How are you reading this article? I don’t mean are you using your phone or your laptop. What I mean is, observe the position of your body as you read. Are you sitting or standing? Are you lying down? Are you holding whatever device you’re using? Where are your arms? What are your neck and head doing?
When we pay attention to how we spend our days, we start to notice that we’re often leaning, reaching, bending, and otherwise moving forward in space. We reach our arms forward to text, to drive, to cook, to shake hands (when we still do that!). We move our legs forward when we walk, run, climb stairs, even as we sit in a chair.
Here’s the problem with that: The human body is designed to be mobile in various directions. You might recall that saying, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” It’s true when it comes to our bodies, which become flexible in the places where they are used the most and resist movement where they are used the least. This can lead to the stiffening of some joints and the overuse of others. Or muscles overdeveloping on one side and remaining underdeveloped on the other. Quite simply, we need to move in an array of ways each day to keep our bodies moving as they were designed.
The three anatomical planes of movement
The predominant place of contemporary living, which takes us into forward motion, is actually just one of three primary planes in which our body is able to—and needs to—move each day: the sagittal (front and back motion), coronal (side-to-side movement), and transverse (twisting action) planes. It’s not just the body in its entirety that moves in these planes. Individual body parts—arms, legs, neck, back, knees—move in these manners as well.
As you go about your everyday movement and your yoga practice, observe what plane you spend the most time in, and which you spend the least. The latter is where your work lies. Following are several ways we move our bodies in our everyday lives, including in our yoga practice. Notice any that you tend to not engage in regularly? You know what you need to do about that.
The sagittal plane comprises forward and backward movements. This can take the shape of either flexion—decreasing the angle of a joint, as in bending your front hip and knee in High Lunge—or extension, which is increasing the angle of a joint, as in the straightening of the back hip and knee in High Lunge.
Everyday movements in the sagittal plane
- Reaching for something
- Scratching your back
Yoga poses that move in the sagittal plane
The coronal plane, sometimes called the frontal plane, includes side movements. There’s adduction, bringing a body part toward the midline, as when you cross your arms and legs in Garudasana (Eagle Pose) and abduction, bringing a body part away from the midline, like when you take your arms and legs apart from your center for Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2 Pose).
This plane also includes lateral flexion, which is when the spine and pelvis act together, like side-bending in Viparita Virabhadrasana (Reverse Warrior Pose) and Vasishtasana (Side Plank Pose) with your top arm extended alongside your ear.
Everyday movements in the coronal plane
- Give a tight hug
- Crossed legs while sitting on a chair
- Taking your arms out wide to prepare for a hug
- Leaning to the side to reach something
- Stepping your feet apart wider for stability
- Stretching to get out of bed
Yoga poses that move in the coronal plane
The transverse plane is our twisting plane. This includes poses when we engage in obvious spinal rotation, which is when we twist, such as in Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle) or Parivrtta Utkatasana (Twisting Chair). It also includes less obvious forms of external rotation, such as turning your legs out for Goddess Pose, or more subtle but important rotation, of your upper arms in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), as well as internal rotation of the thighs in all backbends, in which they turn in toward one another.
Everyday movements in the transverse plane
- Sitting cross-legged
- Turning your head to talk to someone alongside you
- Holding a heavy bag next to you
- Holding something over your head
- Some forms of lifting
- Turning your forearm and hand inward to look at your nails
- Scratching your back or rubbing lotion or sunscreen on yourself
- Sitting on your knees
- Reaching across your midline to grab something, like into the passenger seat when you are behind the steering wheel