Anatomy of Hatha Yoga (A Manual for Students, Teachers, and Practitioners)

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Item Code: NAG854
Author: H. David Coulter
Publisher: Himalayan Institute
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9788120819764
Pages: 630 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5 inch
Weight 760 gm
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Shipped to 153 countries
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Book Description

About the Book


Anatomy of Hatha Yoga is the first modern authoritative source that integrates the study of hatha yoga with anatomy and physiology. Yoga teachers, committed practitioners, medical professionals, or anyone who is curious about how the body responds to yoga will find this book an unsurpassed wealth of knowledge. It was written to meet the needs of a general audience while seeking to attract and challenge the interests of medical professionals.


In this groundbreaking work, Dr. H. David Coulter shares the fruits of decades of academic research and personal experience gained through practice and study with Sri Swami Rama and other faculty of the Himalayan Institute. Dr. Coulter offers an objective analysis of the deeper aspects of hatha yoga, discussing its effect on the major systems of the body.


Providing a comprehensive overview of the anatomy and physiology of hatha yoga with special emphasis on the musculoskeletal, nervous, and cardiovascular systems, this book bridges biomedicine and complementary medicine. Featuring over 230 photographs and 120 diagrams and anatomical illustrations, hundreds of yoga asanas are covered in detail. This classic work is an invaluable resource for any serious yoga practitioner or medical professional.


About the Author


Dr. H. David Coulter received a PhD in anatomy from the University of Tennessee and has been a faculty member of several prestigious institutions in the United States, including University of Minnesota Medical School, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (New York), and the Himalayan International Institute. Dr. Coulter has been practicing yoga since 1974 and is a student of Sri Swami Rama and Pandit Rajmani Tigunait.




Hatha yoga. Its teachers and serious students are convinced of its power to build strength and confidence, to improve flexibility and balance, and to foster spiritual peace and contentment. And beyond its attributes as preventive medicine, many of us also believe in the power of yoga to heal, to aid in recovering from everything from low back strain to carpal tunnel syndrome and to help cope with chronic problems like arthritis, multiple sclerosis and infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).


But despite the recent boom in yoga’s popularity, most scientists and physicians have been slow to embrace this discipline. To many of them perhaps, it seems like a mystical pursuit, a quasi-religion with little basis in the modern world of science. In a medical profession now itself dominated by a near religious reverence for the randomized, controlled study, knowledge acquired through thousands of years of direct observation, introspection, and trial and error may seem quaint.


But as the West has slowly opened in the past decades to Eastern, experientially based fields like acupuncture-as part of a greater acceptance of alternative medicine in general-yoga has begun to stake its claim. Concepts like prana or chi, however, are not warmly received by skeptical scientists. To win them over you need to provide the kind of evidence they buy. Studies. Preferably published in peer-review journals. And you need to propose mechanisms of action that conform with science as they understand it.


A significant breakthrough was provided by Dr. Dean Ornish, a California-based cardiologist who interrupted his college years to study with Sri Swami Satchidananda. His work, published in 1990 in the prestigious British medical journal the Lancet, showed that a program that combines hatha yoga with dietary changes, exercise, and group therapy can actually reverse blockages in the heart’s main arteries-which doctors used to think wasn’t possible.


In 1998, research led by Marian Garfinkel of the Medical College of Pennsylvania and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that Iyengar yoga could effectively reduce the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, a malady of near epidemic proportions in this computer age. Of note, Garfinkel’s study lasted only eight weeks, and yet the intervention proved efficacious. Serious yoga practitioners realize of course that although some benefit may be noticed after even a single class, yoga’s most profound effects accrue over years-even decades-not weeks. Yoga is indeed powerful medicine but it is slow medicine.


More studies will be needed to convince the medical establishment, but that research could also be slow in coming. Funding is a perennial problem. Unlike the situation with, say, pharmaceuticals, there is no private industry to bankroll the scientific investigation of hatha yoga. Given the incredible cost of long-range studies-which are more likely to demonstrate effectiveness-I suspect that we’re unlikely to see any time soon the kind of overwhelming proof that skeptical scientists want. This presents a philosophical question: When you have an intervention which appears safe and effective-and when its side effects are almost entirely positive-should one wait for proof before trying it? This value judgment lies at the heart of the recent debate over many traditional healing methods.


Ironically, though, even within the world of alternative medicine yoga seems under-appreciated. Two years ago, I attended a four-day conference on alter- native medicine sponsored by Harvard Medical School. A wide range of topics from herbs to prayer to homeopathy were covered in detail. Yet in the dozens of presentations I attended, yoga was mentioned just once: In a slide that accompanied the lecture on cardiovascular disease, yoga was one of several modalities listed under "Other Stress Reduction Techniques." Yoga is certainly a stress reduction device but to reduce it to just that misses so much.


