Pelvic Awareness Exercise II: Rolling like a ball

Purpose and Caveats: Rolling like a ball requires us to hold the pelvis in a stable position through an ‘unstable’ motion. It requires keen attention to the details of the movement. You're likely to have an asymmetric roll in the beginning. This will shift as you practice and learn to hold the form with stability. Do not roll if you have osteoporosis or a neck injury, just come into the initial pose and practice holding it for 30 seconds to a minute. (For long time yogis: avoid the tendency to come up to a straight back when you arrive in the balancing position. The focus is different than in navasana: maintain a rounded spine throughout. You'll want to disengage the power centers in the hamstrings and and hip flexors and work from the abs and back instead.)

Focus: Keep your awareness in the sensations of the back of your body as you do this exercise. As the front of the body is curled into itself, let the back of the body be vibrant and awake.

Rolling like a Ball: Come to a seated posture, with your feet on the floor, legs parallel, knees bent, feet on the floor. Catch your hands behind your knees, rock back, lift the feet from the floor and balance on the fleshy area right behind your sitting bones. Tilt your head forward such that your chin is a few inches from your sternum and your gaze is down the front of your body. Engage our abdominal muscles strongly so that your pelvis tilts toward the back of your body, your lower back is rounded and your shoulder blades rotate out to the sides of your body. Tilting your pelvis toward the back of your body will create “the ball” shape you are looking for. Keeping this shape intact throughout the exercise is your goal.

Once you have found your balanced ball-shape it will only take a slight shift in your center of gravity to cause you to roll backwards. Initiate this movement with an exhalation and a deeper tightening of your abs. Roll backward along your spine to your shoulders and then forwards again to come to balance. You should be rocking backing and forth from pelvis to upper back while maintaining the ball shape continuously. Keeping your gaze down the front of your body will help you maintain a healthy and safe neck position throughout the exercise.

Continue to roll 4 to 5 times with your eyes open, then close your eyes and continue for another 4 to 5 rolls with eyes closed. Turn your attention to the back of your body, again and again and again. As you begin to feel confident in your ability to hold the form and stay aligned throughout the exercise try shifting the breathing pattern: inhaling back, exhaling up.


Pelvic Awareness Exercise I: Cat/Cow with a Sandbag

The last post was about the mechanics of the pelvis. This is the first in a series of exercises to bring you into deeper awareness of your pelvis and its mechanics.

Cat/Cow with a sand bag: Come onto a hands and knees position on your mat. Then sit back on your knees, hold a sand bag (or other soft lightly weighted object) on your low back with one hand and then tilt forward onto hands and knees again. You should be positioned with the weight of the sand bag primarily on your pelvis and lower back.

Look for neutral spine: neither flexing upward toward the ceiling nor drooping downward toward the floor. Without moving the pelvis, clearly engage your abdominals muscles to help support the weight of the sandbag.

Once you’ve found the support of your abdominal muscles you can begin to work through spinal flexion (cat) and extension (cow) in time with your breath. With your exhalation lift the sand bag up toward the ceiling by tilting your pelvis backward and arching the lower back upward. On the inhale, keeping your abdominal muscles engaged the whole time, come through neutral spine and gentle tilt the top of your pelvis toward the floor while lifting your head to look forward. Cycle through these two positions in time with your breath for a total of 10 to 20 cycles.

When you’ve finished this exploration come into child’s pose with the sand bag still resting on your low back. To come into child’s pose: bring your big toes to touching and your knees a little wider than hips distance apart. Sit back on your heals and rest your forehead on the floor. You arms may extend out over your head or rest alongside you.

As you continue moving into other yoga poses or even just walking around the house you'll have the ghost of the sandbag on your low back. Use this information to keep awareness there alive. You want to look for standing, sitting, working and living postures that support a graceful neutral spine position: a gentle tilt forward of the top of the pelvis such that the forward lumbar curve is alive, neither drooping toward your belly nor flattened toward your back.

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.