Body Postures

An averaged neutral body position as defined in MSIS

The neutral body posture (NBP) is the posture the human body naturally assumes in microgravity.[1] Adopting any other posture while floating requires muscular effort. In the 1980s, NASA developed the Man-System Integration Standards (MSIS), a set of guidelines based on anthropometry and biomechanics, which included a definition of an average typical NBP created from measurements of crew members in the microgravity environment onboard Skylab.[2]

Neutral body postures for six crew members from Space Shuttle mission STS-57

Later work by NASA based on research aboard Space Shuttle mission STS-57 found greater individual variations between crew members’ neutral body positions than originally suggested by the earlier Skylab study.[3] In general, three main postures were exhibited by the crew as a whole. These constituted (1) an almost standing posture, (2) a slightly pitched forward posture with an extreme bend at the knees, and (3) an elongated posture with a straight neck. Differences in posture exhibited in this study could be a result of the athletic bearing of the participants or the type of exercise, or both, and the amount of exercise regularly performed. Other differences may also stem from past physical injuries such as bone breaks and knee or shoulder injuries, and from gender differences such as center of gravity.[3] No single crew member exhibited the typical NBP called out in the MSIS standard.[3]


Fetal position (British English: also foetal) is the positioning of the body of a prenatal fetus as it develops. In this position, the back is curved, the head is bowed, and the limbs are bent and drawn up to the torso.

This position is used in the medical profession to minimize injury to the neck and chest.

Sometimes, when a person has suffered extreme physical or psychological trauma (including massive stress), they will assume the fetal position or a similar position in which the back is curved forward, the legs are brought up as tightly against the abdomen as possible, the head is bowed as close to the abdomen as possible, and the arms are wrapped around the head to prevent further trauma. This position provides better protection to the brain and vital organs than simply lying spread out on the ground, so it is clear as to why it is an instinctual reaction to extreme stress or trauma when the brain is no longer able to cope with the surrounding environment, and in essence “shuts down” temporarily.

The fetal position has been observed in drug addicts, who enter the position when experiencing withdrawal. Sufferers of anxiety are also known to assume the fetal position during panic attacks.

Many people assume this position when sleeping, especially when the body becomes cold.

A study by Professor Chris Idzikowski, director of the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service found that people who consistently sleep in the fetal position tend to have a shy and sensitive personality.[1]

Assuming this position and playing dead is often recommended as a strategy to end a bear attack.[2]

Many baby mammals, especially rodents, remain in the fetal position well after being born.

The fetal position is also one of the most comfortable and familiar positions to the human, as they remain in the position for the last two trimesters of pregnancy.[citation needed] Babies are most often found stretched out, however, because they do not have full control of their limbs, resulting in flailing and twitching.

  1. ^ “Sleep position gives personality clue”. BBC. 16 September 2003. Retrieved 10 May 2009.
  2. ^ “Bear Attacks Their Causes and Avoidance” by Stephen Herrero, pg 24 ISBN 0-941130-82-7


Human positions refer to the different physical configurations that the human body can take.

The human body is capable of a wide variety of positions, as exemplified by this energetic yoga pose.

There are several synonyms that refer to human positioning, often used interchangeably, but having specific nuances of meaning.[1]

  • Position is a general term for a configuration of the human body.
  • Posture means an intentionally or habitually assumed position.
  • Pose implies an artistic, aesthetic, athletic, or spiritual intention of the position.
  • Attitude refers to postures assumed for purpose of imitation, intentional or not, as well as in some standard collocations in reference to some distinguished types of posture: “Freud never assumed a fencer‘s attitude, yet almost all took him for a swordsman.”[2]
  • Bearing refers to the manner of the posture, as well as of gestures and other aspects of the conduct taking place.

While not moving, a human is usually in one of the following basic positions:

Standing couple, January 1873

Although quiet standing appears to be static, modern instrumentation shows it to be a process of rocking from the ankle in the sagittal plane. The sway of quiet standing is often likened to the motion of an inverted pendulum.[3] There are many mechanisms in the body that are suggested to control this movement, e.g. a spring action in muscles, higher control from the nervous system or core muscles.

Although standing isn’t dangerous per se, there are pathologies associated with it. One short term condition is orthostatic hypotension, and long term conditions are sore feet, stiff legs and low back pain.

