A Restorative Practice for Svadhisthana Chakra
Svadhisthana, the second chakra, is associated with fluidity, adaptability, creativity, and the outward transmission of our energy into the world. It is said to be located in the pelvis, in front of the sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of your spine, made up of five fused vertebrae). To bring balance to this area, the following restorative practice aims to create a relaxed environment in which we can meditate on various attributes of svadhisthana and begin to perceive the two different halves of the pelvis and move them distinctly. We will employ bolsters and blankets to encourage a deep release that makes the subtle movements of the pelvis more possible and palpable.
“A pelvis that is able to transmit weight from the sacrum to the upper thigh bones is vital to stabilize the sacroiliac joints (or “SI joints,” where the sacrum meets the ilia (the uppermost bones of the pelvis) on either side), tone the pelvic floor and lower abdominal organs, and for the balance of svadhisthana chakra,” explains Jonina Turzi, a doctor of physical therapy and a yoga teacher. “For the pelvis to deliver that weight effectively, its two sides must be able to dissociate from each other: each half must be able to rotate, laterally glide, and even forward/backbend on the sacrum,” she says. “By contrast, a pelvis whose halves are unable to dissociate, or a pelvis that is stuck in a forward or backward tilt, is vulnerable to SI joint instability, lower back pain, disc pathology in the spine, degeneration of the hip joints, pelvic floor weakness, and malfunctioning of the lower abdominal organs.” Yoga practices that treat the pelvis “like a unified block”—Turzi’s iteration—constrict the energy of the second chakra.
Yoga practices that treat the pelvis “like a unified block” constrict the energy of the second chakra.
“The movement of the two halves of the pelvis on either side of the sacrum might be slight, perhaps five to 15 degrees for a young, flexible woman, even fewer for an older man, but even a single degree of movement is essential,” says Turzi. “Even in cases where there is no perceptible movement, the neuromuscular change that comes from attempting the movement counts: just by breathing and intending to move closer to healthy alignment, you can unlock and rewire a painful SI joint holding pattern.”
The dissociation of the pelvic halves can be affected in an active practice, through the engagement of the deep core muscles in and around the pelvis, or gently encouraged through a restorative practice. Turzi explains: “Just by relaxing into good bony alignment and breathing diaphragmatically, you will be channeling movement into hard-to-reach places, facilitating the release of muscle and connective tissue in and around the pelvis. It’s like wiggling a stuck drawer open.”
For this practice, you will need a bolster, two blocks, and at least one blanket. Eye pillows, hand towels, and a sandbag or second blanket are optional. Before softening into restorative poses, we’ll do a gentle warm-up to get the fluids of the body moving and to acquaint ourselves with the pelvic halves.
(To practice mobilizing the two halves of the pelvis through an active practice, see my article with Jonina Turzi, “Liberate your Pelvis.”)
1. Cat Cow Breathing
Arrange yourself on your hands and knees, and alternately round (cat) and backbend (cow) your spine, moving with your breath, and trying to initiate these movements from your pelvis. Notice that when you tilt your pelvis posteriorly (cat) your right and left sitting bones move closer to your knees. When you tip your pelvis anteriorly (cow), the right and left pubic bones lengthen back.
Ideally, when the legs are arranged asymmetrically—as they are in many of the following poses—one side of the pelvis will move into a position more like cat, the other into a position more like cow.
2. Low Lunge, Hands on Buttocks
From hands and knees, step your right foot forward and bring your spine to vertical, coming to a low lunge with your palms on your buttocks, fingers pointing down. In general, when one leg is in front of the other, the pelvis moves into a slight posterior tilt (like cat) on the forward-stepping side, and tilts anteriorly (like cow) on the other. In this lunge then, the right side of your pelvis moves into cat, your right sitting bone scooping toward your right knee. The left side of your pelvis is in cow, pubic bone lengthening toward your left knee. The effect of this healthy dissociation is that the right side of your pelvis is incrementally higher (closer to the shoulders) than the left side, and slightly in front of the left side. Perhaps you can perceive this difference with your hands: Is your right buttock further forward and a little higher than the left? If this alignment hasn’t happened naturally, use your hands to gently facilitate it. Repeat on the second side.
