Free your pelvis and the rest will follow

Shiva Rea, wide-legged squat, that pelvis is FREE!

by Kara-Leah Grant

Years of yoga practice and yoga teaching has taught me that our ability to freely move our pelvis is a key aspect to unlocking our spines, and releasing any chronic low back issues or holding patterns.

I’ve also learned that it’s not always the muscles, ligaments and tendons that are locking our pelvis in place. It can be our minds.

Yes, the psyche can affect the way that our pelvis moves. Fortunately, over time, yoga practice can unlock both the physical body and the psyche, significantly improving the movement of our pelvis. In doing so, it can free our spine, and reduce lower back and hip issues.

There are a few tricks and tips I’ve learned along the way that can make this process easier, faster, and less frustrating. I encourage you to take these tips and tricks and play with them. Try them out on your body, test them out in your practice, and see what arises for you, and what works best for you.

But first, a short video about healing your body with yoga.

My understanding of the body is experiential, and I’ve learned mostly by observation and practice. Along the way, I had some inspirational teachers share aspects of practice that have made an enormous difference to my practice.

When I started yoga, I’d been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, I’d had a spinal fusion about 9 years previous, I was living with chronic sciatic pain and a spasming back, and my right foot was half numb, meaning I walked with a limp.

I’m now pain free, limp free, and best of all, I understand my body from the inside out. That means if my back does ever start to talk to me through pain, I know what it’s saying, and what I need to do.

The journey to wholeness and healing is personal, and it starts when we take 100% responsibility for our experience. That means while we can ask other people for input and advice, we can’t expect them to solve our problems, or heal us. We have to do the hard work ourselves.

If you’re having back issues, and you’re ready to take 100% responsibility for your experience, and you’re willing to do the hard yards on getting to know your body form the inside out, it’s likely you’ll be able to make positive changes.

Here’s some places to start. These are the ‘Ah-a!’ moments I’ve had along the way on my journey to a healthy spine. Read, understand, and then play.

1. Tuning into the ascending and descending breaths

A few years after I’d been practicing yoga, I caught sight of myself in Mountain Pose (a simple standing pose). To my horror, I looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. All my weight was forward over my heels. I was fleeing the back of my body and pushing forward into the future. A-ha!

Exploration: Stand sideways in front of a mirror without looking at it and find your normal stance. Now look sideways. Where does your weight sit? Forward over the balls of your feet? Or back over the heels?

Gently rock forward and back with your eyes closed and see if you can come to a middle point. Does it feel different? Look in the mirror again. Now where are you standing?

If you’re not already weighted even between the front and backs of your feet, find that middle ground and breath into it. Experience it. What does it feel like? Notice everything there is to notice – physical sensations, thought arising in the mind, feelings moving through and any energetic sensations.

As you breath, imagine you’re drawing the breath up the front of the body on the inhale. Exhale down the back of the body through the sitting bones, the middle of the leg bones, the heels and into the ground.

Keep doing this breath over and over, what does it feel like? Does the breath easily rise up the front of the body? What does it feel like exhaling down into the ground through the heels?

Working with this made me realise that I wasn’t trusting my back to support me – and that I didn’t feel supported by life. It made me realise how intensely I was gripping the front of my body so I didn’t fall forward with my front-heavy stance. It made me realise how ungrounded I felt without my heels properly weighted into the ground.

What does this exploration make you realise?

2. Gripping, clenching and holding – it’s all in your head

Over years of practice, I’ve deduced that I’ve been gripping, clenching and holding myself against life. This gripping, clenching and holding has extended to the stomach, hips, and lower back. My back would often get worse in times of stress, and this was why. As I got stressed, I would resist life. That resistance would led to gripping, clenching and holding in the body. That holding would cause pain.

Now, if my hips or back are ever painful, I’m able to bring my awareness to that area, and release any gripping, clenching or holding. Invariably the pain melts away. This is subtle work that has taken me years of practice to tune into – it’s never too early to start.

