Articles & Downloads

Here are some recent articles I've written.

Yoga and the Mereological Fallacy

yoga and the mereological fallacy

Mereology: the study of the relationship of parts to the whole.

Stomachs don’t eat lunch, mouths don’t talk and eyes don’t see… We would never use this kind of language because we know it doesn’t really make sense. However it is not unusual in an anatomy class to be told that a bicep flexes the elbow. These parts play a role in the functions described but they can’t elicit these actions on their own. This kind of thinking falls prey to the ‘mereological fallacy’, yet it runs deep in our study of anatomy – and nowhere is it more evident than in yoga anatomy books; often beautifully illustrated books showing exactly which muscle does what action, on a perfectly clean skeleton. Just in case there is any doubt, the origin, insertion, innervation and function are usually described on the same page.

There is something really appealing about these books and a satisfying and logical simplicity about this structuralist way of thinking. A way of thinking that, with a bit of thought, can put together a fully working human being by describing the contraction of the various muscles acting over levers, pulleys and fulcrums to facilitate balanced movement over joints. It derives from the study of cadavers; a body is dissected and a muscle is found, with its beginning and end noted. On careful inspection, the path of the nerves running from the muscle can be traced through the spinal cord and up to the sensory motor cortex of the brain. An obvious conclusion can be drawn: when the motor neuron fires, a signal will travel down the nerve and cause the muscle to contract and carry out its function.

However, like many things in life, it turns out that things aren’t that simple. The body is not like a machine, an assembly of various parts put together to create a greater whole, and we must stop thinking of ourselves like that. We are organisms that evolved in complex ecosystems, with layers of interdependence built on other layers of interdependence. There are no units that act alone or have any sense of autonomy – there are only relationships.

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Thinking about disc problems and their relationship to yoga practice

There is a lot of discussion in yoga about what constitutes safe practice in regards to disc problems, particularly of the lumbar spine. To help make sense of the diverse opinions on the subject it is worth reviewing the anatomy and physiology of the disc, and also the history of the ideas around the causation of disc herniation and prolapse.

The anatomy

basic anatomy of spinal disc

Most yoga practitioners are familiar with the basic anatomy of the disc, which consists of a collagenous outer layer called the annulus fibrosus, and an inner more fluid/gel centre called the nucleus pulposus. The tough collagen fibres of the annulus are arranged in layers and at alternating angles. This makes the annulus resilient in regards to both internal pressure and external forces acting upon it. The internal pressure comes from the fact that the inner nucleus is hygroscopic in nature, meaning that it absorbs fluid from the surrounding area. This keeps discs plumped up and resistant to the compressive forces of gravity.

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On responsiveness

on-responsiveness

The balance between life and death is a fragile one, and the ability to maintain a life is frankly astonishing. It is an interesting exercise to reflect on how it is done.

Moving away from the structural model…

embracing-biology

It’s an interesting thing, the structural model – or what is sometimes called the biomechanical model. It’s neat and clean and full of satisfying solutions. It works really well with machines, such as cars…

Sensation, perception and response through structure

perception

Bodies respond to the way they are used; more than anything, they are adaptive.

Teaching yoga to people with chronic pain

teaching-yoga-to-people-in-pain

Some useful things to help navigate the often disconcerting situations we can find ourselves in teaching people who are in pain.

Theories of movement

theories-of-movement

An article I wrote to support a lecture I give on movement.

Precautions and prohibitions in Yoga?

Precautions

An article I wrote with Christine McHugh discussing illness, health and homeostasis in yoga practice.

Spectrum: The Evolution of Yoga

spectrum

An article written for Spectrum, the British Wheel of Yoga magazine, discussing recent claims that yoga practice can cause injuries.