Ellen Saltonstall smiles as the elevator opens into the sun-filled loft she shares with husband the noted decorative artist Robert Kushner. The Helen Mirren look-alike has been living here since the '70’s and practicing yoga in her art-filled home since 1981.
Anatomy has always been important to her life -- even when she was a dancer and massage therapist in an earlier life. And she knows that anatomy can be a difficult subject for some and so what she teaches needs to be broken into “bite-size”
helpings so it is not “boring or tedious.” She also realized she can teach this subject in a systematic way but still be “surprising and playful.”
To further that goal, she is set to release her book Anatomy & Yoga, A Guide for Teachers and Students on December 9th. YogaCity NYC Publisher Brette Popper sat down with Ellen to discuss her newest project.
Brette Popper: Why another anatomy book?
Ellen Saltonstall: I wanted to create a manual with my voice throughout. A book that could be used by young students and teachers alike. A manageable package for students just starting out and a bit more if a teacher needed a refresher. One of the differences in my book is that there are exercises for the reader to do in every chapter.
BP: How is your take on anatomy different from other professionals in this field?
ES: That’s hard for me to answer since I don’t attend other anatomy classes very often. My style of teaching involves several phases: doing a short yoga practice with the group to orient them to the part of the body we’ll be focusing on, then doing a lecture with slides, interspersed with “practicums” where they work with each other to identify and feel the structures they’re learning. There’s a good amount of discussion and Q&A once we get going. I also teach some Bodymind Ballwork which helps students feel the muscles and their connections very vividly. We also find interesting tangents to delve into with more depth, brought up by the group. So I guess I could say in summary, that I prioritize active participation in the process, not passive listening.
BP: Are you self-publishing this book?
ES: Yes, I’m self publishing, which is a lot different from doing it through a traditional publishing house. My two books co-authored with Dr. Fishman were published by WW Norton.
There are actually three ways to go – traditional publishing, true self-publishing, where you do every step yourself, and then the middle ground which is using a publishing service. The publishing service is like the contractor on a construction job – they help you find the right people for various jobs – editing, indexing, printing, distributing, and they keep tabs on the process, making sure all the steps are in place. That's what I'm doing right now.
Whichever way you go, there are decisions to make every step of the way. Right now for me it’s the type of binding, and the weight of the paper. Every week there are dozens of decisions and tasks. Then the publicity is a huge piece – I am spreading the word through the yoga world as much as I can, reaching out to teacher training programs, and especially the worldwide Anusara community, who has been waiting for this book for a long time. I am a Subject Matter Specialist for them in Anatomy and Therapeutics.
BP: I think most of us have thought of self-publishing. You’ve done both – professionally published and self-published. Is self-publishing worth it? How much of a surprise was it for you?
ES: I knew it would be more work upfront, but it’s been even more work than I thought! The advantages of self-publishing are control, participation with each step, a faster timeline, and higher profit once you start selling. The disadvantages are the outlay of money at the beginning, the steep learning curve and the greater responsibility for outreach and promotion.
BP: You start this book with a short discussion of Tantra.
ES:: Yes, the body is an expression of spirit, so that’s important to me. I kept that thread of Tantra going throughout the book, the sense of reverence for the body as a beautiful vehicle.
BP: Tell me about the beautiful illustrations.
ES: I used two different illustrators, John Karapelou and Liem Nguyen. John created the technical drawings which are computer generated and show details.
Liem drew the pictures of me in postures, working free hand. He also did the larger illustrations that begin each chapter.
BP: How do you hope readers use your book?
ES: At some point most people who are practicing have to learn something about the body. Anatomy & Yoga is user friendly and accessible. With so many people are coming to yoga for therapeutics, I think it’s important for teachers to know things about a pelvic tilt or the medial and lateral ligaments of the knee or the intrinsic muscles of the feet. I hope the book is an invitation for readers to go further in their studies.
BP: What teachers have inspired your work over the years?
ES: Dorothy Vislocky, Irene Dowd and Tom Myers. I still study with Tom. He is a bodyworker and is particularly interested in therapeutic applications of anatomy. How can we understand the body to get rid of pain? And, he’s an expert in fascia. He’s concerned with connections and wholeness; within the specificity of anatomical knowledge there is an interconnectedness. Every yoga pose has a focus, but involves the whole body. So I have a holistic view of alignment. No one muscle works alone - it's a complex dance of coordination, no matter what we are doing. And that's the fun part for me.
BP: What’s next?
ES: I’m working on another book, BodyMind Ballwork and creating a Certification in Yoga and Osteoporosis with Loren. Our certification course is a three day in-person workshop with the prerequisite of our 20-hour webinar with Yoga U Online. In those three days we will train teachers to give specialized classes, following a syllabus of poses that we will supply. Those teachers who pass the certification course will be authorized to teach students who have joined our upcoming larger study, as well as any other students they may have. Loren did a pilot study which had very good results, and in the new study we will be looking at “dose response” (looking at how much yoga has which benefits) using a structured yoga practice that is monitored by our new team of teachers. It’s an exciting step toward getting yoga into the mainstream medical mindset as a viable treatment for osteoporosis.
BP: Final question…bones or muscles?
ES: You can’t really separate them. Bones give structure and muscles allow function. I see the whole and enjoy seeing just how different everyone is.
Anatomy & Yoga will be released by Abhyasa Press on December 9th as a paperback - $24.99 and ebook - $11.99.