2. Half Locust (Variation)
Lie on your belly, stacking your hands or forearms to make a pillow for your forehead. Lift one leg and then the other, trying to initiate these movements from your pelvis so that when your left leg lifts, the left side of your pelvis lifts away from the floor (as opposed to your left frontal hip bone digging into the mat). However, do not make the left side of your pelvis lighter by moving your left leg to the right—keep your left heel in line with your left hip—and be careful not to externally rotate your left hip: keep your left knee and toes pointing down instead of turning them out to the left. After several repetitions, pause when your left leg is up, and notice that the left side of your pelvis is in a position that’s more like cow, pubic bone lengthening toward your left knee, and is closer to the ceiling than the right side. By contrast, the right side of your pelvis—which is in a position more like cat—is heavier on the ground and slightly nearer to your shoulders than the left side is. Repeat and hold on the second side.
3. Child’s Pose
Press back up to hands and knees. Arrange your knees a little wider than your hips, big toes touching, and sit back on your heels, walking your hands out as far in front of you as you can. Lift your elbows and relax your forehead on the floor. Use this child’s pose to release tension from the lower back and shift your focus inside in preparation for the tranquility of your restorative poses. The two sides of your pelvis are symmetrical now, likely arranged much as they are in cat pose, with your sitting bones moving toward your knees. Keeping your hands in place, shift your hips and upper body from side to side, bending your right elbow toward the floor as you sway to the right, your left elbow as you sway to the left.
The Restorative Practice
1. Supported Half-Bridge
Run the bolster the long way down the center of your mat, with enough room behind the bolster for the tops of your shoulders and back of your head to rest on the mat. Place a blanket, folded in its large, square “yoga-studio” fold, toward the bottom of the bolster and to the right, where it will soon support your right hip. Place a block a few inches below the bolster on its middle setting, and slightly to the left, where it will support the left shin. Sit in the middle of the bolster—with your right hip on the blanket—knees bent, feet down. Lie back, making sure the back of your head and your shoulders comfortably rest on your mat. Drape your arms out to the sides; if you have eye pillows handy, feel free to use them to cradle the back of your wrists. Then extend your left leg, supporting the left shin with the block, and—if available—drape another blanket (or sandbag) over your left top thigh. Keep your right leg bent, knee toward the ceiling, foot on the floor. The blanket is underneath the right hip to enhance the posterior tilt of the right side of your pelvis, which is in its cat shape, right sitting bone moving toward the right knee. The right side of your pelvis is incrementally closer to the ceiling, and closer to your shoulders, than the left. The left side of your pelvis is in a slight anterior tilt, emphasized by the blanket on the left top thigh, pubic bone lengthening toward your left knee. Repeat this pose on the second side.
The element associated with svadhisthana is water, and water pervades your body. Presence yourself to the inner currents that usually flow far below the overarching bridge of your consciousness. First, notice your circulation. Can you feel your pulse in any particular areas? Cerebrospinal fluid moves between the membranes enclosing your brain, spinal cord, and nerves; it has its own tide that is palpable in every tissue of the body, moving through you like another kind of breath, Rorschach-blotting outward, then drawing back in toward center. Can you feel those waves coasting in and out? Are there any small shifts you could make to allow the waves in you to flow more smoothly? Imagine them cascading over your organs, your muscles, your bones, which are themselves watery: many organs and muscles are close to three-quarters water, and bones around one-quarter water.
Perhaps, on your second side, you visit still deeper realms, noticing the watery quality of your feelings and thoughts, your needs and desires. You might watch the fluctuations of these tides: perhaps a desire to change position rolls in, and then out; perhaps the beginnings of hunger or tiredness roll in, then out; a plan for the future rolls in and then out; a pang of nostalgia is here, then gone.
2. One Leg Up the Bolster
Place your bolster lengthwise toward the back of your mat, and slightly to the right side of the mat, where it will soon support your upraised right leg when you lie on your back. Create a “bolster ramp” (using two or three blocks to upslant your bolster, so that it peaks as it gets closer to the back of your mat). Place a blanket—folded in its large, square yoga-studio fold—just below the low end of the bolster. Sit below the bolster, facing it, right side of the pelvis on the blanket. Then lie back, bringing your right leg up onto the bolster. Straighten the left leg on the mat, just inside the bolster.
You might also drape a blanket (or sandbag) over your left thigh in order to encourage it to sink, and to help the left side of your pelvis to move into an anterior tilt (like cow) and become heavier on the mat. As you breathe for several minutes here, see if you can perceive the right side of your pelvis tilting posteriorly into cat, your right sitting bone moving toward your right knee. The right side of your pelvis is higher (closer to the ceiling) than the left, a difference the blankets emphasize, and it’s also closer to your shoulders than the left side. Repeat on the second side.
