The Hips A-line-ment

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 sacred.

The primary series offers us the perfect place to practice this alignment with shapes that logically lead us towards that promised land …

… but then along comes intermediate, which at times, takes us wildly off course, testing our commitment to be true to both with twists, more complicated and backbends, extreme.

Not to mention a wicked litany of hip openers.

Lately, and with some regularity, I’ve noticed some students, particularly those more flexible, complain of low back troubles somewhere around the leg-behind-head marathon of
second. Interestingly enough, it’s the backbends that often get blamed for these intense forward bends, but the timing to me, tells a different story.

This sends me back to primary and simpler times, to reclaim this holy grail, as I look for the clues leading to where we first lost it.

To go all the way back to the beginning of primary, brings us to dandasana. Just as samastitihi is the guiding principle for all standing postures, dandasana seems the same for all those seated.

With our weight, equally distributed and hips in one line, grounding down as the spine lengthens up and out of the pelvis – to the extent our anatomy and flexibility will allow.

Yet often that last part’s not good enough for us. We have a picture in our mind of what each posture is supposed to look like, so in our effort to achieve, we move beyond what our anatomy and flexibility allows by sacrificing the line of our hips and the length of our spine.

And it’s the low back in particular that helps us bypass the work of the hips by twisting, shortening, bending and swinging the pelvis, dosey doe. While most of us (yes, me included) often have no idea we’re even out of line.

My husband always says, give people a choice and they’ll make one. It seems in this case, when we have the choice to stay in the hips and work or escape through the back door of the lumbar, the latter is way more inviting.

Of course, it’s easy to see why we will allow the pelvis to shift out at an angle in a posture like Marichyasana D because this movement makes binds more accessible while still giving the illusion that a deep twist is happening, when it’s really the derailment of our foundation as our low back surrenders.

(Again, the hip lifting is not the action in question – it’s the movement of one hip, behind the other.)

Though lets consider a simpler shape from primary: janu sirsasana A. Because it’s in this seemingly sleepy posture where the misalignment of the hips and pelvis first seems to happen with alarming regularity – especially by those who later will complain of an achey low back.True story!

(Though definitely MY story, so love to hear your findings!)

 tilting of the pelvis and then the same posture, realigned.

Michael Joel Hall first demonstrates the tilting of the pelvis on the side of the bent knee, and then the same posture, realigned.

There must be a connection here. A line we can draw, all the way through.

Could it be that the bottom line when it comes to hips, really is as simple as our bottom’s line?

Watch this exploratory session with David Robson during his last visit to DC where we review the aLINEment of a few postures from both primary and intermediate series. And then practice for yourself and let me know what you come up with in your own research!

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 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 ...
  • 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 ...
  • Growing Up In Backbends September 27, 2014 Asana Quick Fix: 16 September 2014:Growing Up In Backbends I remember as a kid, helping my slightly OCD mom ready our bedsheets to be folded. We would each grab two corners and pull our ends taut, in our efforts to eliminate all the wrinkles and crinkles we could before we began. I kind of think of backbends ...
  • Resisting the Bend: Kapotasana June 20, 2014 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 ...
  • 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 ...
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