I recently had a student write to ask me about Anatomical Neutral and it’s relevance to yoga asana practice. The exchange is what follows below.
Q: I have a couple of questions for you regarding the feet and legs in “anatomical neutral”. I am referencing page 15 in your book, The Yoga Technique Guide. From my understanding, when in Tadasana, you are standing in anatomical neutral. That is where you move from and return to.
A: Yes, “anatomical neutral” is a conventional positioning of the body to establish a reference point that all movement is described or referenced from. That is pretty much what Tadasana is. Anatomical neutral is considered a neutral position from which movement is initiated. Meaning a neutral reference place before spinal or pelvic or limb flection/extension are initiated or any other position is assumed.
Q: One of the cues for achieving this is having feet OUTER hip width apart. Everything else I’ve read, and what I’ve gathered from training courses usually puts the feet HIP width apart. Which feels slightly closer than outer hip width apart. Is there even a big difference?
A: Good. You just stated that they feel different. Explore that. Generally the outer edges of the feet are no wider than the outer hip. That puts the ankle and the center of the foot (second toe) directly under the hip joint.
Q: Now I know one of the cues for hip width is finding the hip points, dropping a plumb line so it aligns with the second toe. (Which is similar to what you have written on page 15). Another is two fists width between the feet.
A: These are both generally correct. In fact even more accurate than “outer hip width”. When you referenced the “hip points” I think you are talking about the anterior superior Iliac spine. “Outer hip width” may be a bit wide regarding foot placement in some cases. This is because being a slim person for example, my outer hip width will be narrower than someone with broader pelvic bones or carrying more weight around the hips.
Q: How would you actually cue outer hip width for someone who needs a reference point?
A: To make it easier (I should add this to my book!) I simply say “step you feet outer hip width apart OR a little wider than the span of one of your feet.”
Q: When do you even use OUTER hip width apart?
A: I use this in teaching Tadasana, or especially if I am working in various ways therapeutically. Down Dog can also have that approximate foot width though it’s a bit narrow.
Q: Because I am finding that in outer hip width my legs feel a bit wider than parallel.
A: As I said above, outer hip width may end up being too wide a stance for people with broader hips. So we are looking to have the center of the ankle (second toe) directly below the hip joint. Much wider the legs are moving toward abduction. Much narrower, they are moving toward adduction.
To be honest in “Tadasana”, the feet can be anywhere from inner edges of the feet touching (heels about 1/2 inch apart) to “outer hip width”. The difference it make is really about the relative ease of initiating the actions of the legs, such as inner rotation of the upper, inner thighs. Other than that it merely comes down to a preference. I encourage a slightly wider stance when teaching beginners. A narrower stance when working with more seasoned students.
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