Books: Anatomy for Yoga; Yoga Anatomy

Anatomy for Yoga; Uttanasana Spread
Anatomy for Yoga; click to view Uttanasana Spread

McGraw-Hill Publishing was kind enough to send me their latest yoga book to review. Anatomy for Yoga: An Illustrated Guide to Your Muscles in Action, by Nicky Jenkins and Leigh Brandon, is a helpful guide to a personalized yoga practice. The authors provide an overview of yoga anatomy, including terminology, main systems, and breathing. They also review meditation and the chakra (or “subtle”) system, and how it might affect your physical systems.

From there, they identify four major postural types: kyphosis (round shoulders), lordosis (overarched lower back), flat back, and swayback (hips forward). Each type has a few possible causes; you might have a head-forward posture because of your computer setup, the sports you play, or the emotions trapped in the chest.

You’re supposed to identify your own postural type, which is the hardest part of the book. If I knew my bad habits, I’d correct them already, right? They do advise a teacher’s help, and indeed when my teacher started calling me “Ribby” I finally figured it out. (Lordosis.)

There are then ten or twelve poses prescribed for each type, plus a chakra focus and a few positive affirmations. It’s a Hatha pace; you’re supposed to stay from one to four minutes in each pose. Each sequence ends with a breathing exercise and a meditation. The lordosis sequence included two poses that really push my buttons: Crescent Lunge (holding the back foot) and Forearm Plank. The swayback section, another contender, had a lot of hamstring stretches, which I definitely do not need, so my diagnosis seemed on track. I went through the prescribed sequence on a couple consecutive mornings, and it was both challenging and relaxing. The “grounding” meditation at the end was a topic I’ve been thinking about for weeks, so again it was right on track.

The customized nature of the sequencing really inspired me to practice; it was as if a live teacher had given me a lesson. It didn’t quite feel like a full practice (Forward Bend was the only inversion), so I’d weave in a few personal poses to make it completely satisfying.

The detailed illustrations, by Juliet Percival, are another feature of the book. All the muscles that are active or stretched in the pose are listed, and illustrated on the figure. This style of drawing, similar to the illustrations by Sharon Ellis in Yoga Anatomy or Frédéric Delavier in Strength Training Anatomy-3rd Edition (Sports Anatomy), is much more informative than a simple outline of the pose. Visualizing the muscles helps to activate them. And when your yoga teacher says “go deeper,” you’ll have a sub-surface layer to work with.

My main criticism of the book is its title — “Anatomy for Yoga” implies more breadth than this book manages. There’s a nice introduction to both scientific and subtle systems of anatomy, but it is not a very comprehensive book of asanas. There are about 44 poses, including variations, but many are physical therapy exercises like “Leg Drops,” not classic yoga poses. The book’s main focus is the causes and treatment of postural problems. I can’t help but think the title was chosen for search engine optimization, or competitive marketing. A more accurate title might have been Therapeutic Yoga Sequences: An Illustrated Guidebook. Or even Yoga for Bad Posture.

I was also somewhat perturbed by the cover design. It’s a mirror image of the best-selling Yoga Anatomy book by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews. Given that Anatomy for Yoga also mirrored their predecessor’s title, it makes the book seem like a cheap knockoff.

I took Leslie’s advanced studies course, so I’m quite familiar with the illustrations he uses for breathing and the spine. I was pleased to see Anatomy for Yoga demonstrating a like-minded, modern understanding of breathing mechanics. But I was surprised to see that Yoga Anatomy was not included in the list of references; it’s been Amazon’s best-selling yoga book since 2008.

Noting these similarities, I did a side-by-side comparison of the two books, to see how the details compared.

Yoga Anatomy

Anatomy for Yoga

Yoga Anatomy Anatomy for Yoga
Philosophical concepts;

Breathing anatomy;

Breathing mechanics;

Diaphragm details;

Spinal anatomy;

Spinal evolution;

Spinal movement;

Bases of support

Anatomical terminology;

Joint movements;

Posture categories;

Postural problems;

Postural benefits of yoga;

Spinal anatomy;

Breathing mechanics;

Meditation benefits;

Chakra balancing;

Sun salutations

Encyclopedic review of major yoga poses, with rich background on breathing and spinal anatomy Therapeutic sequences for common postural problems, with notes on their physical, emotional, or subtle causes.
About 75, counting variations. About 44, counting variations, but many are not classic yoga poses.

4 breathing practices

4 meditation practices

English and Sanskrit name;

Context for name;


Level of difficulty;

Key structures;

Key joint and limb actions;

Muscles working;

Muscles lengthening;

Breathing suggestions;




Special notes

English and Sanskrit name;

Benefits of pose;

Instructions for pose;

Key joints;

Joint movements;

Muscles active;

Muscles stretched;

Modifications / variations

Main view;

Alternate view;

Related details

Main view;

Alternate view (outline only)

A couple other details: both books nicely illustrate the muscles used in the pose, but neither one color codes the lengthening/stretching muscles differently than the contracting/active muscles. Both books like long lists of muscles; YA presents them in list format, AfY in a more readable chart. (Though, as a student and sometimes teacher, I’d much prefer to have them phrased as directive statements: e.g. “Engage the biceps” instead of “Muscles active: Biceps Brachii.”)

So while both books start with breathing and the spine, and make good use of illustrations, they differ in purpose and execution. Yoga Anatomy will give you more pictures of more poses, and a deeper understanding of breathing mechanics and integration. It’s like an encyclopedia. Anatomy for Yoga will give you an emotional, subtle, and anatomical overview of bad posture, and guidelines for therapeutic practice. It’s like a (mis-named) manual. I have to say it: you can’t judge a book by its cover.

If you’ve read either book, I’d love to hear your comments.

4 thoughts on “Books: Anatomy for Yoga; Yoga Anatomy”

  1. Great review, Erica. I particularly like the side-by-side comparison.

    Judith’s book is quite nice, and makes a great companion to ours, as we do not cover some basic anatomy that she does. Her publishers used our illustrator, Sharon Ellis for their anatomical drawings – a fact of which Judith was unaware until I pointed it out.

    It seems that more than one publisher has taken note of the success of “Yoga Anatomy.” An Indian publisher actually stole our cover illustration and put it on one of their older titles. We shut them down, and had all the unsold copies destroyed. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon practice in the publishing world. Success breeds imitation, and sometimes outright plagiarism.

  2. Thanks Leslie! Funny that you and Judith used the same illustrator, small world.

    I’ve seen the inspiration/education/theft debate a lot in web design too. I mean, the web was BUILT by people copying and pasting (and improving on) each other’s code… that’s still part of the open-source movement, relinquishing ownership = greater good. But then there are instances where entire websites are downloaded, renamed, and relaunched, without changes or thanks. And obviously at that point, they’re not trying to learn a technique, or playfully one-up the previous site.

    Proper credit is the key, to me, but I just read a crazy interview in Wired where an author argued that art (including literature) = use, reuse, and abuse of previous works:

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