Exploration: Lie on your back in savasana (corpse pose). Place your hands on the front of your hips. Breath into your hands. Imagine your hips softening, melting, releasing and letting go. With every exhale, soften another millimeter or two.

Shift your hands to your lower belly and do the same. The upper belly.

Release your hands at your side, lying them palm-face up beside you. Bring your awareness to your lower back. Notice if it’s curved away from the ground, or lying flat on the ground. If it’s curved away from the ground, bend your knees until it lies flat. It’s likely that your hip flexors are gripping at the front and causing the pelvis to tilt forward, creating the curve in the lower back.

Now that your spine is flat against the ground, and you’ve brought your full awareness to the lower back, breath into the area. If you need to, use your imagination. Notice the contact point where your spine mets the floor. Imagine your spine is melting into the floor with every exhale. Stay here for ten minutes or more, melting down into the ground, through the ground, becoming part of the ground.

Over time, bringing greater and greater awareness to my hips, back and belly, I could sense when I was starting to grip against life. I could practice breathing and softening that area immediately. The key is to build up a level of body awareness so you can catch yourself in the grip, and breath your way into the soft.

3. Channeling the flow

The next break through came courtesy of Shiva Rea. She uses a technique in her Vinyasa Flow Yoga called Pulsation Vinyasa – micro-movements of the pelvis in alignment with the breath. As I worked with this method, I noticed that I couldn’t breath through my hip joints – they were damned up, stuck and stagnant.

If I did a wide-legged squat without pulsation vinyasa, I noticed that my habitual gripping, clenching and holding patterns meant I was gripping, holding and clenching my hips and pelvis in order to hold myself up… but this was preventing me from releasing into the pose.

When I used Shiva’s technique of pulsation vinyasa within wide-legged squat, the micro-movement with the breath meant I wasn’t able to do my usual grip, clench and hold. I could feel the muscles and prana supporting me, while the hips and pelvis softened and released into the posture.

This showed me that I was often gripping, clenching and holding my body within postures in such a way as to counter-act the very opening that was meant to be happening. Knowing I had this tendency, I started to use the micro-movements in the pelvis whenever I suspected I was working against myself. It’s worked wonders.

Exploration: Stand with your legs wide, feet at 45 degrees, knee caps lined up over second toe. As you inhale, press firmly down against the ground through your feet, particular the heels. Feel the breath rise up the central channel of the spine. As you exhale, release down into a squat. Keep the hips above the knees – in fact, keep the hips relatively high.

From this moderate wide-legged squat position, press firmly down through the legs, extend your tailbone down towards the ground and draw the breath up through the front of the pelvis. As you take this inhale, the pelvis is tucking under slightly – I prefer to say extend the tailbone down towards the ground rather than tuck it under as it’s more accurate.

As you exhale, release the pelvis forward slightly and sink a millimetre or two deeper into the swuat, still pressing firmly through the feet.

Repeat a few times, focusing on where the breath goes in the body. As you inhale, can you draw the breath up from the feet, through the leg bones, through the hip joints, into the pelvis and up the spine?

Watch: Video of this wide-legged yoga squat exploration.

My major ‘A-ha!’ moment came when I discovered I could breath through the hip joints – suddenly I could feel space and freedom that had never before existed in that part of my body. Freeing the hip joints has had a major impact on my lower back.

4. Combo meal deal

Once you begin to tune into the ways in which you grip, clench and hold, and tune into the ways in which you can feel the flow, you can start to put it all together.

Exploration: Bring yourself into Legs-up-the-wall. Your legs go straight up a wall, your spine is flat against the ground. If your hamstring are tight, you may need to push your hips away from the wall, resting your legs an angle against it. The angle of the legs against the wall doesn’t matter. What matters is finding ease with straight legs and a relaxed spine.

Bring body awareness into your pelvis, and breath into the area. Imagine there’s a large balloon in your pelvis and as you inhale you’re blowing up the balloon. Where does the inhale go?

