Yoga forward fold alignment & anatomy

Proper Alignment in Yoga Forward Folds

bt-adminBlog, Education, Yoga 6 Comments

Why you’ve been doing forward folds wrong for years.

Yoga forward fold alignment & anatomy

“Stack your joints.” As students, we hear this in every class. “Stack your joints.” As teachers, we offer this reminder throughout our asana practice. But when it comes to forward folds, it seems we forget this cue in our journey toward the floor. Or do we even know what it means to stack our joints?

Examine the joints involved in a forward fold. We flex our spine, pelvis & hips over our stable knees and ankles. Proper alignment in this position would have us stack our hips over our knees & ankles instead of moving our hips posterior and behind our ankles. (see the image below)

So why do we make this shift? Simply stated, it makes the forward fold easier and we feel more balanced. Mechanically, we end up flexing farther forward when we shift our hips backwards. But anatomically, we are no longer stacking our joints in this position.

Yoga Alignment in forward folds with plumb lines

Notice how the line of gravity differs from the angle of her legs. Her pelvis is behind her ankles and therefore is not stacked properly. This causes stress on her hamstring tendons, knees & ankles.

Why all the fuss? When we shift our hips behind our ankles we put a lot of extra stress on the upper hamstring tendons. Their attachments on the ischial tuberosity (sits bone) begin to fray and get damaged. Over time, the repetitive stress of this improper movement can cause significant pain and damage making yoga, and especially forward folds, very challenging. Also, when our hips are behind our ankles our weight shifts into our heels often causing us to lock our knees in order to regain stability. Without a microbend in our joints, we create a lot of unnecessary friction and the potential joint pain & long-term damage.

So the next time you begin a forward fold, remember your cues. Ground the “4 corners” of your feet into the earth, rise out of your joints expanding up toward the sky, microbend your knees, and stack your hips over your knees & ankles. Your body will love you for it!

This is a great example of proper alignment in a forward fold. Notice how the center of her hip joints are aligned over her ankles making her legs straight but without locking her joints (note the microbend in her knees). Don't make the mistake of trying to align the back of your glutes with your ankles or heels as those are not the correct reference points.

Comments 6

  1. Thanks for this awesome, info, Dave. Forward bends are the long underestimated culprits of sacral issues and lower back problems. I appreciate you bringing attention to some good alignment tips to keep yogis safe in their practice!

    1. Post

      Thank you for your comment Alanna. I recently added a photo and some links which show proper alignment during forward folds.

    1. Post

      Hi Ben, Thanks for your suggestion. I added an image and some hyperlinks which show proper alignment with knees “micro”-bent (which is correct). For those that are not flexible enough to touch the floor or during certain poses, it is recommended to bend the knees more deeply. When your knees bend, your hips will align behind your ankles instead of directly over them. That’s OK. Simply stack your knees over your ankles and allow your hips to drop backward.

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