Free Yoga Anatomy Course: Learn Joint Actions Used When Practicing Yoga Poses


This is a crash course on the joint actions used when practising yoga poses. My name is George. I’m a BWY yoga teacher and creator of the Yoga Genie Lesson Planner


Dip in and learn whenever you feel the urge.



Don’t Freak Out

99.9% of yoga teacher trainees utterly freak out when it comes to learning yoga anatomy. The other 0.1% are either lying to themselves or have had some sort of medical training where they have been exposed to “anatomy”.

So, don’t feel bad!

You’re in good company with 99.9% of us.

Learning Yoga Anatomy Is A Fab Challenge

Learning yoga anatomy is not easy. For most people, it will be an epic challenge. Accept it.

Not all things in life are meant to be easy.

Embrace the wondrous hardness of learning yoga anatomy.

“Enjoy the hard. Be at one with the hard. Feel the hard. Luxuriate in the hard. OK. I may very well be labouring “hard”, but the message I want to get across is that hard is a really good thing. Hard is not something to run from. Hard is not something to back away from. Hard is not something that’s out to ruin your well cultivated inner peace. In fact, engaging the mind, body and soul in something hard (but not overwhelming) is mentally, physically and emotionally a very healthy thing to do.” 



Pomodoro Technique

When learning something I use the “Pomodoro technique”.

It’s an amazing way to train your brain to concentrate (just like training your muscles when practising a yoga pose). With the Pomodoro technique, focus on a task fully for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break.

After four 25 minute sessions, take a longer 25-minute break.

If 25 minutes fully committed to a task is difficult to achieve in the beginning, start with 5 minutes and then work your way up.

I use a timetimer device to set the times.

Time for an example…

I’ll set the time for 25 minutes. When the alarm goes off I take a 5-minute break (which I also set with the device). The Pomodoro technique works so well that I almost wish I never found out about it because I cringe at all the effort I’ve wasted by not using the technique.

Top 3 Reasons To Study Yoga Anatomy

1) Deeper Understanding

As with anything in life, the more you understand something, the more enjoyment, and benefits you get.

It’s the same with learning yoga anatomy. Just imagine how much more confidence you’ll have going into a class when you know how joints move in an asana.

Close your eyes. Go on humour me.

Close your eyes and imagine a student of yours is in Chair Pose. Now imagine you know how the joints move in Chair Pose. You know about the Axial Extension in the spine. You know about the Elbow Extension. You know about Forearm Supination. You know about Hip and knee flexion. And you even know about the Shoulder Extension.

Ah yes…

It feels good.

It feels good because you’re now a better teacher. You’re now able to help your students in subtle, almost invisible ways.  You will know that Sally’s knees (a student in your class) are in “flexion”. 

You’ll know that the leg muscles are active so that they can withstand the relentless downward force of gravity.

And you’ll know that if Sally is tilted slightly to one side, you’ll need to tell her to balance her weight evenly between both feet because this instantly creates an 8 lane highway for her body’s weight to travel down. You’ll know a lot of little invisible things like this.

2) Private Yoga Sessions

Many yoga teachers supplement their yoga class income with “private yoga sessions”. With a private yoga session, your student is paying a premium for a bespoke service.

The good news is that they are essentially paying you to enhance your yoga teacher education.

I love private one-to-one yoga sessions because it’s a golden opportunity for me to raise my game. It’s a golden opportunity to learn something new and deepen my knowledge of yoga anatomy.

Every yoga teacher who gives private yoga sessions soon discovers that every student is different. Every student comes in with a different array of physical and emotional challenges. That’s exactly why I encourage every yoga teacher to teach “private yoga sessions”.

Nothing will improve your yoga teaching quicker than having to create a bespoke yoga lesson plan that fits the needs of only one student.

It may seem like a lot of work for little pay.

But the future payoff is well worth waiting for such as: seeing improvements within your student and seeing improvements in your teaching. 

3) Refine Your Yogic Art

Studying yoga anatomy will help you refine your yoga art (practice).

Even though you are a yoga teacher, and your students think you’re infallible, you are fallible. You will have plenty of weak, tight, or injured areas. Having a deeper knowledge of yoga anatomy will help refine your yoga practice, just as Leonardo da Vinci refined his art.

Masters in any discipline are constantly refining their art, whether it be artists, golfers, teachers, doctors, plumbers, gardeners, or yoga teachers.

