Principles of Practice: Alignment and Action (Part 2) The Pelvis and Hip Joints

The pelvis is at the very center of the body’s design. It is the connection between the spinal column and the legs. Among other activities, it accommodates sitting, standing, walking and balancing. It is comprised of a ring of bones, which along with muscle and other connective tissue provides a home for the reproductive organs, the bladder, and the large intestines. In Latin, the word pelvis means basin or shallow bowl.

The pelvic bone is comprised of three bones – the lilium (ilia, ilio, iliac), the ischium (ischia, ischio, ischial) and the pubis. These three separate bones become fused together by the time a child reaches the age of puberty. The three bones merge together at the center of a deep depression called the acetabulum, which in Latin means little vinegar cup.

The left and right pelvic bones are joined together in the front at the pubic symphysis. In the back, the pelvic bones connect to the sacrum at the sacroiliac joint. These joints are comprised of cartilage and ligaments. These joints provide stability as well as very slight movement and shock absorption.

The hip joint is basically the connection between the head of the femur (ball) and the acetablulum (socket). On the surface of the the acetabulum is an added piece if cartilage called the labrum (Latin for lip) which provides a more stable connection between the two bones. The ligaments which connect the two bones are strong and dense and are integrated with the joint capsule itself. These design characteristics provide both strength and a wide range of motion.

This photo is a pelvic Xray. The head of the femur within the acetabulum is visualized. Note also the shape and grooves of the top of the femur. Many tendons and ligaments connect here and cross over and through the pelvic structures. On plane Xray, structures that are dense (such as bone) will block most of the x-ray particles, and appear white. Structures containing air will be black. Muscle, fat and fluid will appear as shades of gray. You can also see the ischium and pubic bones as well as the space between which is cartilage. In the bowl of the pelvis, within the large circle of bones, you can see circular shades of light and dark which is the large intestine.

The possible range of motion of the femur as it connects into the acetabulum includes flexion (forward) and extension (back); abduction (away from midline) and adduction (towards or crossing midline); and internal or medial rotation (turns in) and external or lateral rotation (turns out). The actual degree of movement depends on 1) genetics – the actual shape and angle of top of the femur; 2) personal history lifestyle, habits and activities and 3) health history. (Please refer to the Joint Freeing Series for exercises to increase joint mobility


The images below are from the classic and time honored yoga text Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar. The traditional yoga asanas can be considered archetypes ~ the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form.

With this in mind, the goal of the Yoga and Health curriculum is to study the archetypes of traditional yoga poses from various traditions (Iyengar, Desikachar and Kripalu primarily) and to adapt these poses to what an average westerner can effectively and safely perform. With years of steady practice, closer and closer approximation to the archetype will be discovered.

With Utkatasana (Chair pose) we will explore the connection between the axial skeleton and our hips and legs. The joint actions to be explored are flexion and extension.

With Uttanasana (Forward fold) we will explore the balance between flexion and extension.

With a beginner Virabhadrasana (Warrior I pose) we will deepen the exploration of the hip joint finding strength and integrity within an asymmetrical posture; one leg will be in flexion while the other in extension in relation to the hip bones. The extended leg will also require a bit of an external rotation to secure the integrity of the pose.


Figure 1
Find Tadasana
Bring up a gentle squeeze in the buttocks to align the pelvis (not tilted forward or back)
Place the hands on the hips, or bring arms to shoulder height in front
Engage the core (front and side abdominal muscles) 
Pay attention to the energetic connection between the lower edge of the sternum and the pubic bone
These prompts help to maintain alignment in the spine that preserves the natural curves (cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral)
Figure 2
Bend the knees while also hinging at the hips and track alignment from the ASIS through the knees to the toes
Maintain the normal curve of the low back by pulling navel back towards spine and maintaining a steady distance from the lower edge of the breast bone and the pubic bone
Breathe ~ Maintain awareness of your entire body as you breath and experience sensation ~ Breathe into those areas that feel constricted and allow just a bit of softening ~ Notice what feels loose or wobbly; re-establish connection to the earth and to your core, drawing even those parts in towards the center
Figure 3
Maintain a neutral spine and hinge forward at the hip joint
Use care to maintain a neutral alignment of the spine as you continue to engage core
Notice that you are able to sit more deeply (be sure that you are tracking alignment ASIS, center of knee, toes)
With arms at shoulder height, be sure to engage top of arm bones into the shoulder socket squeezing shoulder blades together on the back, align energetically from the shoulder blades to the palms
The whole body is active, energetic, prana flowing
Figure 4
As you sit deeply in the pose, turn the palms in, plug the tops of the arms into the shoulder girdle, squeeze the shoulder blades together, reach the arms up and back to the ears, and keep the spine neutral
Engage from the shoulder blades to the palms activating muscular energy 
Engage the core narrowing the distance between the lower 
Breathe deeply using ujjayi breathing to power up the pose
To release from any of these variations, simply lower the arms and straighten the legs returning to Tadasana. Close your eyes, notice the breath and notice sensation

Utkata means powerful, fierce, uneven
This pose strengthens ankles, knees, hips and shoulders and evenly develops leg muscles. It provides a stretch for the low back and tones the abdomen. Full expansion inhalation strengthens the chest.
Practice with caution if you have imbalance, severe osteoporosis or profound weakness. Use particular care if you have inflammation or injury of ankles, knees, hips or shoulder. As always, stop practicing the pose if it creates pain in the joints.


