Karla, the photo model in my new book Pathways to a Centered Body, is using her hands as a tactile cue to sense her psoas muscle during asana. Although buried and difficult to access, she can use her mind to dive deep and visualize the psoas location, size and pathway. She has already used EXPERIENTIAL ANATOMY practices to develop a direct kinesthetic sense of this important muscle so she can integrate somatic awareness of it into her yoga asana and everyday movements.
Let’s face it, learning anatomy can be boring! All those bony landmarks and muscle attachments……. However, it can become a rich, multidimensional and personal event when you DIRECTLY experience physical structures. Experiential anatomy begins with an intellectual, two-dimensional understanding of anatomical structures and then leads to a felt sense of parts and systems of the body. It is a way of learning that involves non-intellectual understanding that can often change habits of perception, breath, movement and behaviour.
1. Anatomical structures are real; they can be felt, seen and sensed. Experiential anatomy increases your skills of interoception (sensing internal structures and physiological processes) and proprioception (sensing movement, spatial orientation, body parts and level of effort). My students love learning more about themselves to better understand their pain, challenges and possibilities. Aren’t I interesting!
2. The physical is a doorway to the other KOSHAS, or levels of consciousness. Training awareness in the physical realm can expand awareness to access your energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual selves. Awareness leads to greater AWARENESS.
3. The experience of living or experiential anatomy can be replicated. Once you understand a structure in your mind and kinesthetically know it in your body, the direct experience can be re-created at will. Information and experience integrate to become a useful, practical skill. The more frequently an anatomical feature is notated in the mental landscape through your intention and practice, the more integrated it becomes. The family of the body can then work together as an integrated whole.
4. Awareness can increase self understanding and self compassion. Experiential anatomy stimulates the process of self inquiry and can lead you to make more healthy, sustainable choices. As you become more embodied and skilled at listening to the language of the body, your innate wisdom emerges.
5. When you know and can feel your own anatomy, you learn to respect the limitations and exploit the capabilities of your structures. Many people muscle through both yoga poses and life in general. My students often find new sources of support in their anatomical structures, including their bones, myofascial lines, fluid system and organs. Experiential anatomy encourages direct understanding of the interplay between structure and function. Your body can become a laboratory in which to experiment and discover more efficient and functional alignment, breath and movement patterns.
Karla’s practice of experiential anatomy has taught her the Dharma – the rightful nature and place in the order of things – of each part and system of her body. It has also led to an understanding of how her individual Karma – the sum of her past choices and experiences – has affected the experience of her physical body. Working in this way, her yoga practice can become a transformational process. Her tissues, organs and structures have been acknowledged, felt and touched by mindfulness. The stored memories and energy in her tissues can be safely released, allowing her to experience her innate wisdom and wholeness. This is the true gift of experiential anatomy practice.
“Teaching people to be in their bodies is a radical political act because people who are embodied cannot be controlled.” Judith Koltai, Syntonics Movement Educator