“Tuck your tailbone.”
Ahhhh, the old days. I used to hear that cue all the time, especially in group fitness classes (and yes, some of them were Pilates and Yoga classes).
But times, and yoga phraseologies, have changed.
That being said, JUST when I thought the old-school call for a tuck had disappeared, I heard the cue at a large yoga event this past weekend.
I was just a little taken aback.
Most of my yoga teachers admit that while tucking your tailbone WAS a common cue, more recent knowledge about the anatomy of the spine would dictate that it is safer to let the pelvis tilt slightly back into its neutral anatomical position.
Why were we told to tuck? Tucking the tailbone is one way that you can engage your lower abdominal muscles, which in theory would help protect the lumbar or lower back. However, we now know that forcing the natural curve out of the lower back can lead to compression of the lumbar spine.
Unless you have a very deep curvy lumbar spine, and many people (like me) do not, it is probably not necessary to try to lengthen the tailbone to protect the lumbar.
The tailbone, or coccyx, naturally curves first into and then away from the body (lordotically) so it makes sense to preserve this curve when in standing, or even supine poses. This doesn’t mean that you stick your butt out J-Lo style. Focus on the tailbone itself, not the upper thighs or butt, and allow that very lowest part of your spine to curve back naturally.
One of my alignment-based yoga teachers, Dina Crosta, recently focused her whole class on letting the tailbone tilt out naturally, as if we had an imaginary tail.
It was enlightening.
Freeing the tailbone made movement in standing postures so much more open and stable at the same time.
So, if we don’t need to tuck, then what is the correct position of the tailbone, particularly when standing? “Anatomical neutral” is not very informative for the average practitioner.
Instead, let’s come onto our backs and feel it. Yes, seriously. Lay down and use your fingers to find your frontal hip points. Once you’ve got them, move your pubic bone so that it is on a level plane with your hip points. Sway back and forth until you find it. This is anatomical neutral for your pelvis. Use the floor as feedback to feel where your spine touches and moves away from the floor in this position.
Now try it standing up!
Just to address the issue of engaging the core – yes, this is still important. And, it is true that some people do tilt their pelvis a little too far forward. So, what’s a better cue than “tuck your tailbone”? I personally find “lift your frontal hip points” to be more informative. It helps to engage those lower ab muscles and brings the pelvis into more proper alignment without sacrificing the natural curve of the lumbar.
When in tadasana, here’s how I find proper alignment: stand firmly into the feet, lengthen the legs and take the upper thighs back, so that they are directly over your feet, then lift the frontal hip points, soften the front ribs, open the collarbones and take your head back slightly – anatomically neutral!
One final note – please keep in mind that every body is proportionately different. Experiment and find that Goldilocks position for your spine that feels best – during and after practice.
Your lumbar will thank you!
May Louie first took yoga in college to fulfill a Phys-Ed requirement and immediately fell in love. She unfortunately did not continue with her practice but reconnected with it when she retired from her corporate job in 2002 and has since become a serious yoga enthusiast. After her second retirement last year, she completed her 200 hour RYT certification, studying with Dina Crosta, Ellen Mosko and Jamie Segal Hanley, with a focus on alignment based flow.[/box]
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