Meditation: Adaptability and Fluidity
When svadhisthana is out of balance, we might dig our heels in, refuse to adapt to a new reality, become rigidly doctrinaire, or tighten our control on the world around us. When it is balanced, we can accept change, open ourselves to new ideas, and “go with the flow” of whatever life offers us. If you feel any gripping inside or around your pelvis, try to let it go now. You can even bring your hands to your lower belly, below the navel, and encourage movement all the way down into this area as you breathe. See if you can feel an expansion here every time you inhale, a drawing in here every time you exhale. Every deep, relaxed breath offers your pelvis a chance to become unstuck, to adapt to the support offered by the blankets and move in two distinct ways.
As you visit the second side, you might ask yourself if there are any areas of your life in which you would like to become less rigid, less stuck. Imagine what it would be like to “go with the flow” in this arena. Where would you have to soften in order to do that? Can you let go there? The ability of the pelvic halves to dissociate hints at still more mobility held secret inside you, a potential to yield and glide in places you might not have known yielding and gliding were possible. Far below you, even the plates of the earth move and breathe tectonic breaths.
3. Half Bound-Angle Pose
Center your bolster ramp at the back of your mat. Place a blanket folded in its large, square yoga-studio fold just below the bolster ramp, and to the right of the bolster where it will soon support your right hip. You might also want another blanket (or block, or pillow) for extra support for the knee of your bent leg, and perhaps a blanket or sandbag to weight the thigh of your straight leg. Sit below the bolster ramp, facing away from the bolster, with your right hip on the blanket. Lean back, resting your back, and the back of your head, on the bolster. The bottom end of the bolster should rest just above your sacrum, where it can encourage your lower back to move in and up. Straighten your left leg out in front of you.
You might also weight your left top thigh with a blanket or sandbag. Bend your right knee to the right and lightly rest your right foot at your left inner thigh or knee. Support your right knee with another blanket, if you like, to avoid any strain in the right knee or hip.
Here, the right side of your pelvis is in a slight posterior tilt, sitting bone toward right knee, which causes the right side of the pelvis to draw nearer to the ceiling, and nearer to your right shoulder, than the left side. The left side is heavier on the floor. It’s in a slight anterior tilt, like cow, pubic bone reaching toward your left knee. Repeat on the other side.
Meditation: Silver Crescent Moon
The yantra, or symbol, for svadhisthana includes a silver crescent moon, its points touching to create a circle. The crescent is at the bottom of the circle, so that the moon looks like a boat. Seen from its side while you lie on your back, your sacrum and tailbone make a shape that looks like the boat-like crescent moon in this yantra. Can you feel the crescent of your sacrum and tailbone rocking ever so subtly back and forth with the breath? On your inhales, the top of your sacrum drops toward the earth slightly as your diaphragm lowers and the entire waist rounds out; on your exhales, the top of your sacrum nods in slightly as your diaphragm lifts and the entire waist draws in toward center. The prow of your sacrum dips down and then tips up, down and up, with the breath.
On your second side, you might imagine that you have grown relaxed and sensitive enough to perceive even the subtlest of forces, even the gravity of the moon, which tugs on all the water in your body, just as it tugs on all the water on the planet. It’s almost as though you levitate, then give your weight back to the earth, almost as if you drift toward the moon, and away, toward and away.
4. Supported Half-Locust
Keep the bolster ramp you created for the previous pose, but now move it toward the back right side of your mat: you will need it to support your right leg when you lie on your stomach. Place a blanket just below the lower end of the bolster. Face away from the bolster and lie on your belly, left leg alongside the bolster, right leg up the bolster, right side of the pelvis and waist supported by the blanket. You can rest your forehead on your hands or on an eye pillow or blanket. Here, the right side of your pelvis is in more of an anterior tilt (like cow) than the left, pubic bone lengthening toward your right knee as the blanket helps to lift the right side of your pelvis nearer to the ceiling. The left side of your pelvis is in more of a posterior tilt, like cat; it is heavier on the floor, and closer to your shoulders, than the right side is. Repeat this pose on the second side.
The organ of knowledge for svadhisthana is the tongue. Unclench your jaw; allow space between your upper teeth and lower teeth. Relax your tongue: allow it to widen in the cove of your mouth. Notice if you feel any other part of you relaxing when you relax your tongue. Can you feel your breath coursing over the back of your tongue? Does your tongue move at all as you breathe?
