Getting to Know Your Body, Inside and Out, at Yoga Shanti

Padma Borrego.
Padma Borrego.
Padma Borrego.

By Emily J. Weitz

Padma Borrego, who’s been teaching yoga since 1994, knows the body inside and out. That’s why she’s started a series of anatomy courses at Yoga Shanti in Sag Harbor, designed to teach students how their body moves the way it moves, in yoga and in life. The hope is that through this understanding, people will be able not only to correct current misalignments, but to prevent future injury.

In the upcoming workshop, Ms. Borrego will focus on the neck. But this doesn’t mean she will only discuss the neck.

“The neck is the top of the spine,” she said, “so you have to talk about your whole spine when you talk about the neck. And what about arteries and veins, which come from the heart? Shoulder blades, neck, eyes… You end up looking at the whole picture.”

In past workshops, Ms. Borrego focused on the hips and the feet. These, also, had implications for the entire body, but it’s a starting point. One thing that’s particularly interesting about a focus on the neck is its relationship to the head, the chin, the eyes, the mind. In yoga, practitioners come into all sorts of postures, and often, they don’t know where to put the head or how to arrange the neck.

“Most people in yoga don’t exactly know where to put their head,” said Ms. Borrego, “because most people in life, in relation to screens or to work or to people, don’t know where to put their heads.”

Often, because we are looking forward with our eyes, we tend to jut the chin forward, compressing the back of the neck. This can cause neck and shoulder problems. Ms. Borrego says she is always challenging herself to resist that urge, and to take people in instead of moving into their space.

“It’s interesting how much we depend on our eyes and our thinking and intellect,” she said, “and less on our feelings. I check in and think about where my body is, and how it’s relating to the earth and to the rest of me.”

Ms. Borrego got her keen understanding of anatomy, in part, from her education in the Iyengar yoga tradition. Iyengar is an alignment based practice that utilizes props like blankets, blocks, straps, walls, and chairs to maintain the alignment of the body in any yoga pose. When Ms. Borrego first found yoga, she had an elbow injury that forced her to go slowly and move with awareness.

“My downward dog is interesting,” she said. “When I ended up at the Iyengar Institute, I was able to heal a lot.”

She is also a massage therapist, and her training in bodywork contributed to a vast understanding of the structure of the body.

“I kept being drawn back to alignment as a way to integrate and heal the body,” she said, “to inhabit the body.”

Checking in with alignment isn’t the sexiest thing. Knowing your scapula isn’t so exciting. But this is a slower yoga, one that allows you to go deeper in a safer way.

“We live in a world where people just want to move fast,” said Ms. Borrego. “People feel pain and they ignore it because they have an idea of what yoga should be rather than what their body is feeling.”

This is what Ms. Borrego hopes to correct. By understanding how the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones interact with one another, people can understand how injuries occur.

“Sometimes people hit pain,” she said, “and they keep going. Then they’re injured because they’ve been working through it instead of trying to understand it. We’re not educated about our bodies. People think our success, our intellect, our grades are much more important than our bodies.”

To illustrate how the body works, Ms. Borrego uses slides and pictures. She explains where the organs exist within the structure of the skeleton. Then she teaches yoga poses that clearly illustrate her point. Then she teaches yoga poses that still require her point, even if it’s not as obvious. By the end of the workshop, students will know where to put their heads. Will they go out into the world and do it? That will be a lifelong practice.

To learn more about Padma Borrego’s upcoming workshop on the anatomy of the neck, which takes place Saturday, March 19 at Yoga Shanti, go to