Photo Credit: Mirta Photographie
We often talk about lengthening the spine during a yoga practice. But from which part of the body should the movement be initiated?
The pelvis is the center of the skeleton, it is connecting the upper body to the lower part of the body. During forward fold such as Padanghustasana or Prasarita Padtonasana, if the movement is done through and interior tilt, the body weight will be directed toward the heels.
Standing asana – It is possible to start all forward fold with a neutral pelvis. Without moving the pelvis. Therefore the focus will be directed toward the upper body, lengthening the spine from the cervical with the feeling of having a thread behind the neck and the desire of getting taller toward the sky. The inhalation will be helpful in order to rise up while the exhalation will be performed to fold forward.
Once in the asana, the intention will be to bring the head toward the floor, from the top of the skull. We are looking for a connection between the top of the skull and the coccyx, both axes are going into two different directions, one stabilising it and the other one moving forward.
The pelvis will then be moving on its own.
Sitting asanas – Starting from the cervicales, thoracic, and finally the lumbar spine. The sit bones well anchored on the floor as they will be the structure of the asana.
Neutral pelvis help to activate the abdominal muscles which are referred as Bandhas in Yoga.
Stretching the skin, the navel
Stretching the skin and the navel. In order to avoid the lumbar compression while back bending, we should emphasis on how to stretch the skin of the belly, bringing the navel toward the rib cages. Instead of wanted back bending from the lumbar spine, we should try to flex the front part of our body. If the head is not held properly then the cervical spine will be compressed, however once you try to initiate the movement from the front part, the head will be naturally supported.
Some practitioners are super flexible from the lumbar spine, therefore they are capable of folding back like a sandwich while folding forward will become painful and less logical to them. If the abdominal belt is not strong enough, there is a door open for any wounds.
The core muscles are the base, the root of the practice.
An healthy spine should be able to move in 4D:
- forward fold,
- back bend.
Having a good understanding of the movement is important. The pelvis should be free to move and in most of the case the pelvis is capable to find its own place.
For instance in Trikonasana, there is a big difference by starting the posture and “tilting” the pelvis right or left, and starting the posture without moving it. Whatever it is happening, the pelvis would and should move in Trikonasana. Wether we are grabbing the big toe or not, it will have to tilt on the right or on the left as it as to follow the direction of the spine.
However tilting it before going into the asanas is slightly wrong, first the torso has to stretch in order to bring the spine on the lateral side.
We should not try to “fix” the pelvis in one range of motion, it has to be free. And especially for standing posture, for which the pelvis has no support.
While doing a twisting it will be different if you are twisting from a sitting posture. The sit bones have to stay on the floor while the rib cage is twisting, in this situation the floor is giving a support. When you are twisting from a standing posture, the pelvis need to stay neutral, the support will then become on both feet.
On lateral flexion the intention is to stretch the side of our body, if you bring it to an organic point of view, the goal will be to stretch the skin.
Opposition between the occiput and the coccyx
Simply we are looking to add distance between the top of the skull to the tale bone.
One of the consequence will be the rib cage start moving forward and the shoulders will be going toward the hears. That is from an external point of view. Now when we start applying the movement coming from the inside to the outside, the breathing will start acting as a major contributor of the movement. To bring the organic breathing once again the focus can be toward the skin. Trying to lift the navel up without moving the pelvis at all, and gliding the tale bone down toward the floor.
If there is any misalignment between the rib cage and the pelvis, energy channels will not work properly as the prana need to flow freely.
The breathing will stretch the upper body, it has to start from the pelvis region which we call as mula bandha in Yoga toward uddiyana bandha which is refer to transversal or core centering muscles toward the skull.
When we start to breath properly we start creating space in our body.
The practice start from the inside to the outside.
Asana practice is something organic, what we feel from the inside is showed to the outside. The head for instance should not be loose but still in the alignment of the spine. If during a forward fold the head is completely relax, then we will be adding extra weight to the spine which will result of a lower back pain. The head is about 5 kilos, therefore it is important to keep it active and to hold it for each asana we are doing.
Each time the body need to be lengthen it has to come from the upper body and from the head.
Adho Mukha Svanasana is an asana done regularly. However the way it is taught is different from one teacher to another. If there is any arch in the middle of the back then the shoulders will start collapsing. If at all there is an anterior tilt, it has to be done on the very last; the movement should not be initiate from the pelvis and the back need to be strong.
When you ask your students where do you feel Adho Mukha Svanasana, most of the replies will be about the back of the legs, and the big question will arise “why my heels are not touching the floor?”. Heels touching the floor should not be the goal. However stretching the back through the action of the bandhas or the core muscles should be the priority.
Few of students feel that asana “inside” their belly. Even though mula bandha is repeated each time while doing it, few knows exactly how to “activate” it. Because their goal is to bring the heels on the floor.
While doing Adho Mukha Svanasana try to keep the pelvis as neutral as possible and focus from the head, the back of the head, the neck, the shoulder blades gliding down toward the pelvis while the head want to reach out, pressing both hands against the floor, spreading the armpit down, opening the shoulders.
Once in the posture and feeling the core muscles in activation then only start to move the pelvis bringing the sit bones up toward the ceiling.
The initiator of the movement is the upper body, there are so many things to lengthen before moving the pelvis, the lumbar spine will follow whatever happens but the focus should be the top of the head.
Wishing you a beautiful practice!