Yoga Anatomy: The Pelvis

Pelvis derives from the Latin word for basin or container. You can imagine your pelvis as basin holding sacred contents sitting atop the twin pillars of your legs. The front of the basin is open and we rely upon our lower abdominal muscles to hold the contents in there. The bottom of the basin is also open. Your pelvic floor muscles support the pelvic contents from below. The pelvic floor muscles functions as a springy support floor rather like a trampoline.

You can also envision the pelvis as a fulcrum between the legs and the torso. It can be pulled and tilted from either side by the muscles of the torso and legs. Working from the bottom of the pelvis: your hamstrings and buttocks muscles pull the basin backward, your hip flexors (psoas, illiacus, and quadraceps) tilt the basin forward. Working from the top of the basin: your stomach shorten to tilt the basin backwards and the back muscles shorten to tilt the basin forward. Additionally you can tilt the basin side to side using the muscles at the sides of the waist and legs.

When your pelvis is aligned well, you will stand your tallest, with strong support for spine and upper body and your weight will be balanced such that your feet, legs and hips are at ease. To find this alignment, the muscles that move your pelvis need to be balanced, long, flexible, strong, and supple. Because many of us spend many hours of the day with our pelvis in a static position, either sitting or standing, we do not equally work and stretch these supporting muscles. The result is accumulated strain, and eventually pain or injury in our low back, hips or even farther afield.

Yoga and Pilates work together to build support and strength across the pelvic fulcrum. In yoga, all of the standing poses challenge the muscles across the pelvis by changing the symmetry and angles of the structure while weight bearing. Both strength and flexibility are increased by working through a full range of standing poses. Seated and prone poses work more passively toward flexibility in this structure. Alternatively, Pilates exercises work torso (core) strength by asking the abdominal and back muscles to hold the pelvis stable while the movement of the limbs create weight bearing challenges to the static hold.

I started by suggesting that the pelvis was a basin holding sacred contents. In the yogic system the pelvis is the seat of the Muladhara Chakra, our root Chakra. This Chakra is our metaphoric ground or tether. It keeps us stable in times of turmoil and stress. It is the pathway by which earth energy is founded in our bodies. Without a healthy secure root chakra we are like a boat adrift in the ocean, bandied about by the currents and waves. A good strong root helps stay clear on our life path.

I'll be continuing this exploration of the pelvis in classes and writings this month. Check back in from time to time for specific pelvic exercises.