Arches and Pendulums: Imagining the hip joint in basic movement

The hip joint is designed to provide stability while allowing for the mobility of our legs. Understanding its design and movement can provide us with everyday tools that can teach us how to properly access the joint and its powerful muscles. This can lead to functional movement, such as walking and going up stairs, that is efficient and confident.

In her book, “Taking Root to Fly”, Irene Dowd (1995) describes the structure of the femoral heads, or tops of the thigh bones, as pillars of the arch that is the pelvis (Dowd, p. 21). When we stand, the femoral heads rest deeply into the top of each hip joint (acetabulum) providing us with strength, balance and endurance.

But the positioning of our hip joint is not only reliant on how it is placed, but also on the muscles that support, move and balance it. At one time or another, most of us have experienced tight hip flexors; those muscles located at the front of the hip joints.Through overuse or perhaps less than ideal positioning, we have created an imbalance of the hip muscles and consequently find ourselves needing to stretch or release these muscles.

But beyond the stretches that temporarily hold those hip flexor muscles in a lengthened position, we can also access the images such as the one provided by Dowd (1995) and others. These images can help us mindfully position and move the hips so that awareness and eventually balance, are created during everyday activities.

Mindful Positioning

Standing on a stable surface, place both feet directly under your hips. Pay attention to the alignment of your feet and try to feel a gentle activeness in your quadriceps by gently engaging them to draw the knee caps up the front of the thighs. Place your index fingers on the bony protrusions at the front of each hip (on pelvis). Imagine these landmarks (known as the anterior superior iliac spine – or the front, upper part of your pelvis) as headlights – place them so they face directly forward.

Now, imagine the tops of your thighs (femoral heads) deep within your hip arches, as billiard balls (Franklin, 1996, p. 148). Allow their density and weight to support the arches of your hip sockets. Be aware of any muscles that you’re holding around the joint and try to release them by envisioning them melting down the front, sides and backs of your legs.

Mindful Movement of the Hip Joint

1)               Stand with the right foot on a ledge/platform/stair so that the left foot can dangle. For balance, place your right hand on a wall or other stable surface at shoulder height. Allow the left foot to hang loosely and without effort under the joint. Keep your neutral pelvic alignment (headlights forward) and maintain that sense of melting around the hip joints.

2)               Imagine your left leg like a pendulum – allow it to swing with minimal effort forward and back, out to the side and across the midline. Allow it to turn out, turn in, all the while keeping your headlights forward (neutral pelvis) and your muscles melting. Try to feel the length of the pendulum and move as though the leg is twice as long as it is.

3)               Take your focus to the top of your pendulum, within the socket arch where your billiard balls (femoral heads) are moving. Envision what is happening in your joint; as you swing your leg forward, the femoral head rolls along the top of its arch and to the back of it; as you swing your leg back, it moves along the top to the front of the arch. As the leg moves away from the body (abduction) the femoral head rolls to the inside of your hip arch and likewise, as it moves towards the midline (adduction) it rolls to the outside. Keep your headlights forward and consider which direction has the greatest range of motion without the need to change the pelvic alignment and how might that be applicable to our everyday movements. Repeat on the other side.

Effective imagery can  make greater sense of the anatomy of a joint providing us with the tools to focus our attention onto our movement patterns. By understanding how the joint is designed for movement, stability or both, we bring mindfulness and awareness into how we move our bodies…two invaluable tools in increasing strength, agility and overall physical well being.

Note to Pilates Instructors: Apply the above into a client’s workout to compliment/focus/emphasize the following exercises:

– Hip Release, Reformer Footwork, Side Splits, Single Leg Stretch, Squats on the Cadillac, Standing Leg Press on the Chair (Front & Side).


Dowd, I. (1995) “Taking Root to Fly”.

Franklin, E. (1996) “Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery”.