Figure 1
Tadasana and place your hands on your hips
Engage muscular energy from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head
Root down from the waist to the soles; rise up from the waist to the crown
Breathe in. Lengthen from the base of the spine to the top of the head
Figure 2
Hinge at the hips ~ squeeze the elbows together and lift the shoulder blades away from the rib cage (this will help to prevent rounding the thoracic spine) ~ aim to bring the torso parallel to the floor
Figure 3
 Bend the knees to go deeper ~ press the lower abdomen and thighs together ~ breathe and connect with the stability (Sthira)and comfort (Sukha) this pose can bring
 fold over hinging at the hips with a neutral spine until you can go no further
Figure 4
Round over allowing head to hang heavy and arms to relax ~ place hands on the floor or on a block to ground the pose ~ legs are active and provide stability ~ gravity is working on the spine ~ vertebrae to separate relieving compression on the inter-vertebral discs ~with each inhalation lengthen the legs from the soles to the hips ~ with each exhalation compress the abdomen and chest towards the legs ~ 
connect with the natural easy flow of the breath
Figure 5
Slowly roll up on an out breath beginning with the lower spine~ set each vertebra one on top of the other ~ stop when you need to breathe in and continue to roll up on the out breath ~ the head is the very last part to lift
Close your eyes. Breathe easily and notice sensation in your body.

Benefits include relief of stomach pain and menstrual cramps. It tones the liver, spleen and kidneys; promotes a calm mind and attitude; a great counter stretch for all standing poses, lengthens the thoracic and lumbar spinal muscles and hamstrings; promotes freedom of movement in the pelvis and hips.
Use particular care in practicing this pose and stop if you experience any unpleasant sensations due to spondylolisthesis, herniated disc, hamstring tear or lightheadedness.
If you are treated for high blood pressure, or if you have low blood pressure do not remain with your head down very long and return to standing very slowly.


Come to the front of the mat and find Tadasana ~ place hands on hips ~ press elbows back, squeeze shoulder blades together and activate the back body
Step back with the right leg extending and externally rotating at the hip and place the sole of the foot onto the ground ~ it will be turned out 30 to 45 degrees in order to accommodate a neutral (forward facing) pelvis
Energetically connect the sole of the right foot to the right buttocks activating the muscles in the leg
Bend the left knee so that it is in line with the ankle
Track the left heel towards the right instep, drawing everything up towards the center activating all of the muscles from the waist down to the feet
Stay here a while and breath ~ explore the feeling of both stability (sthira) and comfort (sukha)
Interlace fingers and place the hands behind the head at the base of the skull just above the cervical vertebrae – open the elbows wide ~ gently press the head into the hands as the hands support the head ~ stay here for a few breaths ~ notice sensation
Lift out of the waist and reach the sternum up towards the sky creating a gentle backward bend ~ notice the movement in the back body at the lower edge of the rib cage ~ stay here for a few breaths
Extend the arms up from the shoulder blades to the tips of the fingers ~ turn the palms towards each other ~ energetically connect the scapula to the palms and reach the arms back towards the ears as you maintain a neutral spine
You may place the hands in temple pose to create a strong boundary within which arms can extend even more ~ stay here for a few breaths
To come out of the pose, lower the hands to the hips or to the heart in Anjali mudra, and step the right foot forward
Repeat on the other side

Effects of the asana according to BKS Iyengar in the text Light on Yoga: In this pose the chest is fully expanded and this helps deep breathing. It relieves stiffness in the shoulders and back, tones up the ankles and knees and cures stiffness of the neck. It also reduces fat round the hips.

Many yoga asanas are steeped in the mythology of India. The following is an excerpt from a Yoga International article about the story behind Virabhadrasana:

The story of Virabhadra is a classic warrior tale in that it reflects the struggle between truth (atman or "higher self") and the ego. In this tale, Lord Shiva takes a wife—Sati—but her father, Daksha, does not approve of Shiva's bizarre, renunciate ways. (Shiva spends time in cemeteries and wears a snake around his neck, after all.) 
To demonstrate his disapproval, Daksha throws a party and does not invite the newlyweds. Sati becomes enraged and goes to the party alone to defend her love of Shiva, but her father cannot surrender his opinion of Shiva; his distaste for their coupling remains.
In retaliation, Sati decides to sever her relationship with her father and her family in general. She even decides to leave her body (which is a yogic way to say "die"). She announces this to her father, leaves the party, goes deep into meditation, and builds an inner fire (agni) that is so strong she eventually spontaneously combusts. 
Grief-stricken, Shiva tears his hair out, and from that hair he manifests Virabhadra to slay Sati's stubborn-minded father. Virabhadra quickly fulfills his purpose; he arrives at the party and decapitates Daksha. But after the deed is done, Shiva feels sorrow and regret. So, he absorbs Virabhadra back into his body, goes to the party (that by now is most definitely over), and restores life to Daksha. 
When Daksha's heartbeat returns, his perspective has shifted; he, too, feels regret for his ways. From then on, he calls Shiva "Shiva Shankar," the kind and benevolent one. In the end, Sati also comes back to life by re-incarnating as Parvati (another goddess and wife of Shiva). 
When Virabhadra kills Daksha, one could say the warrior represents an aspect of the higher self that manifests to slay the human ego, represented by Daksha. Then, when Shiva brings Daksha back to life, he reminds us that inner work isn't as simple as destroying the parts of ourselves we don’t like. Instead, if we extend compassion toward the stubborn, harmful sides of our self, we can invite them to soften and relinquish control. Through our warriorship, we can befriend, rather than admonish, our egos. We can accept ourselves, even the aspects we wish to discard—every part. accessed 8/22/2020

The asanas in Part 1 and Part 2 provide a foundation for strength and stability which is required for moving on to more difficult poses. I encourage you to practice them until you own them. Then you can put them together in different ways to create your own practice.

In Principles of Practice: Alignment and Action Part 3 we will begin exploring muscular action as we continue to learn and /or refine yoga asanas.

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