Let’s talk about the pelvis. Not the “hips,” meaning the hip joint, but the pelvis as a bony structure. I don’t think most of us realize how life changing it can be to have your pelvis aligned correctly. I can personally tell you from experience, it makes a huge difference. I want to focus mostly on the movements of the pelvis and how that affects us, but first, let’s take a quick look at the bones.
“Pelvis” means basin, and is composed of the sacrum, pubic symphysis, and a pair of innominants. The sacrum resides on the backside and is both part of the spine and part of the pelvis (hint, hint – this will be important later). The innominants are the two big halves of the basin on either side of the sacrum. They are composed of 3 parts – the ilium, the ischium, and the pubis. The pubic symphysis is where the pubic bones meet in the middle on the frontside. If you look closely, almost all of these landmarks are labeled in the drawing below.
You can feel many of these points on your body. Stand up and place your hands on the very top of your pelvis, almost at your waist. That is the top of the ilium. You can run your hands lightly forward and back, feeling the edge of the bone. If you follow the structure forward, to your “hip points” on the front, that is still part of the ilium, part of the innominants of the pelvis. Next, place your hand just below your lower back and feel that big bone. That’s your sacrum. If you’ve ever taken a class with me before, you have most likely heard me talk about feeling the sacrum when you’re lying down on your back. Now, sit back down on a harder surface – a yoga block, the floor, a chair without a cushion. Feel those bony points in your butt? What you might know of as your sit bones? That’s part of your ischium – your ischial tuberosities, if you wanted to know.
Ok. Hopefully I haven’t lost you yet! Now that you know what the pelvis looks like and have felt some of the points on your body, let’s talk about how it moves. Again, we’re not talking about the movements of your hip – just the pelvis.
We have an anterior tilt of the pelvis, where the top part of the pelvis tips forward, moving the sit bones back.
A posterior tilt of the pelvis is the opposite – the pubic bones shift forward, the top of the pelvis moves back. Some call this the “flat butt,” or when you scoop your tailbone.
And then, of course we have neutral, which is the aim of the game.
Have you ever done cat and cow poses? Cow pose, tailbone up, chest forward, looking up, has an anterior tilt of the pelvis. Cat pose, tucked tailbone, rounded back, head down, has a posterior tilt of the pelvis. The spine gets in on the action in these poses too, but we’ll save that for another day.
If you want to feel this, try doing cat/cow without moving your upper back. Notice what happens as you go to cow pose – the arch of your lower back increases. And as you go to cat pose, the arch of your lower back decreases. You can also work these tilts in a seated position, or even lying down on your back.
Many of us, myself included, naturally lives with one of these tilts. I am anterior tilter, myself. We can utilize these tilts to help us align in some of our poses, but in poses like Tadasana (Mountain Pose), a simple seat, or even in life off the mat, we want to work for a neutral pelvis. Why? When we live with a tilted pelvis, we often end up with muscle imbalances. If you have an anterior tilt, you might have weak glutes (guilty), tight rectus femoris (part of the quads), and/or a weak core, among other things. If you have a posterior tilt, you might have tight hamstrings, overworked glutes, and/or tight rectus abdominus (the six pack muscle, or eight pack, depending). We want to find balance in all of our muscles, not make a select few do all of the work.
And that’s where neutral pelvis comes in. When we find neutral pelvis, we can start to work on our muscular imbalances, and you know what else? It also helps the lower back! Remember how the sacrum is part of the spine and the pelvis? And how in cat/cow we can create too much or not enough curve of the low back? Are there bells dinging in your head yet? When we find our neutral pelvis, that lovely sacrum bone can wedge itself in perfectly into the pelvis and support our spine in a neutral position as well.
So how do you find neutral pelvis, you are probably asking? I learned this trick from Paula Sauer at Align Physical Therapy during my 300 hour training. You can do this seated, on your back, or standing.
Place the base of your thumbs on your hip points that we felt earlier. Bring your index fingers to touch in front at your pubic symphysis, and bring the tips of your thumbs to touch, creating a triangle. Anteriorly tilt your pelvis and look at your hands. You should only see your thumbs, your index fingers disappearing as they are further back. Then posteriorly tilt your pelvis. As you look down, you should see your index fingers in front of your thumbs. Tilt your pelvis back and forth a few times until, without looking, you think you have your thumbs and index fingers stacked. Then look down. Were you right? Or are you still anteriorly or posteriorly tilted? Adjust, as needed, until stacked. That is your neutral pelvis. It might feel weird at first, but as you practice, it will become easier.
As we work towards neutral pelvis in our poses, our weak muscles can begin to strengthen. Our tight, overworked muscles can lengthen. Since the pelvis is part of our trunk, aligning it properly can, again, help our low back, but it can also work down the chain, helping support our hips, knees, and ankles. The parts of our bodies are so deeply connected. The more awareness we can bring to major areas, the better off we’ll be as a whole.