Paul Grilley - Anatomy for Yoga

This page is basically a review of the DVD - Anatomy for Yoga with Paul Grilley, which is available from

I first heard of Paul Grilley in 2000, in an interview with Sarah Powers in Yoga Journal (NOV/DEC 2000, page 24). It took some detective work to find out more about him. He had just self- published his book (later published as Yin Yoga), which I ordered right away. I was very impressed with the ideas in the book. At that time I had been practicing Ashtanga yoga for several years and was starting to realize that maybe I needed a different approach to yoga. So the concept of holding postures for longer periods was interesting to me, as that was what I was thinking I needed to do. The book puts forth the theory that the energy pathways (meridians in oriental acupuncture system, or nadis in Indian chakra system) are within the connective tissues of the body, specifically fascia/tendons/ligaments, and that the appropriate way to work with this system is slow stretching - holding postures for 3 to 5 minutes. Connective tissue is yin, while muscles are yang. Later there was a large feature article on Yin Yoga by Paul Grilley in Yoga Journal (see link at bottom of this page). I was also intrigued that he was a student of Paulie Zink, the master of Monkey Kung Fu. I am a huge fan of the late Michael Hedges, one of the greatest guitar players ever, and it turns out that Zink was his yoga teacher as well. Why is this martial arts champion a yoga teacher? Well, I still don't know too much about Zink, but I did get ahold of his Taoist Yoga video and also checked out one of his Monkey Kung Fu videos, and they are both amazing.

So one day in January of 2004 I decide to check in with Grilley's website and there is an announcement that his new DVD is available. I had not heard anything about this before. I checked out the producers' website ( and decided to get the DVD right away. I am very interested in human anatomy in general as well as yoga, so the subject of yoga and anatomy is especially interesting to me (check out my page on atlases of human anatomy here). I have been aware that there seem to be more and more people giving workshops on anatomy for yoga teachers, but I have never been to one. I did go to a short Ashtanga workshop with Tias Little once, and he is one of the yoga teachers who gives anatomy workshops. I saw on Grilley's website that he gives a 100-hour course in anatomy for yoga. So there is a lot to it and lots of ways to approach it.

Probably this DVD is way different from the presentation you might get from anyone else on yoga and anatomy. Its not that no one else knows as much about yoga and anatomy, there are more and more experts (and books) on the subject. But Paul has decided to focus here on some specific important and interesting issues. The DVD mainly consists of a 4 hour lecture. At the beginning of the DVD he says that he will mainly be discussing four ideas - compression, tension, proportion, and orientation. The most important of these, and the one that gets the most time, is compression. This is basically the concept that the range of motion of each joint is limited not only by tension in muscles and connective tissue (which can be removed through yoga practice) but also by the shape of the bones. So, for instance, the elbow can only open so far before the tongue of the ulna hits a stopping place in the groove in the humerus. Two things are important here - 1. there is always a limit to how far you can go and 2. everyones bones are different. Probably the main point of this DVD is that everyone is different. Of course we all know that, but sometimes in the world of yoga this does not seem to be awknowledged. I have always thought that the huge amount of deep chronic tension that I have in my body is what makes it important for me to be careful to find the right way to practice yoga. And this is true. But I have to admit that I have secretly always thought that all human bodies are basically the same, some larger, some smaller, but everyone should eventually be able to do every yoga posture in a uniform way. Well I now see the complete ignorance of that theory. Paul demonstrates very clearly in this DVD that not only are people different sizes and shapes, but each individual bone is unique. And this manifests in a wide variety of different possible ranges of motion in the joints. For instance, going back to the elbow, due to differences in the shape of the tongue on the ulna and/or the shape of the groove in the humerus, some people may never be able to extend their arm out straight, while other people may be able to hyper-extend past 180 degrees. Paul is careful to point out that this is a separate issue from tension, which also limits range of motion. Throughout the body all of the joints will have limitations which affect how far you can go into a yoga posture. And these limits are always due to either tension or compression. If its compression, you are not going any farther, if its tension, then you can work on some stretching. The main reason this is so important in the context of yoga is that if a teacher does not understand this, they may injure someone when trying to push them farther into a posture. So it is important to learn the difference in compression and tension. If a teacher pushes one student into an asana, they may be helping them to work through some tension, while pushing a different student into the same asana may rupture a disc or tear a ligament. And it is also possible to injure yourself if you try to push to hard.

The concept of proprotion is also very eye-openning. Each school of yoga has an ideal form for each asana. And perhaps this is as it should be. But it is important to understand that not everyone's body will fit that ideal. Paul demonstrates how requiring someone to do a posture a certain way may defeat the purpose of the posture. He shows how it is better to look at whether someone is getting the stretch that a posture is supposed to give rather than just looking to see if their hands and feet are in the right places (which he would call "letting the tail wag the dog").

The lecture material is split up into chapters and subchapters and includes lots of demonstrations using students to illustrate some of the very distinct differences in bone structure and proportion that Grilley is talking about. There is also a section of graphics which is kind of like a simple anatomy reference and includes some animations showing the skeleton in 3-D. There is also some more interesting info in the several brief bonus lectures included. Overall the DVD is very well produced.

I could not over-emphasize how important it is for every yoga teacher to have the info in this DVD. Every serious yoga student should find this of great value. And I can't imagine a clearer presentation of this material. So hopefully more and more people will be getting ahold of this.

Paul Grilley's

Info on Paul Grilley's DVD - Anatomy for Yoga:

Read about Paul's book Yin Yoga on

Paul Grilley's article on Yin Yoga in AUG 2001 Yoga Journal:

More on Paulie Zink (master of Monkey Kung Fu, teacher of Taoist Yoga):

Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama:

See also my pages on:

Yoga Links      Yoga Books      Yoga Videos

Health      Self-Healing

Atlases of Human Anatomy      Body Books      Qigong Books

Back to Slade's Home Page

This page revised 02/05/04. Page first posted 02/03/04.