Joint Actions By Asana

Bridge Pose

Thoracic and lumbar Extension 

Neck Flexion 

Hip Flexion

Cat-Cow Pose

Axial Extension in the spine

Elbow Extension

Forearm Supination

Hip and knee flexion

Shoulder Extension

Crescent Lunge Pose

Protraction (chest gets extended)

Protraction (shoulders gets extended)

Dancer Pose


Ankle Dorsiflexion (standing leg)

Ankle Plantar Flexion (raised leg)

Arm Flexion

Elbow Flexion

Forearm Supination

Hip Extension (raised leg)

Hip Flexion (standing leg)

Knee Extension (standing leg)

Knee Flexion (raised leg)

Scapula Upward Rotation

Spinal Extension (backward bend of the spine)

Downward Facing Dog Pose

Downward Facing Dog

Protraction (shoulders gets extended)

Handstand Pose

Protraction (fingers get extended)

High Plank Pose

High Plank Pose

 Protraction  (shoulders get extended)

Shoulderstand Pose

 Flexion (when chin drops toward chest, the neck is flexing)

Squat Pose

Ankle Dorsiflexion



Elbow Flexion

External Rotation

Forearm Pronation

Hip flexion

Knee Flexion

Sacral Nutation

Spinal Axial Extension

Wrist Dorsiflexion

Standing Forward Bend Pose

Hip flexion

Knee Extension

Spinal Flexion

Tree Pose

Abduction (raised leg)

Adduction (standing leg)

Ankle Dorsiflexion (raised leg)

External Rotation (raised leg)

Hip Flexion (raised leg)

Hip Neutral Extension (standing leg)

Internal Rotation (standing leg)

Knee Extension (standing leg)

Knee Flexion (raised leg)

Pronation (raised leg)

Tibia External Rotation (raised leg) 

Triangle Pose

Abduction (front leg)

Adduction (back leg)

Ankle Plantar Flexion (front leg)

Flexion (front leg)

Head Axial Rotation

Hip External Rotation (front leg)

Hip Internal Rotation (back leg)

Knee Extension (front & back legs)

Neutral Spine extension

Pronation (foot of front leg)

Supination (foot of back leg)

Upper Limbs Abduction

Warrior I Pose

Abduction of scapulae

Ankle Dorsiflexion (front & back legs)

Ankle Supination – (back leg)

Counter nutation (back leg)

Hip Extension (back leg)

Hip Flexion (front leg)

Knee Extension (back leg)

Knee Flexion (front leg)

Nutation (front leg)

