The Anatomy of Directing: Front Length


Part of the Da Vinci Project, this series of posts will clarify anatomical points for the purposes of functional mechanics and directing.  If you’re new to directing, check out this post, or the book, Neurodynamics: The Art of Mindfulness in Action. Click on any image to see it in full size.

Part 4. Front Length

One of the most important features of our human anatomical design is our front length. In a four-footed animal, the spine serves as a kind of bridge between the fore and hind limbs, and the internal organs hang below the spine.

Figure 3-2 PP

Evolving from bottom suspension, to suspension in front.

When the first hominids reared up on their hind limbs to become fully upright, everything suspended below the spine now hung out in front of the spine. This means that we are not evenly balanced front-to-back because most of the weight of the body is in front and not in back. This places the onus of support on our back muscles (the extensors) to keep us standing, and they can work properly only when the whole system is lengthening and the back muscles are doing their job in this context.

This is where our front length comes in. In order to support upright posture, the structures in front of the body– the gut, rib cage, etc.– must hang freely from above, and they must do so in a way that does not compromise our front length. This means they must be suspended from above and not drag down from below. This is why, when we direct, we must be aware, not only of the neck, head, and back but also of the front of the body, which must have its full length. Front length is crucial to the restoring of length that is so essential to the proper working of the whole system.

mastoid process highlighted

Mastoid process circled on the underside of the skull, behind the TM joint and ear.


Trace a line from the pubic bone, up along the sternum, and to the mastoid processes, or cheek bones.

One simple way to think of our front length is to trace a line from the pubic bone up to the skull, along the sternum to the origin of the sternocleidomastoids at the top of the sternum, and up to the mastoid processes on either side of the skull. If you are not familiar with the mastoid processes, these are the large bumps on either side of your skull, just behind the ears, which serve as attachments for the sternocleidomastoid muscles. When we trace the flexor line on the front of the body, this gives us a much clearer conception of how long the body is in front and of the necessity of allowing the body to have its full length in front.

Because the location of the mastoid process is neither obvious nor easy to relate to, another way to think of your front length is to locate the base of the skull in front. If you trace the flexor line along the front of the body in this picture, you can see that it extends right up to the level of the base of the skull at the cheek bones, in front. Remember that the jaw is not part of the skull at all, but a separate bone. It’s very useful, when giving your directions, to think of allowing your trunk to have its full length from your hips right up to your cheeks. You can add this critical direction to the four primary directions, lengthening in front, right up to the base of your skull. Remember, though, that while important, it is not a primary direction and should only be added within the context of the head going forward and up, the back lengthening and widening, and the knees going forward and away.

Exercise: Finding front length in semi-supine

Step 1: Lie down in semi-supine position with your head on some soft books, knees up, and feet on the ground.  Give your primary directions.

Step 2: Sense where your hip bones are, and then draw (with your imagination) a line from your hip bones (the iliac crest) up to your cheek bones, or mastoid processes, then back down to your hip bones again. Draw that line several times, noticing the distance between  those two points. Now, direct those two points away from each other in space. In this position, you may be able to clearly feel front length as distinct from the primary directions. When directing in semi-supine, you can add this thought to the primary directions.

Step 3: Notice also that your back stays grounded, without arching, and that your chest does not puff out in any way. As we explore front length, it’s very important that we not compromise the length in our back, or supersede our primary directions in any way.

Exercise: Front length in monkey

monkey with arrows

Monkey position with directions

Step 1: Go into monkey position, as shown in the picture.  (You can learn more about this position in the book on Neurodynamics mentioned above.) Once you are in a good, coordinated monkey position, you want to stop–that is, not alter your position in any way–and give your primary directions. Don’t forget that, if you’re not happy with the position, you can try again until you have a nice, light monkey. Now direct as follows:

1. Release your neck to let your head nod forward at the atlanto-occipital joint.

2. Ask for length from the crown of your head to your hips by allowing your head to go away from your hips and your hips to go back and down away from your head.

3. Now think of lengthening in front from the hip bone (the iliac crest) to the mastoid process just behind the ear.

4. Think of allowing your knees to release away from your hips by letting go in your ankle joints and asking for length along your thighs. Think also of releasing in your calf muscles to let your knees release forward from your heels, so that your knees go forward and away from your hips and heels as you release your thighs and calf muscles.