The Case for Learning Anatomy
Whether you are a music instructor, a movement teacher, or simply a person of the world, I think you should learn at least a little anatomy. Why? First of all, as humans, we weren't given a manual on how our body works-we just sort of figured it out as we went, sometimes succeeding and making good choices and sometimes making bad choices. Learning even a teensy bit of anatomy can help you moving through life, especially if you're a teacher of music or movement, and here's why:
1. You can understand and see how bodies move, both your students' and your own. Seeing bodies (musicians, yoga students, movers, etc.) and understanding how they move is a lifelong process. Anatomy is a way to bridge that gap and start to have x-ray vision- see how bones stack on top of each other, how muscles relate, and how a students' movement patterns manifest. This is vital if you're a music teacher or a movement educator.
2. You can expand your own body map, refining your own movements, technique, and habits. Understanding and embodying movement and anatomy can help you to look at your own movement/exercise habits, and start to understand what your habits are. Do you tend to round in the upper spine (flexion)? Are you a pelvis tucker (posterior pelvic tilt)? Do you have limited Range of motion on one side? These are incredibly exciting discoveries to make on one's own, and can result in huge changes in your life.
3. You can be more of a movement resource for students' injuries, or understand how to modify movements for them. If a music student comes to you with tendonitis patterns from the past, or a tender wrist in yoga, you can choose movements, technical setup, and poses to avoid that will help that student. The less you know, the less you can guide that students' recovery.
4. The study of A&P is the foundation of medicine, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and manual therapy with hundreds of hours of anatomy and physiology. Yet, for movement educators, we are left to our own devices with only 5-10 hours of anatomy. Most musicians have no anatomy training, despite the fact that our body is truly our instrument! Music and movement teachers often make manual adjustments, but with a limited amount of knowledge, we are left in a tricky situation as to how to move bodies, how to make changes, and whether the change we are trying to evoke is possible for the person in front of us. The more you know, the more you can make better choices and the more you can be taken seriously by those in medical/science careers.
5. Anatomy study is a way to be mindful- it doesn't have to be boring or disembodied. It's a way to look deeper within the self and learn how we are actually constructed. You already have all that you need within your form- you just need to understand it. All of these concepts live in your body and your movements, and you just get to learn more about it. In yoga, this can be seen in the concept of svadhyaya, or self study, and is one of the 5 niyamas of yogic philosophy (saucha, santosha, tapas, and ishvara being the others).
6. If you get injured or have a health issue, having a baseline understanding of where and what your issues are can be extremely helpful and empowering. It means you can ask better questions of your health practitioners, and hopefully set you up for getting the best care possible. When I was diagnosed with my pituitary tumor a few years ago, I did my best to learn as much as possible about the endocrine system and my issues so that I could understand what was happening and why I felt the way I did. I still sought professional medical treatment, but I've been able to have useful conversations with my providers of the years, especially in seeing different doctors for the same diagnosis.
1. Find a teacher: Many anatomy textbooks can be dense and difficult to sort through. I've learned the most from teachers who use some anatomical languaging in their classes, which helps me to embody the concepts. This includes yoga and movement professionals as well as alexander technique teachers, feldenkrais, and bodymapping (Andover Educators) teachers.
2. Look at big concepts: it sounds simple, but what do muscles do? They move bones, which results in movement. It can be easy to get caught up on latin terms, but big picture concepts are essential. What do tendons do? Connect muscle to bone. Ligaments connect bone to bone, almost like duct tape. Every muscle has an opposing muscle-primary movers vs. antagonists.
3. Look around you: while it can be tough to feel some of these things in your own body, look at your family, friends, and pets to understand these concepts. While petting your dog/cat, notice where their scapula is and spine and pelvis. Notice how your friends move. Look at your own history of injuries to learn from your own experience. Each one of us comes with a unique experience of being in our own body, and learning from that and sharing it with others is valuable.
4. Consider drawing, tracing, and coloring. Many students and friends have found tracing, coloring books of anatomy, and just drawing bones to be helpful, especially if you're a visual learner.
5. The human body is a field that can fill a lifetime of study. Doctors study it for 4-6 years, and still scratch the surface of what's possible and how we move. You don't have to learn everything today, especially if you don't come from a medical/science background. Each time you're exposed to new learning, you may absorb a few things, and over time, those things will amount to something substantial.