Location & Movement Terminology

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, we define anatomy terminology related to movement and location.


Learn terminology that describes anatomical movements and location.


Define the terms flexion and extension, hyperextension, lateral, medial, adduction and abduction, internal and external rotation, anterior and posterior, distal and proximal, superior and inferior. Explain Andrey Lappa’s ways of describing movement types and the reason (related to asana practice) that he describes movement in this way. Name the three planes of motion and the type of movement that happens in each.


Movement Terminology

Movements of the body are described in six ways:

Flexion / Extension

  • Flexion — Decreases joint angle (Usually moves a body part forward except in the case of the knee which moves backward)
  • Extension — Returns joint to resting position
  • Hyperextension — Moving beyond normal, healthy range of motion

Adduction / Abduction

  • Adduction — Moves a part of the body toward the midline
  • Abduction — Moves a body part away from the midline

Internal Rotation / External Rotation

  • Internal / Medial Rotation — Moves toward the midline
  • External / Lateral Rotation — Moves away from the midline


Lateral / Medial

  • Lateral – Away from the midline
  • Medial – Toward the midline

Anterior / Posterior

  • Anterior – In front
  • Posterior – Behind

Distal / Proximal

  • Distal – Away from, farther from the origin
  • Proximal – Near, closer to the origin

Superior / Inferior

  • Superior – Above, over
  • Inferior – Below, under

Superficial / Deep

  • Superficial – Toward the skin
  • Deep – Inside body

Ventral / Dorsal

  • Ventral – On front of body
  • Dorsal – On back of body

Lappa’s Teachings

General Movement Types

  1. Stretching
  2. Static Strengthening
  3. Dynamic Strengthening
  4. Static Endurance
  5. Dynamic Endurance
  6. Coordination
  7. Reaction

Passive & Active

  • Passive — Uses gravity to stretch muscles
  • Active — Stretches one set of muscles by engaging others
  • Equally Passive & Active — Poses that draw equally on passive and active techniques

Why Does Lappa Describe Movement Types Differently?

In the Yoga Journal article Open Arms by Todd Jones, Andrey Lappa teaches the following:

  • Traditional asanas use the first five types of movements (noted above), but not the last two.
  • Traditional asanas may utilize an overabundance of active stretches.
  • To address his findings, Lappa developed additional practices derived from other movement modalities.
  • For instance, Lappa found that most poses that train the arms focus on strength while “of the few poses that focus on arm flexibility, most are active stretches, like Viparita Namaskar, Gomukhasana (Cow Face), and Garudasana (Eagle), which use the strength of one set of muscles to stretch others.”
  • In response to his analysis, Lappa created passive stretches for arms and shoulders.
  • For more information, see the article above and/or Andrey Lappa’s website, Univeral Yoga.

Planes of Motion

Why We Refer to Planes of Motion

Your body doesn’t move in one dimension. If it did, you wouldn’t be able to move your leg away from you, toward you, in front and behind you. Your body moves in three dimensions… There are three different planes of motion: sagittal, frontal, and transverse. In each plane, several different movements occur at the joints. – Acefitness.org

The Planes

Sagittal Plane

  • Divides the body into left and right
  • Any forward and backward movement occurs in the sagittal plane
  • May be called “median” plane

Coronal Plane

  • Divides the body into front (anterior) and back (posterior)
  • Any lateral (side) movement occurs in the coronal plane
  • May be called “frontal” plane

Transverse Plane

  • Divides the body into top and bottom
  • Rotational movement occurs in the transverse plane
  • May be called “horizontal” plane

Movements in Each Plane

Sagittal Plane

  • Flexion — Decreasing the angle between two bones
  • Extension — Increasing the Angle between two bones
  • Dorsiflexion — Moving the top of the foot toward the shin (only at the ankle)
  • Plantar flexion — Moving the sole of the foot downward (pointing the toes)
  • Exercise Examples — Bicep curl and forward or reverse lunges

Frontal or Coronal Plane

  • Adduction — Motion toward the midline
  • Abduction — Motion away from the midline of the body
  • Elevation — Moving to a superior position (only at the scapula)
  • Depression — Moving to an inferior position (only at the scapula)
  • Inversion — Lifting the medial border of the foot
  • Eversion — Lifting the lateral border of the foot
  • Exercise Examples — Dumbbell lateral (side) raise

Transverse Plane

  • Rotation — Internal (inward) or external (outward) turning about the vertical axis of the bone
  • Pronation — Rotating the hand and wrist medially from the bone
  • Supination — Rotating the hand and wrist laterally from the bone
  • Adduction (Horizontal Flexion) — From the 90-degree abducted arm position, the humerus is flexed (adducted) in toward the midline of the body in the transverse plane
  • Abduction (Horizontal Extension) — Return of the humerus from horizontal flexion
  • Exercise Example — Horizontal wood chop



  • The term “scrub” appears in Ray Long’s writing (The Daily Bandha and Yoga Mat Companion series).
  • This refers to the action of engaging muscles as if the intention is to drag a body part along the floor, although it does not move.
  • For example, in Sphinx Pose shown here, this action can be taught with the forearms. Long teaches to “scrub” backward on the mat toward the pelvis, drawing the chest forward.

Prone & Supine

  • To be prone is to lie face downward (on the stomach).
  • The supine position is lie on the back.

Cue to Watch Out For

Avoid using the phrase, “Extend your arms up” when moving arms forward.

Shoulder Flexion

If you stand with your arms by your sides and then bring your arms forward and up next to your ears, that’s called shoulder flexion. Yes, flexion. Even though you may often hear “Extend your arms up overhead” in your yoga classes, the proper technical anatomical term for this movement is flexion. – Julie Gudmestad, Yoga Journal, Shoulder Safety