Shoulder Flexion

Spinal Extension

Wide Leg Forward Bend Pose

Hip Flexion

Hip Abduction

Hip Medial Rotation

Knee Extension 

Knee Medial Rotation



Spinal Flexion

Yoga Anatomy Glossary


Abduction Any motion of the limbs or other body parts that pulls away from the midline of the body. Swinging the hands from the side of the body up to the shoulder or higher is abduction. For fingers and toes, abduction spreads the digits away from the hand or foot’s centreline of hand or foot. Raising the arms laterally, to the sides and moving the knees away from the midline are some examples of abduction.
Adduction The movement of a body part toward the body’s midline. So, if a person has their arms straight out at the shoulders and brings them down to their sides, it is adduction. For fingers or toes, adduction brings the digits toward the centre of the hand or foot.
Ankle Dorsiflexion Moving foot so toes get closer to the knee.
Ankle Plantar Flexion Point toes downward and away from the knee.
Axial Extension Simultaneous reduction of the primary and secondary curves of the spine. In simple speak that means the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar curves are all reduced resulting in the length of the spine increasing. Chair pose has “axial extension”.
Axial Rotation Rotation of the vertebral column around the horizontal axis (Z-axis).
Counter nutation Leaning forward (Nutation and counter nutation are movements that happen at the sacroiliac joint, which is where the sacrum meets the two sides of the pelvis. Nutation (from neutral again) is where the top part of the sacrum would move down and forward relative to the pelvis being fixed in place. Counter nutation is simply the opposite).
Dorsiflexion The movement of the foot upwards, so that the foot is closer to the shin. For a movement to be considered dorsiflexion, the foot should be raised upward between 10 and 30 degrees.
Elbow Extension Bringing forearm back to anatomical position (arm by side of the body). Chair pose has “axial extension”.
Elevation Movement in a superior direction (for example, shrugging is an example of elevation of the scapula).
Extension The process of straitening or the state of being straight. Extension of hip and knee joints is necessary to stand up from a sitting position.
External rotation Also known as lateral rotation, is rotation away from the centre of the body.
Flexion Being bent (the act of bending a joint or limb in the body by the action of flexors). Poses with “flexion” include camel pose, downward-facing dog pose, handstand pose, shoulderstand pose, and tree pose.
Forearm Pronation The rotational movement where the hand and upper arm are turned inwards.
Forearm Supination Rotation of the forearm and hand so that the palm faces forward or upward. Poses with “forearm supination” include chair pose and dancer pose.
Hip Abduction The movement of the leg away from the midline of the body. We use this action every day when we step to the side, get out of bed, and get out of the car.
Hip Extension The backward movement of your thigh. Muscles that cause hip extension are active when you stand up from a chair, walk, run, jump, roll over and climb stairs.
Internal Rotation Also known as medial rotation is rotation towards the centre of the body.
Knee Extension When you straighten your leg, the quadriceps muscles contract pulling on the quadriceps tendon, which in turn pulls on the patella via the patellar tendon causing an extension of the knee.
Knee Flexion On the posterior side of the knee, the hamstring group of muscles contract pulling on tendons associated with the hamstring, pulling on the femur, which causes flexion (bending) of the knee.
Neutral Spine Maintaining natural cervical lordosis, thoracic kyphosis, and lumbar lordosis (maintenance of a neutral spine is fundamental for the protection of the spine).
Medial Rotation The rotational movement towards the midline.
Nutation Leaning forward (Nutation and counter nutation are movements that happen at the sacroiliac joint, which is where the sacrum meets the two sides of the pelvis. Nutation (from neutral again) is where the top part of the sacrum would move down and forward relative to the pelvis being fixed in place. Counter nutation is simply the opposite).
Pronation The natural side-to-side movement of the foot as you walk or run. It is also known as eversion. Your foot normally rolls a bit inward with each step.
Protraction The action of extending a part of the body. The movement of protraction is the opposite of the movement of retraction. To remember what protraction does come up with a bizarre image (e.g. imagine the “pro” golfer, Nick Faldo, protracting his arms through the ball so far that he hits a red “tract” or on the fairway. The farmer gets out and chases Nick off the course). Poses with “protraction” include cat pose, crescent lunge pose, downward-facing dog pose, handout stand pose, and high plank pose.
Retraction The movement of a body part in the posterior direction (being drawn backward). The movement of retraction is the opposite of the movement of protraction.
Sacral Nutation Leaning forward (Nutation and counter nutation are movements that happen at the sacroiliac joint, that is where the sacrum meets the two sides of the pelvis. Nutation (from neutral again) is where the top part of the sacrum would move down and forward relative to the pelvis being fixed in place. Counter nutation is simply the opposite).
Sagittal Plane An anatomical plane that divides the body into right and left parts.
Scapula Upward Rotation Lift arms overhead and the scapulae will follow and rotate upward.
Shoulder Extension Move arms behind you.
Shoulder Flexion Move arms anywhere from a resting position by sides to above your head.
Spinal Extension Backward bending of the spine.
Spinal Flexion Flexion is the anatomical name for “forward bends”. When treating back pain, many yoga teachers encourage yoga poses that strengthen the muscles that act to bring the spine into flexion. In the lower back, approximately 50% of flexion occurs at the hips, and 50% occurs at the lower spine.
Superior Direction Directional terms describe the positions of structures relative to other structures or locations in the body. Superior or cranial – toward the head end of the body; upper (example, the hand is part of the superior extremity).
Supination Rolling motion to the outside edge of the foot during a step. The foot naturally supinates during the toe-off stage of your stride as the heel first lifts off the ground, providing leverage to help roll off the toes.


Yoga Anatomy Themed Lesson Plan Ideas

There are a bazillion different yoga lesson plan themes you could conjure up using yoga anatomy.

Here are two themes to get you started…

Shoulders: 5 Millimetres Can Change Your Life

You won’t be giving your students the cold shoulder (forgive the obvious pun) when you create a shoulder-themed yoga lesson plan (Shoulder Extension and Flexion).

A highly memorable, possibly life-changing theme for your students could be called: 5 millimeters Can Change Your Life.

During the talk at the beginning of the class (when introducing the theme) you could say something like: 

Improving your posture by a few millimeters completely and utterly changes the biochemistry of your body. If you tested your saliva you’d see that a 5mm expansive change in your posture will have positively altered your hormone levels. If you want to feel anxious, round your shoulders by 5 millimeters. If, however, you want to feel confident, move your shoulders back by 5 millimeters. When you round your shoulders you’re telling the Universe nonverbally something along these lines, “I am unworthy.” But when you move your shoulders back 5mm (improving your posture), you’re telling the Universe, “I am worthy.”  

Spinal Flexion: Forward Bends – A Natural Protection Bubble



Flexion is the anatomical name for “forward bends”.

Forward bends are known for calming the mind. Forward bends calm the mind because they are a “natural protection bubble”. Don’t believe me? Then stop reading this and get into a simple standing forward bend.

It’s a natural protection bubble!

If you can find a more protective position to be in when standing, I’m all ears. So, what happens to someone’s mind when in a natural projection bubble? Man, you’re good at this. Yep. They instantly feel protected.

So, a good yoga class theme for your students could be called: Forward Bends – A Natural Protection Bubble. 

All you need to do is add several forward bends to your yoga lesson plan and make sure you sprinkle in some backbends as a counter.


Final Thoughts

Yoga anatomy is a massive subject. I’ve selected a tiny part, join actions, to focus on within this post. I recommend you keep refining your yoga anatomy knowledge by going to workshops, buying books, reading other blog posts, and watching YouTube videos.

And most importantly, apply what you learn in the real world: your yoga classes, workshops, one-to-one sessions, and your own personal practice.