The way we habitually hold our bodies can have implications on our movement efficiency, power production and pain. Here are the basic points for finding a neutral position in your lower body.
Please maintain a light-hearted mindset when practicing these alignment exercises. Do not be goal oriented or easily discouraged. Instead approach them with a spirit of curiosity, as a way to gather information about your habits and to begin to experience additional options for the way you carry your body.
Stand with your feet directly under your hip bones.
Point your toes forward.
Shift your weight off the balls of your feet. Untuck your pelvis. Make your leg perpendicular (more or less) to the floor.
Externally rotate your thigh bones. Feel the weight shift to the lateral edge of your foot. Feel your arches lift. Your "keep pits" should face straight back.
Bring your hip bones and your pubic bone into the same vertical plane.
The is great debate amongst Body Geeks (i.e., researchers, academics, coaches, movement instructors, somatic practitioners) about the relevance of bony alignment guidelines and exercises such as this.
My intention here is not to say that there is one perfect, static, pin-point alignment that we all must find and maintain.
My intention is to help you begin to become aware of your habitual way of holding yourself and explore how this habitual posture might be holding you back from your health and fitness goals by disrupting force production throughout your kinetic chain and making movement less efficient, placing unnecessary strain on your joints and connective tissues, changing the fluid pressure of your internal organs, potentially causing you pain and more.
The alignment of your bones is not everything. Many studies show that "good" posture and exercise technique (form) are not always indicators of pain-free movement. You can perform a "perfect" squat and still have hip pain.
I do not believe in having people stand in front of grids or measure their joint angles with special tools in order to assess their alignment. This approach takes people away from feeling their own bodies and encourages them to rely solely on external markers to measure "progress." I believe that our job as movement professionals and body workers is to help our clients to find greater intimacy with their bodies, not less.
Our bodies are naturally asymmetrical. Just consider your internal organs: the way your heart sits to the left of your midline and your liver sits to the right. Consider the twists and turns of your intestines and the amorphous shape of your stomach. Doesn't it seem only natural that the bony structures that surround and protect these organs would be asymmetrical to some degree as well?
But to say that alignment doesn't matter at all is to ignore basic laws of physics. The way our bones organize themselves in relationship to one another, in relationship to our soft tissues and viscera and in relationship to gravity absolutely DOES impact the force loads to which your body will (or will not) adapt.
Poor alignment is part of the reason why bunions get formed and why shoulder injuries are common in yoga classes where Chaturanga (yoga's variation of a push up) is centerstage. Sometimes it's a very big part of the reason why. Over the years I can name 6 clients who came to me with bunion pain. All 6 of these people had been told they needed surgery for their bunions and all 6 of them were cured of their bunion pain within a couple weeks simply by learning to align their lower body and mobilize their toes.
I have similar stories around shoulder, hip, knee and low back pain.
The more we know about ourselves, our bodies, our habits and our movement patterns, the more empowered we are to take ownership of our health.
While it is important that we not be rigid in your assessment and application of alignment points or to invest all your energy and efforts into standing and moving "perfectly," it is also important to become aware of the way you habitually hold your body and move. Attempting to improve your alignment in your daily life and in your exercise technique is a practice worth pursuing.