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This latest offering from yoga teacher, physical therapist, and Yoga Journal magazine co-founder Judith Lasater is by no means the first book on yoga anatomy. In 2001, David Coulter offered the comprehensive Anatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teachers, and Practitioners, an impressive 624-page manual which, unfortunately, was not particularly accessible to the average reader. More recently (2007) came the publication of Leslie Kaminoff’s visually stunning Yoga Anatomy, which offered unique anatomical illustrations based on live photographs; however, the applications to actual practice were given less attention. Lasater’s YogaBody bridges the gap left by its predecessors by offering the reader information to take directly to yoga class, whether from the perspective of the yoga teacher or the yoga student.
In her Introduction, Lasater notes that her focus is mainly on macroanatomy, emphasizing the body’s major structures. She provides only enough detail to enhance yoga the practice of yoga asana, at times referring the reader to other resources, including the long-standing classic reference work for medical students, Gray’s Anatomy. In Part 1 of YogaBody, Lasater discusses The Locomotor System, reviewing bones, joints, nerves, and muscles, and finally, introducing basic anatomical terms that will be used throughout the book. Subsequent parts move through the various sections of the body--i.e., The Vertebral Column, The Lower Extremity, The Trunk, and The Upper Extremity--with the individual chapters targeting specific areas of the body such as The Cervical Spine, The Ankle and Foot, The Abdomen, and The Shoulder Girdle.
Lasater formats each chapter in the same manner. First, she provides a review of the relevant bones for that area; this is followed by a discussion of the related joints. Next, she talks about the connective tissue and the nerves involved. Each of these sections is accompanied by one or more helpful figures: these are simple yet detailed drawings, usually shaded with 1-2 colors to highlight the area most germane to the text. In her presentation of the muscles, Lasater includes a comprehensive chart describing the origin, insertion, and action of each muscle. Finally, Lasater presents information on kinesiology, focusing on the movement of that region as it relates to particular yoga postures. Lasater then concludes each chapter with a section she calls “Experiential Anatomy.” There are two subsections to every Experiential Anatomy segment. The first, “For Practicing,” provides one or more short applied lessons which the reader can use on his or her own as part of a home practice; these are intended to enhance one’s understanding of the principles presented in the chapter. The second subsection, “For Teaching,” is directed towards yoga instructors. These applied teaching lessons offer instructors guidance on what to look for when teaching asana.
In summary, this is an extremely well-written, well-thought out guide to yoga anatomy that makes every effort to be both practical and user friendly. Whereas I think the book is completely successful at the former goal, I believe it falls a bit short of the latter. Though I am not a yoga instructor, I am an experienced yoga student who practices at home regularly. Perhaps it is the nature of this material, but I found myself a bit overwhelmed at times, not so much by the quantity of information presented but more so by Lasater’s expectations for her readers. For example, within the first chapter, she maintains that it is worthwhile for yoga teachers to memorize the names of approximately seven major anatomical markers (bones) throughout the body; although she does not state that this is also necessary for yoga students, she seems to assume that all of her readers will have completed this task by the conclusion of Chapter 1. Similarly, she later stresses the importance of learning all of the major muscular origin, action, and insertion points--personally, I believe that this is an undertaking beyond the scope of my own personal practice. Still, this book is clearly an extremely valuable resource. I definitely would not hesitate to recommend it as one of the most accessible yoga anatomy manuals available to yoga students, and I think it will quickly become a must-have for any yoga instructor’s library.
© 2009 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students at SUNY Geneseo. She is also a Top 100 Reviewer at Amazon.com and the official yoga media reviewer for iHanuman.com.