Tune into your spine, and where it touches the ground. On every exhale, melt it down into the ground, and through the ground.

Tune into your legs. Inhale and expand the balloon inside your pelvis, exhale from the centre of your pelvis, through the hips joints, down the middle of the leg bones and out the heels towards the sky. Do this repeatedly. Notice any blockages, dark places, tension or denseness. Stay present and aware, be curious about your experience.

Explore the micro-movements of the pelvis in tandom with the breath. What happens when you inhale and press the top & back of your pelvis firmly against the ground? What happens when you exhale and release your pelvis into a forward tilt, feeling your tailbone against the ground? Do this repeatedly with the breath.

Bring the legs out wide, and explore here. How does this change things? Rotate your legs externally. What does that feel like? Rotate your legs internally. Find the middle point. Be curious. Listen to your body’s intuition in the exploration.

Use your hands underneath your thighs to bring your knees into your chest. Press your feet firmly against the wall, and your pelvis firmly against the ground. Breath into your hips joints and lower spine. What does that feel like?

There’s something about breathing into the pelvis, through the joints, and out the legs which helps release the tension accumulating in my spine. How does it feel in your spine?

Over time, with awareness of my body and breath, these techniques have helped me release tension in the lower back, hips and pelvis.

May they trigger a similar release for you, and further explorations and ‘a-ha!’ moments.

Remember, it’s your body, your journey. Go within with full presence, and let your own body’s infinite wisdom guide you.

 

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Comments

  1. Kate says

    Kara-Leah, thank you so much for writing this article and adding the video! I burst into tears reading it because I’m in that space of chronic debilitating pain where you used to be. I’ve had one lot of spinal surgery and have been advised that the surgeons would now like to do a double fusion. Your article reinforced my thinking and the decisions I’ve made about being 100% responsible for my health, not giving my power away, doing the work & healing without surgery. Thanks for the practical suggestions too – I can’t wait to start experimenting with them!

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Kate,

      It’s a big decision – knowing whether or not you need to have that second surgery. I would suggest staying open to all possibilities, as you take responsibility for doing what you can. Sometimes that Western medical intervention is exactly what’s needed, and sometimes it’s not. There’s so many interconnected layers to our bodies, and so many ways to treat those layers. Talk to as many people as you can who know spines, from as many different disciplines as possible.

      It was my experience that GPs don’t have a great understanding of the spine, so would refer any issue to a surgeon, whose area of expertise is of course… surgery. This didn’t address the underlying cause of the issue though, which meant the surgery was like putting a bandaid over top of something. The big question is, why is your spine the way it is? What’s causing the pain? It’s like being a detective really… Good luck!

  2. Mike says

    There are no coincidences.
    Your blog arrived half way around the world at my home in Nelson BC at just the right time.
    I sense your words will help tranform my practice exactly where I sense the greatest present need.

    beautiful.

    Namaste
    Mike

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Mike,

      Ah… such a beautiful part of the world, I miss BC! It’s exciting to hear that this will help to transform your practice too :-)

  3. Sara says

    Kara-Leah, I am just going through and reading your top twenty articles. This is a wonderful article. I don’t have the level of chronic pain you have described, but I certainly have back problems that cause me pain. After doing my 40 days, I want to really work on opening up my pelvis area, as not only does it affect my upper back, but its tightness is impacting on my knee as well. I can’t wait to try out your suggestions here.

    • Sara says

      I’ve just finished my yoga practice, incorporating what you have described. The micro pelvic movements are amazing. I used them in supta baddhakonasana, and the sensation was amazing. Thanks for the clues along the journey :).

      • Kara-Leah Grant says

        Yeah! Great to get immediate feedback like that. Shiva Rea’s on to something for sure… love her teachings.

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Sara,

      Great mission to read all 20! I’d be really interested to know how these suggestions work for you. Over time, they’ve made such a difference to my movement and openness.

      Blessings,
      Kara-Leah

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