Why is everyone coloring?

Like more and more people, I spent the winter coloring. According to recent research, coloring helps relieve stress by replacing negative images with positive ones, which sounds like the yoga concept of pratipaksha bhavana (cultivating the opposite). Coloring has been likened to meditation in that it brings you to the present moment.

This wasn’t the primary driver behind my purchase of coloring books and pencils, though. I wanted to brush up on my anatomy and coloring books seemed the way to go. They provide an “active learning” experience that increases memory retention.

Two anatomy coloring books

I bought two books: Kaplan’s ‘Anatomy Coloring Book’ and ‘Netter’s Anatomy Coloring Book’. I dove in, sharpened my pencils when I needed (which was often), and refreshed my understanding of our building blocks.

As a yoga teacher, the more I know about any part of the body the better. It’s essential to know all bones, muscles, and joints, so my focus, both while coloring and in this review, is on those sections of the books.

Kaplan

I started with Kaplan. The authors are adamant on you using the book however you see fit. They write in the introduction: “This book is meant to be handled, colored, written on, and even cut up in the case of the muscle flash cards” (more on those in a bit). Chapters 1 and 2 get you acquainted with basic anatomy terms: anatomical position, direction, hierarchy, regions, systems, and cell types.

All body systems are covered. The chapter on development includes pre-embryonic, embryonic, and fetal stages. It’s brief (only three pages) informative. Kaplan also devotes a chapter to major joint types and the unique joints in the body.

Picture of tibia and fibula

Chapter 3 includes bones with their articulations. Kaplan does a good job explaining the bones and features. The drawing style is very two-dimensional, without a lot of shading or depth implied. This kept the drawings simple.

One pretty glaring omission (at least in the third edition): they don’t show a posterior view of the ilia and sacrum. It was a bit odd that they never showed muscle attachments, but I assumed they’d deal with that in the muscle chapter. Unfortunately the muscle chapter never came. Kaplan instead has muscle flash cards, which have a drawing of the muscle and its associated bones.

For medical students or those studying for an anatomy test, the flash cards seem fantastic. On the front is a picture of the muscle, and the back of the card includes the muscle name, origin, insertion and function.

Muscle flash cards
On this flash card, it’s hard to see what’s bone shading and what’s infraspinatus.

As part of a coloring book, these cards fall way short. There are a few drawings where it’s hard to tell what the muscle looks like. Also, since you see only one muscle in an image, you never get an idea of how muscles relate to one another. Nowhere is there an explanation of muscle groups or illustrations of one muscle cut to reveal a deeper muscle.

If you’re familiar with the body, the cards will be a good refresher. But this book won’t help a newbie develop a visual understanding of muscle groups and fascial continuities, which is needed in any yoga class.

Netter

This will be the shorter review, because Netter’s Anatomy Coloring Book is fantastic for a yoga instructor. You could even use this coloring book as a primary anatomy book.

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Like the Kaplan book, Netter’s preface encourages you to “use each image as creatively as you wish to enhance your learning experience.” Also like Kaplan, they start with basic anatomical information and the major systems.

The drawings are much denser and provide a more three-dimensional representation of the features. At times I found myself wondering what I should even color. It doesn’t include a developmental section (sorry pre-natal instructors), but does have two pages on puberty in the endocrine chapter.

Shoulder muscles

The muscular section is THE section to study, meditate on, and memorize. For instance, there are two pages dedicated to the pronation and supination of the radioulnar joints. This provides a movement teacher something the Kaplan book does not: the ability to visualize the components of movement. I can move my forearm and wrist as I look at the drawings and join the two experiences into a memorable (and memorizable) moment.

There are also several ways to observe muscles and their place in the body—alone, paired with muscle groups, cross-sections, and as part of a related system. For example, the Kaplan book has one drawing of the gracilis muscle. I counted 11 instances of the gracilis (or the cut tendon) in Netter.

The bones and articulations are covered in the same chapter and offer a similar depth to the muscular chapter. The entire book is filled with tables of information that cover both anatomy and movement.

Coming Up

In my next anatomy post, I’ll let you know how I used these books. I’ll also include a resource list to further your understanding of anatomy. Namaste!

Skull and bike helmet