Understanding basic anatomy is a must for yoga teachers. It gives insight into the why’s and what’s of all the poses they teach. After getting my HHP and finishing my 300 hour yoga teacher training, I realized the importance of anatomy more than ever. In massage school I was able to feel what I was learning on different bodies. In my advanced yoga training we applied our monthly anatomy lectures directly to movement principles and yoga postures, especially standing poses. There are conflicting views of the rotation of the femurs in the pelvis in standing poses. You may have just fallen asleep reading that last sentence and have no interest in exploring this further. But if you’re a yoga teacher, wake up and take a few minutes to read on. It’s important.
I consistently read and hear teachers divide standing poses into the following two groups:
1) Standing poses where the femurs are internally rotated in the pelvis
2) Standing poses where the femurs are externally rotated in the pelvis
This is a widely held belief that is incorrect.
According to this viewpoint, in postures such as Warrior 1, parsvottonasana, and anjaneyasana, the femurs are both slightly internally rotated. In postures such as warrior 2, reverse warrior, and side angle pose, the femurs are both in external rotation. Dividing standing poses according to the femurs in relation to the pelvis is helpful. Let’s look a little closer at what occurs in the hips in warrior 1 and warrior 2 to understand this distinction in a more accurate way.
Warrior 1 with the right leg forward
- Starting from anatomical position, or tadasana with the palms open, step the left foot back for warrior 1.
- Align the right knee over the ankle. The right hip is in flexion with a neutral rotation.
- Release the left heel down at a 45 degree angle. The left hip is in extension and the femur is in a slight external rotation.
In classic warrior 1 alignment, the back hip rotates forward to align with the front hip to lengthen the hip flexors of the back hip. Because the back heel is down, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to draw the left hip forward enough to align perfectly with the right. I reached out to Lauren Padula, a San Diego yoga teacher and PT that teaches anatomy in many local teacher trainings. She clarified that “the front hip is in a neutral rotation and flexion. The back femur is in extension and technically the femur is externally rotated. It’s the pelvis rotating forward, not the femur.”
Internal Rotation Occurs Only to Reduce External Rotation
If you look at the picture of me above, I’m trying to square my hips but they aren’t even close. If I internally rotate my back femur, it will help facilitate the rotation of the left side of my pelvis forward. However this internal rotation is really just making my back femur less externally rotated. So there is never internal rotation occurring in either femur in Warrior 1. The front hip stays in a neutral rotation and the back hip attempts a neutral rotation.
Warrior 2 with the right leg forward
- Starting from anatomical position, or tadasana with the palms open, step the left foot out to a wide stance, keeping the feet parallel.
- Turn the right foot out 90 degrees, aligning the front heel with the back arch and bend the right knee over the ankle.
- The right hip is in external rotation
- The left hip is in abduction.
For warrior 2 and other poses in this group of standing postures, the focus is external rotation in the front hip. People are often limited in this action and the front knee buckles in, causing pressure on the joint. To address this, the left foot turns in creating internal rotation in the back hip. When I confirmed this with Lauren Padula she said “I think for most people the back hip SHOULD be slightly internally rotated because most people don’t have enough front hip external rotation.” This small change supports the external rotation in the front hip and takes the pressure off the knee.
There is Only External Rotation in the Front Hip
Students either have a slight internal rotation of the back femur, or the hip is simply in abduction with no external or internal rotation of the femur. The only standing position where there is external rotation in both hips is goddess pose.
Standing poses could more accurately be divided by what is occurring in the front hip:
Standing poses where the front hip is in a neutral rotation
Standing poses where the front hip is in external rotation
The position of the back hip will always depend on the anatomy of the student. It should be left out of any general classification. Understanding the relationship between the femurs and the pelvis in standing poses is important since as vinyasa instructors we consistently teach them. This knowledge will give you insight into key aspects of teaching such as preventing injuries and sequencing. Vinyasa has no concrete system or rules to follow. Studying and applying anatomy to our yoga classes gives us and our students a tangible and practical foundation.