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Embodied Anatomy

Wonder at the intricacies of the body can quickly be dulled by a dry anatomy lesson. But there’s no danger of that when Kripalu faculty member and Scholar-in-Residence Grace Jull is around. Her fascination with the body’s anatomy is contagious, and she shares her expert knowledge of “embodied anatomy” in Kripalu’s professional training programs and the Semester Intensive, and also in her role managing Yoga for Health, a 5-day Kripalu Healthy Living program. Here she answers a few of our questions.

The subject of anatomy can bring up feelings of boredom and make eyes glaze over, even for dedicated yoga practitioners. Tell us about your interest in anatomy as it relates to yoga and what you find compelling about it.

I love sharing with people the fact that in any moment there are about 40 conscious processes that we notice and navigate—dealing with light, sound, comfort, and more—but about 20 million unconscious processes. I often say that spirituality is the sense that there is an intelligence or power larger than ourselves—and our own body is one of the greatest expressions of the magnitude and mystery of prana, or life force. Anatomy offers us another means to access awe about ourselves and life in general.

My passion in teaching about the body is to transform the tendency we have in the West to express anatomy as abstract facts about a “machine”—facts that are based on the observation of dead bodies—into a way of exploring the embodied terrain of the intelligence that we are. And learning the interior landscape inspires more skill at accessing and energizing this terrain.

How can even a basic working knowledge of anatomy inform and enhance someone’s yoga practice?

It keeps you interested and more sophisticated in intention and action. Skillful action is lining up what we do, say, and think. With asana, shifting from the automatic placement of arm, leg, and breath into a creative witnessing and a more nuanced appreciation of the exquisite and intricate architecture of the body makes it easier to access wonder and awareness. You’re not just going through the motions but expanding the frontiers of awareness while also honoring the body on its own terms. You’re getting into the body in a deeper, more involved way. You’re asking questions like: What is a knee? Why does it care which way it’s lined up?

Can you recommend a simple, practical exercise someone can do at home to have an experience of embodied anatomy?

Test your flexibility by doing a simple standing forward fold and note the distance between you and the floor. Then, sitting down, do a self-massage of the inner thigh using your elbow or thumbs. Most people will find “trigger points,” or patches of sensation, places where the fabric around muscles (called “fascia”) have become bunched up. Gently sink into these areas and breath, relax, feel, watch, and allow. Repeat on the other leg. Then retest your forward bend; you may be more flexible because you’ve loosened the fascia that weaves into the pelvic floor and low back.

If someone is interested in learning more about this, do you have any reading recommendations?

In my own programs and intensives, I approach anatomy as an expression of intelligence, energy, and interconnection. My Energy Expansion CD offers more cues into anatomy and energy than more classical leadings of familiar postures. It can be tricky to find embodied anatomy texts, as most of them are in more of the “body-as-machine” mindset rather than a more alternative approach. In terms of structural and muscular connections, Thomas Myers’ Anatomy Trains book is great. And Susi Hately Aldous’ Anatomy and Asana, the text we use in the Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training, is also a good reference.

Grace Jull, MA, LMT, has been teaching experiential workshops internationally for more than 20 years. A faculty member and Scholar-in-Residence at Kripalu, she teaches in the Kripalu Healthy Living programs and the Kripalu massage and yoga professional training programs, both in the Berkshires and at Kripalu Affiliate Studios throughout the country. She can be contacted at