Anatomy & Study for Safety & Accommodations

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, we specify the subjects that teachers need to be knowledgeable about in order to be prepared to promote safety and to accommodate individual student needs in a drop-in class.


Be clear about what specific steps you can take to better understand various conditions and support students with such conditions.


Describe steps you can take to better understand various conditions and how to support students with such conditions. Note the foundational anatomy topics that are necessary to fully understand and which injuries and conditions might reasonably be expected to be safely accommodated in any yoga class. Explain what may be an unspoken assumption regarding the health and ability of students in drop-in asana classes. Note the common conditions that may be expected among students in drop-in classes, and some examples of less obvious conditions that may be present. Provide examples of learning priorities for teachers and general cautions associated with accommodating injuries and conditions in class.

A Pathway for Growth

First Things First

Some teachers may not ask students about their individual situations because they don’t know what to do with the information they receive. It can feel safer to not know if you aren’t confident in your knowledge of how to respond. If that is true for you, consider these recommendations:

  1. Be very clear on when it is advisable to refer students to qualified caregivers.
  2. Avoid implying that you are more knowledgeable than you are.
  3. See When to Refer Out for more information on how you can respond when faced with a situation you are not knowledgeable about.

Study Smart

We recommend that you follow an intentional path of study. First, study foundational anatomy and physiology that is necessary to fully understand teachings around injuries and conditions:


  1. Studying & Teaching Anatomy & PhysiologyBecomefamiliar with priorities andguidelines for studying and utilizing knowledge of anatomy and physiology in teaching.
  2. Musculoskeletal System IntroGainan understanding of the foundational anatomy ofthe musculoskeletal system.
  3. Movement TerminologyLearnterminology that describes anatomical movements andlocation.
  4. Muscle Movement & ContractionGainan understanding of how muscles move andlearn the related terminology.
  5. Joint Movements & MobilityBecomefamiliar with foundational terminology related tojoint movements, learn factors that affect joint mobility, and review the normal ranges of motion for various joints.
  6. Muscle Pairs in MovementAcquireknowledge of key agonist/antagonist muscle pairs inmajor joint movements, and name poses that utilize them.
  7. The Spine & The Back: Form & FunctionBecomeproficient in the anatomicaldescriptions and names for the regions of the spinal column.
  8. Spinal FunctionsLearnthe functions of the spine and the attributes of a healthy spine.
  9. Spinal MovementsBecomeproficient in using accurate terminology related to spinalmovements.
  10. The Spine Potential IssuesBecomeknowledgeable about spinal issues such as thoracicmobility issues, hyperlordosis and kyphosis, and the vast variety of potential causal factors.
  11. The Spine Teaching ConsiderationsApplyknowledge of a healthy spine andcompensatory movement patterns to support effective teaching of asana.
  12. Core Form & FunctionGainan understanding of the foundational anatomy of the core,including the function of the individual muscles and the core as a whole.
  13. Core Fundamental TeachingsBecomeproficient in choosing practices and verbalizingteachings to promote a balanced, healthy core.


  1. Nervous System OverviewGainan understanding of the foundational anatomy andphysiology of the nervous system.
  2. The Vagus NerveBecomefamiliar with the significance of vagal tone in the experience ofstress and the effectiveness of yoga techniques.
  3. Stress & Relaxation ResponseUnderstandthe functioning of the sympathetic andparasympathetic nervous systems, and the workings of the Stress Response, Fight or Flight Response and Relaxation Response.
  4. Why Yoga WorksBecomeproficient in communicating how yoga practices impact thenervous system and why this is a critical factor in the positive results from yoga practice.
  5. Respiratory Anatomy IntroductionGainan understanding of the foundationalphysiology of the respiratory system.
  6. Respiratory Anatomy Part 2Becomefamiliar with the nasal cycle and lungs, plus thedifferentiation between primary and accessory respiratory muscles and the muscles used for inspiration and for expiration.
  7. How Yoga Supports HealthBecomecompetent in specifying the ways that yogasupports health from various perspectives.
  8. Trauma & PTSD IntroductionUnderstandthe specific and profound effects of trauma.


  1. Trauma Aware TeachingBecomefamiliar with foundational considerations related totrauma-sensitive teaching, and review specific tactics for promoting emotional and psychological safety in the classroom.
  2. Injuries & Conditions in YogaBecomeknowledgeable in injury prevention and ways toaccommodate students who have injuries and conditions.
  3. About Contraindications & AlternativesLearnthe importance of knowing and utilizingcontraindications and cautions, and understand how to wisely choose alternatives.
  4. Contraindications IndexBecomefamiliar with the Yoga Teacher CentralContraindications Index and understand the necessity of having contraindications on hand when teaching.
  5. When to Refer OutKnowwhen it’s advisable to refer students out for diagnosis orindividual assessment and how to be prepared to do so.
  6. Mindful Asana TransitionsBecomeproficient in teaching mindful asana
  7. Flexibility & Stretching IntroductionUnderstandwhat limits flexibility (includingconnective tissue and the nervous system) and gain a deeper understanding of stretching.
  8. Sensation & PainExplorethe complexity of pain and understand how to use thisknowledge when teaching asana.

