I am not an anatomy expert, but here I am – writing another review on an anatomy book (see my review of David Keil’s Functional Anatomy here).
I do, however, teach a daily Ashtanga Mysore program. My students come with various challenges, physical and non-physical, in all shapes and levels of fitness, each unique in what they can do and how they approach their practice.
Regularly learning about anatomy helps me to understand what I observe in my students.
It helps me understand what might be preventing certain movements from happening, movements that I myself maybe never had a problem with: When a student has a particular challenge that the teacher never had to endure, more study, a willingness to understand and do research is needed.
And studying anatomy also makes me question whether the cues and tips that I am giving to students are always the right ones – we oftentimes pick up instruction from other teachers and then keep using them as they made sense for us in our own practice. But instructions might not always be suited for everyone in every case.
And therefore I was immediately curious when a friend showed me Bernie Clarke’s new book – Your Body Your Yoga.
What’s special about this book?
It’s written from the perspective “You Are Unique – So Is Your Body”. Bernie Clarke presents in it the range of human variations and the effect that might have on practitioner’s abilities to do certain poses. It askes the big question of “What Stops Me?”
For me as a yoga teacher who works with students individually and teaches a demanding Ashtanga Vinyasa practice, I am very grateful to finally have someone talk and write about the uniqueness of each one of us. I can observe everyday how different people have to approach practice very individually in order to have a safe, nurturing practice that can be sustained over a lifetime.
Bernie Clarke also compares alignment cues of various styles of yoga (e.g. iyengar vs. ashtanga) and also other movement disciplines to show how something that is considered wrong in one style can be completely common and even desirable in another style (think “the bend knee in Warrior pose should not go beyond the ankle – or should it?).
Essentially the book gives a lot of guidelines when to do what and to simply use common sense, instead of studying how “it” is and has to be in order to be “right” or “correct”.
What’s in the book?
The book is divided into two main parts:
- Volume 1: What Stops Me? Sources of Tension and Compression
- Volume 2: The lower body: The Consequences of Human Variation and the Sources of Tension and Compression
Each part contains an expansive Appendix that gives more basic information, which might be especially helpful for novices of anatomy, e.g. list of anatomical directions and movements, forms of stress, myofascial meridians, types of joints, levers in the body, movements of foot and ankles.
What’s really helpful about this book?
Bernie Clarke has collected lots of tips and advices and added them into sidebars, that appear throughout the entire book. They are divided into “It’s important”, “It’s complicated”, and “Note to teachers” and all contain great food for thought.
For example, in the note to teachers, the author gives tips about topics like: When students cannot go further, the value of stress when injured, should we try to stress tendons?, sources of compression, customizing a class, the value of locking the knees.
What is not so good? Who should not get it?
Don’t get it if you have no clue about anatomy yet and want a simple book to give you an overview about anatomy. If you are just starting out, the vast amount of information and detail might be overwhelming.
Will it help you as a practitioner and teacher?
Well, maybe! The topic is complex. Think how hard it is to read any book about anatomy, that just talks about the standardized human body. Now add in variations of joints, bones, connective tissue. And add movements that move more than one of these body parts.
Whether you can benefit from it depends on your eagerness to dig deep and put the ideas in the book into practice. I found some real gems in there, but this book will definitely keep me busy for a while.