On your second side, you might begin to explore the sense of taste, the sense associated with svadhisthana. What do you taste? Imagine a droplet of sweetness on your tongue, widening its way across the horizon of your palate.
5. Legs Up the Bolster, Ankles Crossed (“Supported Lazybones”)
Re-center the bolster ramp toward the rear of your mat. Put a blanket folded into its large, square yoga-studio fold below it. Sit just below the bolster’s low end, facing it, arranging the blanket so it is under your right hip only. Then lie back, lengthening both legs up the bolster, and crossing your right ankle over your left, to create a pose I’ve been calling “supported lazybones.” The left side of the pelvis is in a slight anterior tilt, like cow; it is heavier on the ground than the right is. The right side of your pelvis is in a slight posterior tilt, its sitting bone moving toward your right knee. The right side of the pelvis is closer to your shoulder, and to the ceiling, than the left side of the pelvis is. The blanket enhances this tilt. You can turn this pose into supported cowface (6) if you choose, then repeat both on the second side.
The bija mantra, or “seed sound,” for svadhisthana is “vam” (pronounced vuhm). Repeat this sound to yourself, and see if you can feel its reverberation inside your pelvic bowl. On the first side, you might repeat the sound consciously as you inhale, as you exhale.
On the second side, you might imagine a stream within you that is always flowing. Now that stream is pouring itself over the waterwheel of this mantra. With every turn of the wheel, you hear: vam, vam, vam. The sound continues, all by itself, with no effort from you, as if someone else is making it.
6. Supported Cowface
From supported lazybones with your right ankle over your left, cross your legs more deeply, right thigh over left, so that the right shin and foot come down to the left side of the bolster and the left shin and foot come down to the right side of the bolster. Keep the blanket under the right side of the pelvis, which remains in a posterior tilt like cat, the left in an anterior tilt like cow. (If this pose causes strain in the knees, or creates too much stretch in the outer hips, after supported lazybones, simply stretch both legs up the bolster for a while, ankles uncrossed.) Repeat both this pose and supported lazybones (5) on the second side.
Meditation: The Color Orange
The color associated with svadhisthana is orange. On the first side, imagine a sparkling orange light, like light reflected on water, at the level of your pelvic bowl.
On the second side, you might visualize that light coursing its bright way up your spine, all the way up to the crown of your head, so that all you see behind your closed eyes are ripples of orange light. After several minutes, this light grows so vivid that it makes you feel like moving, and you stir, reconstituting yourself out of orange light.
7. Savasana with Blanket around Hips
Unfold your blanket so it makes a rectangle a few feet long, place it across the center of your mat, and sit at the middle of this long rectangle. Lie back, and tuck yourself in, securing the blanket around your pelvis comfortably, as if you are tucking a towel around you. This final, symmetrical pose is intended to contain the energy of svadhisthana, and encourage its even distribution through the bowl of the pelvis.
Meditation: The Ocean of Being
Imagine you are bobbing in the warm water of a river whose name you don’t know, your mat a kind of raft. The gentle currents under you carry you downstream. This is a pleasant feeling, familiar; after all, we were delivered from watery wombs into lives that are fluid, characterized by change. We exist briefly on a planet that is mostly ocean, on which glimmering puddles of civilization expand and contract according to weather and time. Time, too, seems waterlike; that’s the river you’re in, that’s its name: you remember now. You’re in this river and for once you’re not trying to grab onto anything. For once you’re not clutching at the cattails: you allow yourself to go with time, around the bends where it goes slower, down the chutes where it goes faster. You let one moment stream into the next moment. You let yourself get older, moment by moment, and you don’t try to stop this from happening. For now, you don’t try to stop time. You are feeling like you could go with the flow of time wherever it’s taking you.
Time, too, seems waterlike; that’s the river you’re in, that’s its name: you remember now.
When you’re ready, you disembark from your restorative practice. Land-legs beneath you, you move back into a world where the walls don’t tip, the floors don’t sway from side to side—at least not usually—but you still hear at your periphery (or is the sound coming from somewhere deep within?): the seashell sound of the sea, the sea, your changeable home, whose lapping waters await your return.
Amber Burke lives in Abiquiu, New Mexico. She teaches alignment-based and restorative yoga privately (and occasionally at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs), as well as various writing classes at UNM Taos. With her anatomically-focused articles, she aims to broaden the interface between yoga and physical therapy. She and Bill Reif, MPT, are hard at work on a book for yoga practitioners with injuries and pre-existing conditions. She is a graduate of Yale, the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars MFA... Read more>>