Five Essential Anatomy Books

If you are going to get serious about your yoga practice, it is important to begin to develop your understanding of the body from more than an experiential perspective. It's not necessary to go out and get a degree in gross anatomy and to learn the names of each muscle, each ligament and bone. However, an understanding of the major muscles involved in a given action will help you visualize the effect you are trying to achieve. Here are five extremely useful resources.

1. "Anatomy of Movement" by Blandine Calais-Germain

Blandine Calais-Germain is a French performer, dance teacher and student of physiotherapy who has developed a wonderful and practical way of communicating anatomical knowledge as it relates to movement. Anatomy of Movement reads as a story about the body, with pictures and text that clearly illustrate the ideas she describes. Simple and concise, she only introduces information that relates directly to movement and posture, so this is not by any means a complete anatomical reference. Additionally, the essay-like structure of the text can sometimes make it a little hard to find things quickly. That said, however, it is extremely accessible and contains more than enough information for the average yoga student.

2. "Anatomy of Breathing" by Blandine Calais-Germain

In Anatomy of Breathing, Calais-Germain applies her same story-telling techniques to the breath. More than just an anatomy text, however, she does go into the mechanics of the breathing process using all the official terminology, which will help dispel much of the fuzzy thinking that often comes when talking about the breath in the context of yoga. Although she does not address pranayama, several breathing exercises are included to help you explore the different breathing patterns she discusses. Coupled with a good instructional text such as Light on Pranayama by B. K. S. Iyengar, Anatomy of Breathing is essential for the safe study of pranayama, the fourth limb of Patañjali's Ashtanga Yoga.

3. "Atlas of Human Anatomy" by Frank H. Netter, MD

If you are looking for a comprehensive and definitive anatomy resource, Atlas of Human Anatomy by Frank Netter is the book for you. This large-format tome is not cheap (priced at around $70 on, but it is worth every penny. These 640 pages of lovingly drawn full-color plates are used by medical schools the world over.

4. "Anatomy Trains" by Thomas W. Myers

Another pricey, but completely worthwhile, book, Anatomy Trains is the work of integrative bodyworker and educator Thomas W. Myers. Trained in Rolfing and Feldenkrais work, Myers has developed the idea that there are lines of connection along planes of fascia in the body. Understanding these lines of tension, support and interaction can educate the way you observe and work with the body, helping to integrate the different parts into the whole. Even if you only get it for the opening chapters on developmental anatomy and the fascial system it is worth the money.

5. "Scientific Keys Volume 1: The Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga"

Another pricey, but worthy, addition to your reference library, Scientific Keys Volume 1: The Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga by Ray Long and Chris Macivor is filled with fascinating 3D computer-generated images. The authors have taken a 3D model of the human skeleton and placed it in various yoga poses adding single muscles at a time to show you how they work. Go to the authors' website to see some of the images. They are very impressive. One thing frustrates me about this book, however. I bought it very early on, but the authors continue to fiddle with it. There have been at least two revisions that I am aware of in the past few years, with new material added each time. Though their desire for completeness is laudable and may seem like a good idea from their point of view, at $55 dollars a copy, I'm not about to go out and buy a new one each time they make a change. Be warned.