Like any activity, yoga comes with its own jargon—and sometimes, this jargon relates to the body. If you’ve ever taken a hatha yoga class and left wondering which part of your body your instructor was actually referring to, you’re not alone! For those new to yoga, a quick anatomy review may help you to connect more deeply with your yoga practice. Let’s take a look at some of the critical body parts you should be aware of during your yoga class.
Although breathing seems a simple enough activity, raising your awareness of breath can deepen your yoga practice. Pranayama refers to how we breathe in yoga. When completing certain poses, your instructor may ask you to actively breathe with your belly, utilizing the core muscles to help you expel the air. Other times, your instructor may ask you to breathe with your diaphragm by expanding your ribs. For relaxation poses, such as the Corpse, shallow breathing may be called for as a way to let the mind wander, and the body simply be.
The Sitz Bones
For poses that require sitting, your teacher may ask you to find your sitz bones. These bones refer to the lower part of the pelvis, or basically your bottom. The sitz bones are essential in the body, precisely because the hamstring and inner thigh muscles originate here. Certain poses aim to stretch these muscles; over time, these stretches create flexibility and build strength in this area—which ultimately can lead to reduced pain in the pelvis and lower back area.
In yoga, several poses such as Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, and Vrkssasana or Tree Pose, either focus on standing or begin in a strong standing posture. These postures both focus on aligning the body as well as increasing balance. In such positions, it’s essential to actively check-in and assesses whether or not your body is aligned correctly. A well-aligned body not only improves your posture but reduces stress on muscle groups throughout the body.
Many yoga poses work to open the hip area. This is particularly important since many individuals spend hours sitting—in a car commuting to work, at the office, or on the couch. Spending extended periods of time sitting tends to shorten the hip flexors, thus reducing our flexibility and mobility. Several important muscles join at the thigh bone, and hip-opening postures can positively affect these muscles by releasing tension built up throughout the day. Stretching these muscles as in Supta Padangusthasana, Supine Hand to Toe Pose also decreases the likelihood of experiencing pulled muscles when doing any type of strenuous exercise.
There are many benefits to building a strong set of core muscles. Core muscles act like a girdle for the body; located in the abdominal and lower back region; these muscles help to both support and balance the body. A strong core ensures that walking, bending, and other everyday activities are easy and result in few if any, injuries. Whether you’re building core strength through Virabhadrasana III, Warrior Pose III or Ardha Chandrasana, Half Moon Pose, routinely working to strengthen the abdominal and back muscles helps to ensure that the entire body is working as a single unit instead of fighting itself.
The most important thing to remember about your yoga practice is that it will become easier over time. Although you may spend more time than you’d like now aligning your body in a posture or focusing on your breathing, with repetition, your body will begin to take over. As you continue to practice yoga, your body will become stronger, and the poses will begin to flow easier, thus making your yoga practice more enjoyable and fulfilling.