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Is Uttanasana About The Hamstrings?

When you practice yoga is it an anatomical exercise or is there something deeper going on? What is it? Four movement experts, Leslie Kaminoff, Amy Matthews, Peter Blackaby and Brooke Thomas will discuss this issue and many others during a two-day symposium entitled Beyond Anatomy on April 1 and 2 at the Breathing Project.

Kaminoff, a noted teacher suggests that we may be “impoverished” if we limit the richness of our experience in yoga to the study of anatomy. Movement specialist Matthews says that she is finding her teaching to “be more about the questions raised” than mastering the knowledge. Blackaby, an osteopath and yoga teacher in England, says that when he began, it was important to know anatomy to be taken seriously. Now he understands there is a “limit to what you can resolve by naming things.” And, Thomas, a Rolfer, movement expert and host of the Liberated Body Podcast, thinks that our bodies really are not “what we think they are.” A promoter for “all the body nerds out there,” she’ll be moderating the program.

To preview this liberating view of what’s inside, YogaCity NYC’s Brette Popper asked panelists Kaminoff, Matthews and Blackaby some questions.

Brette Popper: Who should come to this symposium?

Leslie Kaminoff: Anyone who’s willing to engage in an open dialogue about what it means to inhabit a human body.

Peter Blackaby: All those who are curious about the magic of being human.

Amy Matthews: Anyone who has thought that all the answers can be found in anatomy, and

is realizing they aren’t.

BP: Back to the beginning, why learn anatomy?

LK: Learning anatomy is like learning how to read a map for a territory I want to visit.

PB: There is a place for knowing the position of things, to really know where your hip joints are, or how the spine is organized architecturally as it can help us visualize how and where we move from.

BP: Why go beyond?

AM: Like any map using anatomy as a frame for inquiry about the body illuminates some

ideas and completely leaves some things out…there are things that cannot yet be measured, and if they (or their effects) cannot be measured from an anatomical perspective they are left off the map. And, of course, the map keeps changing – it’s a living inquiry as much as anything else.

BP: If an individual is “beyond anatomy,” it suggests that there is something that is greater than our bones, muscles, organs and connective tissue. What are some of the ways we could be orienting or operating?

LK: There are so many things I can experience that cannot be captured by a map. I can feel the breeze on my face, smell the earth and vegetation, see how the light plays through the trees. In a similar way, the study of anatomy has allowed me to listen in on the dialogue that arises out of the interconnectedness of my various tissues and systems. Once I’ve turned into that symphony, the names of my body parts are far less important than what they do, and how they contribute to my experience of being alive.

PB: What is beyond the physicality of our tissues are our experiences and sensations that we have as human beings. This is generally what we orientate around. Very few people are thinking about their anatomy in day-to-day events -- they operate from feelings and sensations. The better we understand these the more successfully we navigate the world.

BP: Can anatomy be useful to someone like a Bhakti, who understands the body through devotion?

AM: I don’t think everyone comes first to the body through knowledge of anatomy – many people have profound experiences of themselves that cannot be articulated from an anatomical perspective. I think there’s a value in stepping outside our frame, our map, whatever it is – so if I’ve only ever oriented to anatomy, it might be valuable to learn to change perspective. And, if I’ve never oriented to anatomy, it might be useful. But it might not. It’s not about learning anatomy, but about learning to change perspective.

BP: Can "Beyond Anatomy" also be about going beyond the individual body and looking at things from a more collective perspective?

PB. I would argue that the apparent separateness of our bodies is an illusion. We do not stop at our skin. We are permeable to others through the way we perceive and respond and vice versa. We change and are changed by those around us.

LK: Absolutely. Our individual relationship to our bodies has profound philosophical and

political implications. For example, we may be uncomfortable with the concept that we “own” our bodies, but that can change dramatically as soon as someone else claims to own it by legislating what you can do with it.

If you’re curious and would like to engage with these kind of questions or as Amy Matthews suggests are “anyone who wants to discuss these ideas,” there’s still room! The symposium will run from 9am-5pm on April 1 and 2. The cost is $490, $450 for Breathing Project members and there is a one day option for $250. To find out more, click here.

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