Anatomy for the Inward Path

Here’s an article I recently wrote for the Yoga Association of Alberta. It gives a taste of the paradigm I use in my anatomy courses with yogis and other somatic practitioners. Some very good resources becoming available to support a somatics infused approach to anatomy, particularly those that approach patterning from myofascial or neuromuscular paradigms. As an integrationist, I am spending my time developing a multi-paradigm approach. In particular, I am looking at how an full understanding of somatic patterns draws upon pattern processing through all the systems in the body. That means an inclusion, for example, of fluid and energetic systems. While the following article draws mostly from the available neuromuscular and myofascial resources, the theme of “whole being” expression talked about here is an essential aspect of how I am shaping an evolution from a single paradigm driven perspective to one that describes the experience of the whole person. -Matthew

Anatomy for the Inward Path

by Matthew van der Giessen

Stepping out of his tent as the early morning darkness faded to the first thin edge of dawn, Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, was surprised to see an African tribesman unfolding his lanky frame as he too emerged from the low door of his hut. On a journey through Africa in the 1930‘s, Jung was captivated as he watched the man step forward towards the glimmering sun, spit on his hands and raise them, open and facing the rising sun.

In yoga, we move through the same archetypal movement pattern, raising our arms from Tadasana and then bending forward into Uttanasana. We correct these poses externally and look for the energetic organization internally as we align ourselves with a way of being that has moved human beings across the world for thousands of years.

The journey into embodiment opens up a world that is, at first, enshrouded in fog. We have vague ideas of muscles and bones, joints and organs. Somewhere in our consciousness is an idea of fascia, interconnecting the landscape of our body through sheets and strands.

Travelling the inward path of embodied awareness needs a map that helps guide us through the universe of the body. Anatomy gives us that map, helping us understand our body’s language of communication, and its patterns of organization. Using the map of anatomy, we discover how an engaged shortening of the abdomen and hip flexors in Uttanasana helps the back know how to intelligently lengthen. Our understanding of patterns called kinetic chains helps us problem-solve a discomfort in the lower back when coming out of a forward bend by knowing that the engagement sequence has to move from the floor upwards, engaging the hamstrings so that a ground supported pelvis can, in turn, properly support the load on the straightening lower back.

One of the most surprising anatomy insights for yogis is that most muscle fibres in the body move diagonally, lending their individual fibres to interconnected spirals that flow across and through the body. Through the insights of anatomy we can connect points of awareness from muscle attachments deep in the soles of the feet, spiralling from the inside of the arch to the knee. From here, the spiral line follows a diagonal line across the outer quadricep, through the gluteus maximus and into the edge of the sacrum. Once we understand this connection we can feel how the engagement of the arches creates a dynamic connection that aligns the legs and connects them to the core of the pelvis.

All of these movements are contained and supported by webs and strands of fascia that, when they thicken or shorten through misuse or injury, limit a muscle’s capacity for response. Understanding the effect of fascia in restricting range of motion can move the focus of a yogi’s work away from a fixed focus on muscle lengthening. We can learn to engage the fascia and reduce the chance of strain and injury.

Each interaction with the world brings us a choice. We either awaken our instinctual responses to the natural sense of wonder that moved Carl Jung and the African tribesman, or we create another layer of habituated response that distorts and limits the expression of our essential being. Each movement towards natural expression is a response of the whole person. It draws each bone, muscle, fluid and organ into a song of praise to this moment. Through the insights of anatomy we create a channel through which the mind, so often distracted by the “things” of this world, can join in that chorus of community, and more fully take our place in creation.

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