So often in a yoga session we hear the cue ‘tuck the tailbone’ The cue is sometimes given as a general instruction but usually is given when someone has too much lumbar curve (lordosis). When lordosis is present, the pubic bone tucks under and the top of the pelvis slopes forward. An excessive lumbar curve compresses the lower back and may cause the chest to thrust forward. It redistributes the weight bearing of the pelvis and spine and in this way can cause problems in the hips, knees, feet, upper back and neck.
The instruction to tuck the tail bone is given to help correct this and draw the hips into a neutral position.
In some classes ‘tuck the tail bone’ is given as a general instruction to everyone in the class. However, for people who do not have the excess lumbar curve this will cause the pelvis to lose its natural alignment.
For people whose lumbar curve is too pronounced the intention is sound, but the instruction is only dealing with the symptom not the cause, and although the instruction may take out the excessive lumbar curve, other parts of the body may suffer as a result of this.
There are several different causes for this overarching of the lumbar spine, but the ones that can be addressed in a yoga asana class context are simple. The compressed lumbar can be caused by tightness of the hip flexors and/or there may be a lack of strength in the core support muscles of the abdomen. Therefore to correct this postural imbalance we really need to look at the cause.
Cues for correcting Postural Imbalances
Mountain Pose is a good place to start. When you stand in Mountain Pose, if your pelvis is causing the lower back to over arch, check out your core support. Is it gently switched on? Sometimes that’s all we need to do to straighten up the pelvis. If however we are cued to tuck the tail bone it often cause us to compress the abdominal muscles. We take the excessive curve out of the back but end up with excessive abdominal pressure.
Drawing the front and back of the pelvis in towards each other and lifting up tall is my favourite cue for many postural imbalances. This will not only gently switch on the core support and align the pelvis but also help to lengthen the lumbar spine and draw the chest into alignment.
For some, this aligning of the pelvis is uncomfortable and hard to maintain because of tight hip flexors. These are the muscles that join the legs onto the pelvis and spine.
Crescent Moon, performed with the support of the core, is a great way to release tight hip flexors as well as strengthen them. When we come into a kneeling lunge our hip flexors will guide us to the position where they will get the best stretch without tightening the lower back.
But if we go too deeply into a lunge tightness of the hip flexors will draw the pubic bone under and the top of the hips forward. This is fine if we are leaning forward but in this pose we bring the torso upright and…voila ….an overarched spine. So look out for this in your lunges including Warrior 1, and instead of trying to correct the arch by tucking your tail bone, take pressure out of your lower back by not overstretching your hip flexors as you come too deeply into the stretch.
Play around with the lumbar curvature and see if you can feel the compression in the lumbar spine when there is not enough core support and when the hip flexors are overly stretched. Once you become familiar with this feeling of a compressed lumbar spine you might notice that same feeling popping up in some of your other yoga poses and can now remedy it by applying one or both of these cues.
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training