Paul Cézanne, a sitting position

Sitting requires the buttocks resting on a more or less horizontal structure, such as a chair or the ground. Special ways of sitting are with the legs horizontal, and in an inclined seat. While on a chair the shins are usually vertical, on the ground the shins may be crossed in the lotus position or be placed horizontally under the thigh in a seiza.

Squatting on the ground as a resting position

Squatting is a posture where the weight of the body is on the feet (as with standing) but the knees and hips are bent. In contrast, sitting, involves taking the weight of the body, at least in part, on the buttocks against the ground or a horizontal object such as a chair seat. The angle between the legs when squatting can vary from zero to widely splayed out, flexibility permitting. Squatting may be either:

  • full – known as full squat, deep squat, (sitting) on one’s haunches, (sitting) on one’s hunkers, hunkering, hunkering down or hunkerin’
  • partial – known as partial, standing, half, semi, parallel, shallow, intermediate, incomplete or monkey squat etc.

Crouching is usually considered to be synonymous with full squatting. It is common to squat with one leg and kneel with the other leg.[4] One or both heels may be up when squatting. Young children often instinctively squat. Among Chinese, Southeast Asian, and Eastern European adults, squatting often takes the place of sitting or standing.[5]

Jupiter et Antiope, by Antoine Watteau

When in lying position, the body may assume a great variety of shapes and positions. The following are the basic recognized positions.

  • Supine position: lying on the back with the face up.
  • Prone position: lying on the chest with the face down (“lying down” or “going prone”).
  • Lying on either side, with the body straight or bent/curled forward or backward.
  • Fetal position: is lying or sitting curled, with limbs close to the torso and the head close to the knees.

Inner two vertical kneeling. Outer two squatting/kneeling.

Kneeling is a basic human position where one or both knees touch the ground. It is used as a resting position, during childbirth and as an expression of reverence and submission. While kneeling, the angle between the legs can vary from zero to widely splayed out, flexibility permitting. It is common to kneel with one leg and squat with the other leg.[4]

While kneeling, the thighs and upper body can be at various angles in particular:

  • Vertical kneel: where both the thighs and upper body are vertical – also known as “standing on one’s knees”
  • Sitting kneel: where the thighs are near horizontal and the buttocks sit back on the heels with the upper body vertical – for example as in Seiza and Vajrasana (yoga).

This is the static form of crawling which is instinctive form of locomotion for very young children. It was a commonly used childbirth position in both Western and non-Western cultures.[6] This position is sometimes viewed as sexually explicit due to its association with sexual initiation or availability.[7]

Atypical positions include:

Such positions are common to break dancing, gymnastics and yoga.

The neutral body posture

In microgravity, the human body naturally adopts the neutral body posture.

Stress positions place the human body in such a way that a great amount of weight is placed on just one or two muscles. Forcing prisoners to adopt such positions is a method of ill-treatment used for extracting information or as a punishment, possibly amounting to torture. Such positions also are sometimes used as a punishment for children.

A bondage position is a body position created by physical restraints which restricts locomotion, use of the limbs or general freedom of movement.

In addition to the lithotomy position still commonly used by many obstetricians, childbirth positions that are successfully used by midwives and traditional birth-attendants the world over include squatting, standing, kneeling and on all fours, often in a sequence.[6]

Classical ballet position

Dance position is a position of a dancer or a mutual position of a dance couple assumed during a dance. Describing and mastering proper dance positions is an important part of dance technique.

The two most common defecation positions are squatting and sitting. The squatting posture is used for Japanese, in countries with a Muslim or Hindu majority and in the absence of toilets or other devices. The sitting defecation posture is used in Western toilets, with a lean-forward posture or a 90-degrees posture.

Sharing a meal in Uzbekistan

Eating positions vary according to the different regions of the world where many cultures influence the way people eat their meals. In most of the Middle Eastern countries, eating while sitting on the floor is considered the most common way to eat and it is believed to be healthier than eating while sitting at a table.

The heat escape lessening position (HELP) is a way to position oneself to reduce heat loss in cold water. It is taught as part of the curriculum in Australia, North America and Ireland for lifeguard and boating safety training. It essentially involves positioning one’s knees together and hugging them close to the chest using one’s arms.

The knee-chest position[8]

The following positions are specifically used in medicine:[9]

The recovery position or coma position refers to one of a series of variations on a lateral recumbent or three-quarters prone position of the body, into which an unconscious but breathing casualty can be placed as part of first aid treatment.

