Knowing how to align the pelvis has been one of the most rewarding outcomes my work has yet to offer. Usually a client will come in after seeing a physical therapist and chiropractor still in a lot of discomfort and pain. This pain can be felt in the low back, hip, knee, foot, or neck. I often work the area that is experiencing symptoms then I’ll check for pelvic alignment. Most often times than not one side of the pelvis is positioned too far forward, backward, up or down or a combination causing the imbalance and painful discomfort. With deep compression and passive stretching we can work together and align the pelvis again. Clients are astonished at how much relief they receive from these simple and gentle techniques. But why does the pelvis misalign in the first place?
Besides injury and structural deviation, I believe pelvic misalignment has to do with a weak core, specifically the pelvic floor muscles. When these muscles are weak and flexible or weak and tight other muscles have to compensate and work over time to stabilize the pelvis when standing, sitting, walking, etc. The pelvic floor muscles are key players in almost all coordinated movement like balance, good posture, even breathing. The female pelvic floor is most often more flexible than a male’s due to the potential of giving birth. The male’s pelvic floor is more often less flexible due to too much sitting and not enough exercise. When training the pelvic floor muscles for men we focus on flexibility, and for women strengthening.
I teach clients in private yoga sessions how to palpate their pelvis to check for alignment along with movement, range of motion, that explores how the pelvis moves and finally exercises that strengthen and stretch the pelvic floor. We want a toned but elastic pelvic floor and this takes developing some body awareness.
Pelvic floor exercises are mainly taught to women before and after childbirth if they’re fortunate. But women aren’t the only one’s who benefit from pelvic floor exercises men do too. The pelvic floor muscles line the pelvic bowl like a hammock from the tailbone (coccyx) to the pubic bone and from left and right sitting bone. In men they wrap around the two passageways the urethra and anus, and in women the three passageways the urethra, vagina, and anus.
Image: THIEME Atlas of Anatomy: Schuenke
In yoga anatomy, the pelvic floor is referred to as mula bandha (Sanskrit meaning root lock) and energetically the home of the root chakra, muladhara. Similar to the squeeze and hold concept of the Kegel, we can engage the mula bandha.
Images: All seven chakras on left and close-up of root chakra on the right
Pelvic Awareness Practice
Here’s a simple practice that can help bring your awareness to your pelvic floor - root chakra - mula bandha.
1. Sit or stand comfortably
2. Begin to inhale and count to five. As you inhale begin to gently lift and hold your pelvic floor muscles up gradually with each count engaging a little more. It may be helpful to imagine an elevator going up one floor at a time as you lift a little higher with each count.
Count 1 – breathing in and first floor - lifting
Count 2 – continue inhaling and lifting up to the second floor
Count 3 – still breathing in and lifting up to the third floor
Count 4 – breathing in and lifing up a bit more to the fourth floor
Count 5 – finishing the inhalation and lifting up to the 5th and final floor.
3. Just like going up the elevator with the inhalation now we go down the elevator on the exhalation. Exhaling out slow and controlled releasing the pelvic floor. Imagine the elevator going down each floor counting down from 5 to 1.
4. At the top of the inhalation try to feel the strength of your pelvic floor and the exhalation notice the flexibility in relaxing it.
Suggested to practice for 5 minutes once or twice a day.
Franklin, Eric N. Pelvic power mind/Body exercises for strength, flexibility, posture, and balance for men and women. Highstown, NJ, Elysian Editions, 2003.
Keil, David. “Mula Bandha Anatomically Speaking” Yoganatomy, 19 Apr. 2016, https://www.yoganatomy.com/mula-bandha-anatomically-speaking-by-david-keil-2010-2/. Accessed 21 Sept. 2017.
Raizada, Varuna, and Ravinder K. Mittal. “PELVIC FLOOR ANATOMY AND APPLIED PHYSIOLOGY.” Gastroenterology clinics of North America, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2617789/. Accessed 21 Sept. 2017.
Schünke, Michael, et al. Thieme atlas of anatomy. 2nd ed., New York, Thieme, 2015.
Sovik, Rolf. “A Beginner's Guide to Mula Bandha (Root Lock).” Yoga International, Yoga International, 26 Sept. 2013, yogainternational.com/article/view/a-beginners-guide-to-mula-bandha-root-lock. Accessed 21 Sept. 2017.