Given the situation, how welcome then is David Coulter’s Anatomy of Hatha Yoga. David combines the perspectives of a dedicated yogi with that of a former anatomy professor and research associate at two major American medical schools. He has set himself the ambitious goal of combining the modern scientific understanding of anatomy and physiology with the ancient practice of hatha yoga.


The result of an obvious labor of love, the book explains hatha yoga in demystified, scientific terms while at the same time honoring its traditions. It should go a long way to helping yoga achieve the scientific recognition it deserves. Useful as both a textbook and as a reference, Anatomy of Hatha Yoga is a book that all serious yoga teachers and practitioners will want on their shelves. It will also be welcomed by sympathetic physicians-and there are more of us all the time-as well as physical therapists and other health professionals. Speaking as a doctor who had already studied anatomy in detail (though forgotten more than I’d care to admit) and as a dedicated student of yoga, I can happily report that this book heightened my understanding of both hatha yoga and anatomy and-as a nice bonus-improved my personal practice.


I realize, however, that to those who lack scientific training Anatomy of Hatha Yoga may seem daunting. Some sections use terminology and concepts that may be challenging on first reading. If you feel intimidated, my suggestion is to adopt the mentality many employ when reading the ancient and some- times difficult texts of the yoga tradition. Read with an open heart and if you get frustrated, try another part or come back to it another day. As with yoga itself, diligent students will be rewarded with an ever-greater understanding.




The origins of this book date from twenty-five years ago when I was teaching various neuroscience, microscopic anatomy, and elementary anatomy courses in the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroanatomy at the University of Minnesota. At the same time I was learning about yoga in classes at the Meditation Center in Minneapolis. During those years, Swami Rama, who founded the Himalayan Institute, often lectured in Minnesota, and one of his messages was that yoga was neither exercise nor religion, but a science, and he wanted modern biomedical science to examine it in that light. One of his purposes in coming to the West was to bring this about, a purpose which is reflected by the name he selected for the institute that he founded-The Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy. The idea of connecting yoga with modern science resonated with me, and the conviction grew that I could be a part of such a quest. Soon after I communicated my interest, Swamiji called and suggested that I pay him a visit to talk about writing a book on anatomy and hatha yoga. And that is how this project began in 1976.


Apart from several false starts and near-fatal errors, I did little writing on this subject between 1976 and 1988, but still I benefited from students’ questions in courses on anatomy and hatha yoga at the University of Minnesota (Extension Division), more comprehensive courses on yoga anatomy for graduate students at the Himalayan Institute in the late 1980s, anatomy and physiology courses in the mid-1990 for the Pacific Institute for Oriental Medicine (NYC), and from 1990 to the present, teaching anatomy for students of Ohashiatsu®, a method of Oriental bodywork. These courses brought me in touch with many telling questions from students interested in various aspects of holistic medicine; without them, the seed planted by Swamiji would never have matured.


And so it went, from a working draft in the summer of 1976 to 1995, when after many gentle and not-so-gentle nudges, Swamiji insisted that my time was up, I was to finish the book, finish it now, and not run away. If I tried to escape, he avowed, he would follow me to the ends of the earth; what he would do upon finding me is better left unsaid. Happily, he saw an early but complete draft of the text a year before his passing in November of 1996.




A comprehensive statement on the anatomy and physiology of hat ha yoga ought to have been written years ago. But it hasn’t happened, and my aim is to remedy the deficiency. After considering the subject for twenty-five years, it’s clear that such a work might well interweave two themes: for the benefit of completeness, a traditional treatment of how to do yoga postures (yoga asanas) using anatomically precise terminology, and, for correlations with medical science, an objective analysis of how those postures are realized in some of the great systems of the body. In that regard, special emphasis is placed here on the musculoskeletal, nervous, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems-the musculoskeletal system because that is where all our actions are expressed, the nervous system because that is the residence of all the managerial functions of the musculoskeletal system, the respiratory system because breathing is of such paramount importance in yoga, and the cardiovascular system because inverted postures cannot be fully comprehended without understanding the dynamics of the circulation. Most of the emphasis is practical-doing experiments, learning to observe the body, and further refining actions and observations.


The discussion is intended for an audience of yoga teachers, health professionals, and anyone else who is interested in exploring some of the structural and functional aspects of hat ha yoga. The work can also serve as a guide for students of alternative medicine who would like to communicate with those who place their faith more strictly in contemporary science. To help everyone in that regard I’ve included only material that is generally accepted in modern biomedical sciences, avoiding comment on non-physical concepts such as prana, the nadis, and the chakras, none of which are presently testable in the scientific sense, and none of which have obvious parallels in turn-of-the-millennium biology.


