Issue 62 / September 2022
I am preparing to lead an 8-week experiential anatomy course that starts next Tuesday evening. The format is a combination of short lectures on musculoskeletal anatomy, movement explorations and yoga asana, all designed to help students build embodied understanding of yoga alignment principles and themselves. This is a continuation of my Yoga Studies class format, where I emphasize learning rather than the ritual process (as I discussed in a prior essay).

I take great satisfaction in understanding how things work, and I have pursued my own anatomy study well beyond my formal teacher training. I've learned a lot from Lisa Clark, Gil Hedley, Katy Bowman, David Coulter, and many others somanauts. Getting regular bodywork has also been tremendously informative, as a wise pair of hands can wake up parts of the body you never knew existed. Dealing with various injuries and imbalances further motivates continued refinement of my inner maps.

Certainly, knowing how joints and muscles connect helps me teach yoga more precisely and safely. But how much do students or practitioners need to know? Why study anatomy when a yoga teacher can guide you?

Reclaim forgotten powers

My teacher Rod Stryker has often said that one goal of yoga is "making the unconscious conscious". The Western psychotherapeutic tradition might incline us to think of the unconscious as only containing dark, repressed material - which it surely does! - but our unconscious also includes positive capacities that we have suppressed or not yet activated . Perhaps this is why the movie trope of "discovering you have superpowers" is so appealing; we can sense that we contain more potential than we currently express.

Have you ever taken the time to read the manual for a complicated device - your car, your phone - and discovered it has capabilities you had no idea existed? Or gotten lost in a list of lifehacks using everyday objects? So satisfying! New powers unlocked through learning. Studying the musculoskeletal system can feel like that:

"Wow, I didn't realize I could move my neck that way. Now I can check my blindspot without pain."

"I didn't realize I had muscles there that I can engage. Now my back feels more stable."

"Wow, that's actually a tense muscle, not solid bone. Now I can relax it."

Perhaps this can all happen without knowing anything about bone structure, but it sure seems more efficient to combine top-down discernment with bottom-up experience.

Build the inner yantra

Many yoga methods direct focus towards particular bodily structures, such as the 61-point relaxation pattern that traverses all the major joints. An accurate body map allows attention to more precisely aim inwards. Like a laser rather than a flashlight, honing attention into a smaller area elicits a stronger inner response, especially in the energetic system. Many tantric meditation methods (kriya) require moving awareness along inner channels that parallel the spine (shushumna), or resting attention in particular centers along the spine (chakra). This is easier if there’s a scaffold of skeletal awareness from which more subtle pathways can be triangulated.

Become a student of your own life

Most broadly, to pursue personal understanding of the physical body is to step more fully into being a student of yoga, rather than just a receiver of yoga experiences. With knowledge of anatomy, we can generate yoga alignment from first principles, rather than just accept them on faith. Slowly and imperfectly, we start to understand what causes pain and limitation. We have new options to relieve pain or avoid its return. It's a slow and messy process, for sure.

Perhaps it feels a bit pointless? Why bother studying the wrist when an orthopedist knows far more than I ever will?

Here's the thing: I only visit the orthopedist when something is hurting, usually long after it started as a minor ache. Let's say they can alleviate the immediate problem with surgery, injection, or a PT referral. What caused the problem in the first place? Maybe it was a discrete injury, but often it's the culmination of fixated use over decades. Getting a surgery won't address that underlying pattern. Even faithfully completing a course of PT may not change the pattern. Whatever professional help we seek, if we just passively receive the intervention without taking it up as our own, the results disperse in the waves of time and habit.

As best I can tell, only I myself have the power to become aware of my dysfunctional patterns and change them. Even if I somehow could pay an awareness coach to follow me around, constantly correcting my alignment, I couldn't get around the necessity of marshaling my own awareness and intention to put their expert guidance into action.

