Pelvic tilt: how much is too much?

MG23_520x400A few months ago, one of my original yoga teachers, Donald Moyer, observed my Tadasana. Under his scrutiny, I tried extra hard to perfect my pose. To my surprise, he said, “You’re tucking your pelvis.”

What? If left to its own devices, my body is overly mobile in the lumbar spine. I am a natural pelvic “tilter.” I typically get corrected for too much anterior tilt. Was I overcorrecting?

Donald observed that I was clenching the gluteus maximus, i.e., buttocks, and the external hip rotators. He advised me to soften and spread instead–to correct excess tilt by lifting through the anterior vertebrae. (An aside: “buttocks” must be among the top 10 most frequently used words in any given Iyengar yoga class, don’t you think?)

Since then I’ve changed the way I align my pelvis–by lifting through the core, not by contracting the large, strong hip muscles. Here are a few actions that work for me:

  • Scoop the navel in and up
  • Slide the anterior face of the sacrum up
  • Raise the front hip bones (ASIS)
  • Pull the crown of the head up, as if hanging from it
  • Draw the shield of L5 in and up (Caveat: don’t try this unless you’re in a class with Donald Moyer)

While I’m correcting my pelvic tilt with a lighter touch now, body workers (such as massage therapists) sometimes still advise me to let my sacrum tilt more. Hmm…

A few thoughts: In poses that instigate lumbar overarching (such as Bhujangasana), I must continue to elongate the lumbar spine and, yes, firmly roll the buttocks down. But in neutral poses such as Tadasana, I should relax the glutes, lift through the core, and be less wary of my natural pelvic tilt.

Image: Kikkerland

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6 thoughts on “Pelvic tilt: how much is too much?

  1. Hi Lucy: It is natural for humans to have a slight anterior pelvic tilt and also important. The sacral lumbar curve is a very important shock absorber. If we look at small toddlers and how the human body looks before it gets stuffed into the right angle shape of a chair, you will see the slight anterior tilt. The SIP breath in my book YogAlign lengthens the lumbar curve from the inside out using the focused movements of breathing.

    Actions like sliding anterior face of the sacrum up or raising the front hip bones require one to engage muscles from the outside to control the inside. Do those adjustments and try to move. How do these actions contribute to real life function? Let me know what you think.
    I will be in Vancouver teaching a Change Your Posture, Change Your Life Workshop on Sunday July 27th and the following weekend in Squamish. Hope to see you there. Go to http://www.yogalign.com for more information.

    Much aloha, Michaelle

    1. Hi Michelle: I do agree that the human pelvis should be anteriorly tilted. But what if it’s tilted too much? Most people overdo pelvic tilt and lumbar arch (e.g., in lunge positions, Vir I, Vir II) to compensate for tight hip flexors. In such cases, they go beyond normal/heathy pelvic tilt. Some people are constantly too tilted; then shouldn’t we firm and lift through the core (deep in the plum line of the body, not from superficial muscles)?

      Your book does address these issues and you’ve worked wonders on people’s posture, so we’re pretty much on the same page. I unfortunately must miss your workshop because I’ll be in India this summer!
      Aloha from Vancouver, Luci

  2. Yes I agree we need to have a lift through the core to length the excess curvature rather than trying to flatten it. We do not have conscious control of these deep muscles without the enlistment of entire chains because in the body no part moves in isolation. The actions of the SIP breath creates the lift that lengthens the spinal column from the inside out. The pelvis is not the only factor here. If your rib cage is lifted higher in the front, the pelvis will rotate forward to compensate. Notice in excessive posterior tilt, the rib cage is dropped lower in the front or anterior. You may want to consider the angle and position of your rib cage. The SIP inhale engages muscles that act in to level the rib cage during the expansion phase. During the exhale, there could also be a pattern to engage the trunk muscles in a short contraction which could increase anterior tilt in those with that tendency. The SIP eccentric (lengthening ) exhalation that follows enlists the abdominal flexors to work primarily as stabilizers.
    Is the Iyengar teaching philosophy still to not teach breathing to beginners? When I studied it, breath was considered subtle and was not actively engaged till the student had 2 years of practice.
    In Yogalign, breathing is the first part of every class after a few minutes of self massage.
    It has been my experience that breathing is the most core movement of our body and therefore it is the pass code for rewriting the nervous system and also in changing postural alignment habits from the inside out. When we are walking or standing, many muscular forces engage without our conscious control. This is why it’s best to let breathing be the guiding force in shifting alignment.

  3. I am a tilter (not a tucker), too, but have realised lately, in tadasana, that I am overlifting the hamstrings which in turn lift the buttocks; relaxing the buttocks as suggested here has helped me lengthen the lower back, and to soften the tilt. Like you I need to work more on lifting the front of my body Quads, pelvis, abs, side ribs, etc) and to soften the back – doing a movement strongly then easing back to find a good balance has helped me, too. Good article 🙂

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