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!)

Hips alignment

 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 a-LINE-ment 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!