Resisting the Bend: Kapotasana

By Peg Mulqueen

This was my deal breaker. Everyone has one, and this was mine.

I knew this one posture would demand from me more commitment, patience, tenacity and loving kindness than any other I’d ever encountered. It requires me to be fully present, super aware – and willing.

So lets just say, we’ve spent some time together and had the chance to really get to know each other. The good news is, our journey has been far from boring. Exciting, even.

But first, I just needed it to not hurt – physically, at least.

As you may recall from an earlier conversation, we all do have different body proportions and this absolutely affects our experience in backbends as well as how we approach.

For me, backbends in particular hurt my low back. Yeah, I know. You too. Or at least 75% of you. I know this because you tell me. I get notes and messages all the time. I hear it in the mysore room. The pinching, the wincing and even sharp stabs.

All of which suggests we’re out of room back there. And so first order of business is creating more space. This will also be the second, third and tenth order of business as well – but our tactic today in part one, will work specifically with the pelvis. Now you and I both know, I’m pretty much a simpleton when it comes to talking anatomy. I prefer to point and poke rather than call by name. This works well in person, but not so much in writing, unfortunately. So when David Keil was here in DC, I refused to feed him dinner until he explained to me in intelligent terms how the pelvis twerks … or works.

Most teachers will tell you to move your tailbone down, me included, once upon a time even though I had no idea how to do this. In theory it would work to make space in the low back – but in practice, I have no earthly idea how to consciously move a tail bone.

What I DO know is how draw my hip points in the front of my body towards my rib cage. Actually, it’s the same action we do when sitting up – contract the front body as the back body gets long. Now imagine initiating this same action but in a backbend …

You still with me?

No, you don’t sit up. And I won’t lie, to the eye – you see hardly any change. And the rib cage does not move any closer to the hip bones in the front BUT … it does change how the pelvis tilts. It’s a bowl, right? So this action takes the bowl and instead of keeping it more level with the ground, it tips it in a way that it might spill out the back.

David says it smart:

You can’t take the back of the pelvis down without taking the front up.

The pelvis tilts/rotates in a sense around the pivot of the two hip joints. When the pubic bone goes up, the sacrum and tail bone go down and under. These are connected to the spine so the lumbar spine straightens a bit.

This is what we call a posterior tilt of the pelvis.


And it’s what I call a happy(ier) low back.

I admit, this is a bit easier to accomplish in a regular backbend, with my feet on the floor and not cut off at the knees. But still very possible.

This time, however, instead of relying totally on the my ability to press into the floor, I find that if I draw in my belly STRONG, the action ofdriving my navel back towards my spine WHILE I’m backward bending creates the tension also capable of drawing the front of my pelvis up (and the back, down or away).

Again, David’s take:

Our center of gravity does live inside of our pelvis above the pelvic floor and in from just below our navel. It’s almost as if you drew a line up from the pelvic floor and in from a few fingers below the navel, the intersection of these two lines is our center of gravity.


Go figure, I suck my belly in and I lift my pelvic floor. Hmmmm … starting to sound like the “b” word to me. Or if you want a more intelligent source, try here.

Ok, so look at both pictures above and specifically, the pelvic area. It’s clear that the pelvis must come forward in order to complete the circle. Otherwise, we’d all land on our heads – and some of us actually do. It’s why some people kapotasanas end up looking like laguvajrasnas, quite frankly. They go backwards without leaving anything forwards.

And yet, I will seriously go apeshit on you if you lock my pelvis forward while you take me my hands into my heels. Seems like a good idea IF you just look at form and forget function. On the other hand, look what happens to Ashley when cued to do very little more than maintain an active posterior tilt of her pelvis:

Now clearly, there are other factors contributing … other areas of the body where space is not happening and thereby compromising our low back. Tight shoulders, chest, upper back and yes, the psoas … that damn unyielding psoas. And just why is the low back so often the victim to all these other parts?

It’s usually just the most willing and therefore, takes the brunt of the bend. And so we must resist – resist the bend. We have to look for the length and fight for the space, matching the posture’s intensity with our new secret weapon: the pelvis.

peg-mulqueen-webWith a master’s degree in psychology and more hours of training than she’d care to add up, Peg Mulqueen has been leading yoga classes and workshops for over a decade. Though she has practiced various styles of yoga, it is within the traditional method of Ashtanga where Peg has made her home. Peg’s primary teacher is certified Ashtanga teacher, David Garrigues, but is grateful for the guiding influence of her Anatomy and Physiology teacher, David Keil and meditation teacher, John Churchill. When not on her mat or leading Mysore at Flow, Peg is a contributing writer for Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal and other publications as well as a more personal blog to inspire others along the path.

Peg has a gentle warmth and contagious sense of humor – and shares her passion of life and love with all those she meets.

Visit Peg’s website:

Some other articles by Peg that you might find interesting:
  • A Team Body Approach December 13, 2014 Asana Quick Fix: 13 December 2014: A Team Body Approach If you’ve never experienced low back pain, consider yourself lucky. (And then, knock on wood.) You see, around 75% of the adult population HAS – and I’m not talking about those who practice yoga. It’s a “thing” and not a yoga “thing.” It comes up in yoga a ...
  • Head Up! September 27, 2014 Asana Quick Fix: 10 July 2014: Head Up! The arm balances of third series really take all I have in terms of upper body strength – and all I have is often, still not enough. Jen René asked her teacher, Tim Miller, for advice last week. “Use your head,” he told her. When she relayed his message, I ...
  • Size Matters June 19, 2014 By Peg Mulqueen I don’t know if you know this about Ashtanga – but backbends are a pretty big damn deal. When I started, no one cared that I could stand on my hands. No one wanted to see me float or jump or balance on my arms. No, they wanted to see my backbend. Only, I didn’t ...
  • A Pointer for Better Posture(s) November 16, 2014 Asana Quick Fix: 16 November 2014: A Pointer for Better Posture(s) I spend anywhere between 4 to 5 hours sitting in front of a computer … an hour or two, behind the wheel of a car .. and admittedly, an hour or so watching a movie or TV. That adds up to about 8 hours of ...
  • The Hips A-line-ment July 5, 2014 By Peg Mulqueen If there’s a holy grail in the Ashtanga yoga practice, it must a long central axis (or spine, for reference) and rooted pelvis, for within the two lie the keys to heaven – or as we say, bandhas. And so it seems logical we do all we can to protect and keep these lines ...
View more articles by Peg

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