A large number of resting positions are possible, based on variations of sitting, squatting, kneeling or lying.[4]

A “straddle” or “astride” position is usually adopted when riding a horse, donkey, or other beast of burden, with or without the aid of a saddle. The position is also used for sitting on analogous vehicles and furniture, such as bicycles, motorcycles, or unicycles, and certain types of specialized workbenches (such as a shaving horse). By definition, an essential feature is having one leg on each side of whatever is being straddled. The related sidesaddle position allows riding without straddling, but is somewhat less secure against accidental dismounting or falling.

The straddle posture is often intermediate between standing and sitting positions, allowing body weight to be supported securely, while also affording a high degree of upper body mobility and dynamic balance during vigorous or extended motions.

Sex positions are positions which people may adopt during or for the purpose of sexual intercourse or other sexual activities. Sexual acts are generally described by the positions the participants adopt in order to perform those acts.

The sleeping position is the body configuration assumed by a person during or prior to sleeping. Six basic sleeping positions have been identified:[dubious ]

  • Fetus (41%) – curling up in a fetal position. This was the most common position, and is especially popular with women.
  • Log (15%) – lying on one’s side with the arms down the side.
  • Yearner (13%) – sleeping on one’s side with the arms in front.
  • Soldier (8%) – on one’s back with the arms pinned to the sides.
  • Freefall (7%) – on one’s front with the arms around the pillow and the head tilted to one side.
  • Starfish (5%) – on one’s back with the arms around the pillow.

Submissive positions are often ceremonial and dictated by culture. They may be performed as a mutual sign of respect between equals or as a sign of submission to a higher-ranking individual or to a ceremonial object.

  • Bowing is the lowering of the head and torso towards the person or object of reverence, often briefly. The extent of a bow ranges from a simple head nod to a 90–degree bending at the waist. Though less common in Western cultures, it remains an important sign of respect in many Eastern cultures, and is also used in the ceremonies various religions.
    • In bowing and scraping, the right hand is placed across the abdomen while the right leg is drawn or “scraped” back during a bow.
    • In Western cultures, it is often considered proper for women to perform a curtsey by bending the knees instead of a bow.
  • Genuflection (or genuflexion) is bending at least one knee to the ground, was from early times a gesture of deep respect for a superior.
  • Kneeling is associated with reverence, submission and obeisance, particularly if one kneels before a person who is standing or sitting.
  • Kowtowing is the act of deep respect shown by kneeling and bowing so low as to have one’s head touching the ground.
  • Prostration is the placement of the body in a reverentially or submissively prone position.

For men, because of the flexible and protruding nature of the penis, it is simple to control the direction of the urine stream. Many men urinate in a standing positionalthough they could urinate sitting down or squatting.

For women, the urine does not exit at a distance from the body and is therefore harder to control. In the West, women most commonly urinate sitting on a toilet although squatting is a viable alternative. Many women are able to urinate standing, sometimes using a female urination device.

Certain asanas were originally intended primarily to restore and maintain a practitioner’s well-being, improve the body’s flexibility and vitality, and promote the ability to remain in seated meditation for extended periods.

  1. ^ “Position.”, Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 24 October 2007.
  2. ^ Fritz Wittels, Freud and the Child Woman: The Memoirs of Fritz Wittels, ISBN 978-0300064858, Google Books, p. 49
  3. ^ Abstract “Kinematic and kinetic validity of the inverted pendulum model in quiet standing”, NIH
  4. ^ Jump up to: a b c Hewes, GW (April 1955). “World distribution of certain postural habits”. American Anthropologist. 57 (2): 231–44. doi:10.1525/aa.1955.57.2.02a00040. JSTOR 666393.
  5. ^ Dobrzynski, Judith H. (2004-10-17). “An Eye on China’s Not So Rich and Famous”. The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-07.
  6. ^ Jump up to: a b G.J. Engelmann (1883). Labor Among Primitive Peoples, St. Louis: J.H. Chambers. pp, 89-93. (Engelmann calls this the knee-hand or knee-elbow position)
  7. ^ Sacomori, Cinara; Fernando Luiz Cardoso (2010). “Sexual initiative and intercourse behavior during pregnancy among Brazilian women: a retrospective study”. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. 36 (2): 124–136. doi:10.1080/00926230903554503. PMID 20169493.
  8. ^ Lore, Marybeth (March 2017). “Umbilical Cord Prolapse and Other Cord Emergencies”. The Global Library of Women’s Medicine. doi:10.3843/GLOWM.10136.
  9. ^ “knee-chest position”. The Free Dictionary Medical Dictionary.


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