The goal is to offer you a clear path of study for increasing your proficiency — not to be overwhelming. And yet, the anatomy recommendation list is fairly long. Here’s why:

  • This the reality of the human body! We can’t simplify the reality of that.
  • We tried considering how we might shorten or prioritize this list but honestly, those are the most basic topics, all of which are critical to effective teaching.
  • The good news is that we’ve worked very hard to bring clarity to these topics, to make them digestible and directly applicable to teaching.

Understanding those key topics should make learning about injuries and conditions come more naturally. In addition to factual knowledge, you’ll have an informed perspective overall. That perspective that will lead to you to be more capable of making informed teaching decisions as various situations come up.

Next: Focus on Key Conditions

Next, develop your knowledge and practice in order to be prepared to respond to the conditions for which it would be reasonably expected that a yoga teacher is prepared to support. We propose this list:

  1. Chronic Pain
  2. Sciatica
  3. SI Joint Pain
  4. General Low Back Pain
  5. Pregnancy
  6. Wrist Issues

There is always more to learn but we think that if you work hard to be educated on these topics, you will greatly increase your confidence and skill in optimally supporting all students, and you will meet the expectations of most students.

Teachers with more interest can go on to learn about many more topics.

Assumptions & Approach

An unspoken assumption of many drop-in asana classes is that the class and teaching is meant for relatively healthy people and that students know how and when to adapt their practice.

  • But does this assumption match reality?
  • What exactly is meant by “relatively healthy?”
  • What are the natural safety limitations of a group setting?
  • Do all students who attend drop-in classes know how to adapt for their condition?

Common Conditions

  • You’re likely to encounter students with such conditions as low back pain, shoulder injury or pregnancy.
  • In addition to such relatively obvious and common concerns, there may be students with conditions you can’t see or that are less common, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, digestive issues, PTSD or any other of a seemingly endless list of considerations.

A Focus on Teaching Priorities

In our resources covering specific conditions, we offer all information and support we think you’ll find of value, but our primary concern is clarity around how to respond as a teacher.

We suggest you prioritize learning such facts as:

  • Warnings about symptoms that might indicate serious conditions.
  • Poses to avoid.
  • How to adapt poses for conditions.
  • Is there a “bottom line,” such as the primary safety consideration or the primary practice objective?
  • What is the big picture and thinking behind various approaches?

By providing such information in efficient ways, we’re striving to empower you to more effectively and efficiently grow your teaching skill.

Differing Emphases & Approaches

Here we bring together — in one place — the similarities, differences and occasional conflicts in advice among experts. We hope you’ll feel more prepared by being able to consider such information and how it fits with your own education, training, and experience.


In our coverage on each particular condition, we offer specific cautions and considerations. In addition, please note these general cautions:

Of Course, Yoga is Not The Only Tool

Avoid making your personal experience overly influential in your attitude and approach about the power of yoga to address student issues.

  • Have you had an amazing experience where yoga practice alone healed you of something and changed your life? While we all love powerful healing stories, please resist promoting yoga as a cure-all.
  • Even telling your personal story should be approached with care as every individual is different and may find they need different approaches to achieve optimal health for them.

We are not proposing that yoga isn’t truly powerful or that inspirational stories should be avoided, but that the influence of a teacher can be greater than you realize. As such, care should be taken to help each student treat themselves as the individual they are. One person may get the desired results from a drop-in class with asana and pranayama practice. Another may need a specialized therapeutic yoga approach. Either of them may also benefit from physical therapy, psychotherapy, Western medicine support, chiropractic, acupuncture, etc.


Obviously, we wouldn’t have started this blog if we didn’t all believe that yoga was a powerful tool for fostering healthy aging. And we continue to believe that is true. But we don’t for a second believe that yoga is our health insurance, or that it should be yours. – Nina Zolotow

Stay in Your Wheelhouse

Avoid putting yourself or your student at risk: whenever in doubt, resist prescribing or generalizing beyond your areas of expertise or experience.

A Longer Description

Please, please do not take this information as “gospel” or put yourself or your students at risk by making advisements outside your areas of expertise. When faced with injuries & conditions among students in a drop-in class, teachers should consider their own training and experience as well as the cautions and potential dangers of the particular conditions. We are merely endeavoring to compile common expert advice to support you because we know it’s common to face such conditions. Please know that we wish to support you, not provide training. Unless trained in yoga therapy, teachers are usually advised against “prescribing” particular asanas to address specific conditions. Instead, sequences that are well-rounded and intentional are generally considered “therapeutic” in nature. And yet it’s also true that teachers are devising sequences, adapting poses and making recommendations to address what they are faced with. We hope you find this compilation helpful.