For a long time it was difficult to get anatomy books that were specifically designed for Yoga teachers. Anatomical textbooks were useful but did not help with questions directly related to Yoga. After 2003, however, a row of books were published that addressed Yoga anatomy. To name but a few, there were Coulter's Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, Hately-Aldous' Anatomy and Asana and Long's Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga. Then, in the spring of this year, L. Kaminoff's Yoga Anatomy was published. Like the other three books it is very helpful because it shows the use of specific muscles in certain poses. Unlike the other books it also addresses questions of joint action, muscles working and lengthening, obstacles, breathing and variations. For a slim (and not very expensive) book the author has been able to compress a lot of information into a concise, clear and instructive format.
The book is prefaced by two chapters, one on the dynamics of breathing and one on yoga and the spine. Both the breath and the spine are seen as being central to each pose and thus receive some special attention. The chapter on breathing is one of the clearest I have ever come across. It addresses aspects of the diaphragm and the shape change of both chest and the abdominal cavities during the breathing process. The chapter on the spine contains some very useful and precise information on spinal disks and ligaments and relates flexion and extension of the spine to the breath. In addition it introduces the useful distinction between primary and secondary curves. The use of illustrations in this and the other chapters is superb.
The remainder of the book depicts more than sixty poses which are organized into chapters on standing, sitting, kneeling, supine, prone and arm support poses. Within each chapter each individual pose is first introduced by its Sanskrit and then by its English name. Next, a transliteration is given of how the Sanskrit is pronounced, and a translation of each individual Sanskrit element is added (e.g. Janu Sirsasana janu=knee shiras=to touch with head). Each pose is then shown in a meticulously executed drawing done by Sharon Ellis, who has worked as a medical illustrator for more than twenty-five years in New York. In each drawing she shows the relevant muscles in red and the contact areas between the body and the ground in blue.
The description of each pose is divided into a number of paragraphs. First, the pose is classified and is assigned a degree of difficulty. Next, the joint action is indicated (e.g. mild spinal flexion, knee extension). Then the contracting and lengthening of the muscles are described (e.g. piriformis is working eccentrically, hamstrings are lengthening). After this a section called "Obstacles and Notes" is added in which common obstacles are mentioned and suggestions are given on how to overcome them. Then a very helpful paragraph on breathing indicates how the pose affects the breath and how the breath should be adjusted in the pose. Finally, where needed, a section is added that indicates certain cautions, variations and/or special notes.
The tight, concise format of each section allows for a great deal of
information to be compressed into one or two pages for each pose. This makes it easy for the reader to have all the relevant information at her fingertips. Perhaps the only drawback of the book is the fact that the reader has to have some basic anatomical knowledge. The chapters are easy to read, but the muscles are named in Latin, and one needs to be familiar with terms such as abduction and medial rotation. On the other hand, the book offers the reader an opportunity to develop a greater knowledge of Yoga anatomy and the author, Leslie Kaminoff, who is a student of TKV Desikachar and who is an internationally recognized specialist in yoga and breath anatomy, is a competent guide in this endeavor.
In short, I have found Yoga Anatomy to be a very helpful resource book, and I rarely prepare a class without consulting it.