The book begins with an introductory discussion of some basic premises that set a philosophical tone and suggest a consistent mental and physical approach to postures. Ten chapters follow, the first three fundamental to the last seven. Chapter 1 summarizes the basic principles of the anatomy and physiology of hatha yoga. Breathing is next in chapter 2 since the manner in which we breathe in hatha yoga is important for expediting movement and posture. Breathing is followed by pelvic and abdominal exercises in chapter 3 for three reasons: many of those exercises use specialized methods of breathing, they are excellent warm-ups for other postures, and the pelvis and abdomen form the foundation of the body. Standing postures will then be covered in chapter 4 because these poses are so important for beginning students, and because they provide a preview of backbending, forward bending, and twisting postures, which are covered in detail in chapters 5, 6, and 7. The headstand and shoulderstand, including a brief introduction to cardiovascular function, are included in chapters 8 and 9. Postures for relaxation and meditation are treated last in chapter 10.


It will be helpful to experiment with each posture, preferably in the order given. This approach will lead you logically through a wealth of musculoskeletal anatomy, bring the academic discourse to life, and permit you to understand the body’s architecture and work with it safely. If some of the sections on anatomy and physiology seem formidable, there is an easy solution. Turn the page. Or turn several pages. Go directly to the next section on postures, in which most of the discussion can be understood in context. Just keep in mind, however, that knowledge is power, and that to communicate effectively with laypeople who have technical questions as well as with health professionals to whom you may go for advice, it may be desirable to refer back to the more challenging sections of this book as the need arises. And those who do not find these sections particularly demanding can look to Alter’s definitive Science of Flexibility, as well as to other sources that are listed after the glossary, if they require more technical details than are provided here.










Basic Premises


Chapter One - Movement and Posture


The Neuro-musculoskeletal System


The Nervous System




The Vestibular System, Sight, and Touch


Connective Tissue Restraints




Three Postures


Putting It All Together


Chapter Two - Breathing


The Design of the Respiratory System


The Muscles of Respiration


How Breathing Affects Posture


The Somatic and Autonomic Systems


The Physiology of Respiration


Thoracic Breathing


Paradoxical Breathing


Supine Abdominal Breathing


Abdominal Breathing in Sitting Postures


Diaphragmatic Breathing


A Traditional Warning


Chapter Three - Abdominopelvic Exercises


Crunches and Sit-ups


The Foundation of the Body


Supine Leg Lifts


Yoga Sit-ups


The Sitting Boat Postures


The Peacock


The Pelvis and The Anatomical Perineum


Ashwini Mudra


Mula Bandha


Agni Sara


Uddiyana Bandha, The Abdominal Lift








Chapter Four - Standing Postures


The Skeletal System and Movement


Anatomy of the Spine


Symmetry and Asymmetry


Standing Postures


Four Simple Stretches


Backward Bending


Forward Bending

Side Bending


What Makes Postures Difficult?


The Triangle Postures


Two Balancing Postures




Chapter Five - Backbending Postures


The Anatomy of Flexion and Extension


Breathing and Backbending


The Cobra Postures


The Locust Postures


The Prone Boat Postures


The Bow Postures


The Knee Joint


Supine Backbending Postures


A Kneeling Backbend-The Camel






Chapter Six - Forward Bending Postures


Forward Bending: Head, Neck, and Chest


Lumbar and Lumbosacral Forward Bending


Sacroiliac Nutation and Counternutation


Forward Bending at the Hip Joints


Forward Bending at the Ankles and in the Feet


Clinical Matters and Cautions


The Posterior Stretch


The Down-Facing Dog


The Child’s Pose


Breathing and Forward Bending


Sacroiliac Flexibility


Hip Flexibility




Chapter Seven - Twisting Postures


The Fundamentals of Twisting


The Skull, the Atlas, and the Axis


Movements of the Head and Neck


Thoracic Twisting


Lumbar Twisting


The Lower Extremities


Supine Twists


Standing Twists


Inverted Twists


Sitting Spinal Twists




Chapter Eight - The Headstand


The Cardiovascular System


The Two Headstands


The Upper Extremities


Structural Imbalances


Breathing Issues


Developing Strength and Flexibility


Bending and Twisting in the Headstand


Extending Your Time




Chapter Nine - The Shoulderstand


Anatomy of The Shoulderstand


Inverted Action Postures


The Shoulderstand


The Plow


The Lifted Shoulderstand and Plow










Chapter Ten - Relaxation and Meditation


Muscular Relaxation


Two Relaxation Postures


Breathing and Relaxation


The Autonomic Nervous System


Deepening Relaxation


Meditation Postures


Maintaining the Geometry




The Six Postures :


Mula Bandha


Mastering the situation


Knower of the Veil




Additional Sources




Index of Anatomical Terms


Index of Practices


Biographical Sketch



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