I have found that having knowledge of how my bodymind works makes any practice I undertake more effective. It's kind of funny I feel the need to say this, since we generally acknowledge that education helps us do things better. But the bodymind is so intimate, so easily taken for granted, it's easy to assume we don't need to bother learning how it works. Just get in the car and turn the key! Yet while I can bring my car into a repair shop, I ultimately must take responsibility for understanding and affecting my own repair and maintenance.

I think yoga asana and anatomy are particularly fertile soil for self-study, with many tangible benefits. It's an endless study, to be sure, and it doesn't guarantee that we can fix all our aches and pains. At least, though, as we become more acquainted with these miraculous and contingent forms of ours, we can meet our mortality with a bit more patience and affection, and make wiser choices in the midst of the Mystery.

What I'm cooking up

Each 2-hour class in my series will focus on a particular joint or spinal segment, starting from the feet and progressing to the head and hands. We'll study the musculoskeletal dynamics at play through visual aids, tactile investigation and movement experiments. We'll also consider the history that lives in each joint: both our personal history of movement and injury, and our species' evolutionary story of adaptation. We might even make some artwork.

By the end, the simple act of standing, walking or doing asana becomes a rich symphony of proprioception, full of new nuance and possibility. Truly, each joint is worthy of months of study, but a single class can at least awaken our sense of what is possible. I'll suggest home study options to keep the process going, which may be the most important thing of all.

I'm wrangling all my tech to offer this in a hybrid format, both in studio and on Zoom. It’s fine to miss a couple sessions, as there will be recordings so you can stay up to date. Click below for more details and registration, and thanks for reading! 

I’ll write more about this topic as my course unfolds.  Subscribe to my newsletter Within Us and Without Us to receive new essays  and audio in your inbox.
Days squinting at Zoom galleries
Nights slumping in the flicker of Netflix
Exercise routines lost to caution or closures
Aches and pains accumulating
Posture degrading
The pandemic has left many of us feeling disconnected, not just from each other, but from our own bodies.

If you're ready to break the spell of resignation and build some new momentum, Nick Beem has created an 8-week yoga series designed to revitalize your relationship with your physical body.

In concert with his fall teaching focus on the Earth element, this course will emphasize what is most dense and supportive in the body: the bones, muscles and sinews. The centerpiece will be a tour of all the major joints of the body.

Engaging mini-lectures will share surprising and delightful information about how your body works that "should have been in the manual".  Targeted yoga and movement sequences will help you develop experiential understanding of your anatomy and the "why" behind yoga alignment principles.  You will receive reading and home exercises to amplify your learning between sessions.

By the end of the course, you may notice a new affection and admiration for your unique body and the history it embodies.  You'll be more confident in adapting yoga to your unique needs, and have lots of new paths to follow in your home practice.

12 spots available in person. Practices will be recorded and shared.  Zoom-only option also available via a separate registration.

Some previous yoga or movement experience recommended.

There will be no class on Oct 11 or Nov 22.

Cost: $185, members save 15%
Reserve your spot

Two spaces left

New weekly class

Coming in October

Fall Retreat Just Announced

New online training from Amala School of Yoga

(Lela's other gig)
Since 2005, Grateful Yoga has been supported by students who value a mindful practice in a peaceful, welcoming environment.  We educate our students with insights from the ancient practices of Hatha yoga, as well as the modern insights of yoga therapy, biomechanics and cognitive science.

Our highly-qualified teachers offer weekly group classes, specialized educational series, mentorship and training for new teachers and health professionals, private instruction, yoga nidra, and perinatal yoga.
We aim to become an inclusive center for deep yogic study and self-transformation. Students of all ages, religious beliefs and experience levels are welcome in our community.

We hope to be a lasting part of your journey toward health and joy.

Learn more, see our full schedule of weekly classes at

You can register for class in advance, or just show up!

1108 Davis St, Evanston, IL 60201

Visa icon by Louis Harboe,, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License  Mastercard icon by Louis Harboe,,  licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License  Visa icon by Louis Harboe,,  licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License  
Copyright © 2022 Grateful Yoga, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp