ways of playing with the three dimensional field are ways of awakening and establishing a dynamic energetic field, centered in your heart, and radiating out throughout the whole of the cosmos. When you are out in Nature, feel this. When you are out and about in the human sphere, feel how you respond. It is fascinating to see what happens.

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