The pelvis is in many ways the foundation of the body. It cradles the digestive system, houses reproductive organs, contains the roots of the spine, and allows the legs to articulate with the core of the body.
The standing poses of hatha yoga can align and rehabilitate the pelvis, conditioning all of the energies with which it is connected. But while practicing the standing poses, consider that all of the bodily systems associated with the pelvis will be affected by your attitude toward the pelvic region, and that the way you move through the world will be shaped by the patterns that become embedded in your musculature with time and practice. The pelvis must be encouraged to move with ease and fluidity, integrated with the legs and the abdomen. Thinking of the pelvis as no more than a bony, ligamentous cage that houses the hip sockets will foster rigid movement patterns, subjecting the hip joints and lower spine to strain and impairing the downward-moving energies of the body.
The pelvis must be encouraged to move with ease and fluidity, integrated with the legs and the abdomen.
Virabhadrasana 1, the first variation of the warrior pose, is an excellent way to work on pelvic alignment and cultivate grace and power in the lower body. It opens the hip flexors, which are often chronically contracted from sitting, and brings flexibility and strength to the ankles, knees, and hips, as well as the larger muscles of the legs.
To begin, stand with your feet parallel about one leg’s-length apart. Allow the crown of your head to float upward while you engage the muscles of the legs and press the feet into the floor. Turn the right foot out perpendicular to the left foot so that its heel is lined up with the center of the left foot. Turn your hips and shoulders to face the right foot, letting the left heel shift out a bit as the pelvis turns.
With both legs still straight, press your left leg strongly into the ground to encourage your torso to face the right foot. Pull the right hip back and feel the front of the left hip opening, but try to distribute this sense of opening along the front of the left thigh and lower abdomen so that the action isn’t focused only in the pelvis.
Now bend the right knee so it moves directly out over the right foot, no further forward than the ankle. Feel strength in the pose welling up from the firmness of your feet on the floor, and keep the weight in each foot split evenly between the base of the big toe, the inner heel, and the outer edge of the foot. Spread your toes wide, imagining the long bones that travel to each toe fanning out on the floor.
Use your hands to explore the alignment of your pelvis and the engagement of your upper legs. Place your left palm against the front of your left hip and see if you can feel your breath move that far down into the left side of the abdomen. Use your right hand to check that your hip bones are level and that your right thigh is active. Use your left hand to encourage your left gluteal muscle and hamstrings to engage.
Your pelvis may be facing somewhat to the left—greater flexibility will allow it to squarely face the right foot, but such a textbook position should be approached gradually and without sacrificing the integration of the pelvis with the legs and abdomen. Remember that the fluidity and ease with which you align your pelvis will be translated into the digestive, reproductive, and nervous functions it houses.
Let the firmness and strength of the legs move up into your torso, dropping the shoulders, reaching the sternum up and forward, and keeping a slight tone in the abdominal muscles. The lower back should be neutral—a common tendency in this pose is to let it collapse, with the belly sagging forward. Lengthen your spine, feeling it extend directly out of the pelvis. Relax the tongue and the muscles of the face. Feel as though your breath moves into your nostrils and extends smoothly all the way down to your feet.
The lower back should be neutral—a common tendency in this pose is to let it collapse, with the belly sagging forward.
Raising the arms overhead here helps to deepen the breath and open the sides of the torso, but this shift requires focus to simultaneously maintain the alignment of the pelvis. If you do raise your arms, extend through the fingertips, keep the shoulders down away from the ears, and feel the sides and base of your rib cage expanding, especially as you inhale.
Breathe deeply and evenly in the pose, feeling the left leg straight and strong, the right knee aligned with the center of the right foot, and the engagement of the pose spread throughout the entire body. To exit the posture, straighten your right knee, turn your feet parallel to each other, and step the legs together. Rest in a simple standing pose for a few breaths before repeating on the other side.
Virabhadrasana 1, like all of the standing poses, will help to keep your pelvis and the surrounding musculature supple and strong. It will energize the body and allow you to feel more grounded. As you practice, remember that you are working with numerous organs and subtle energies, and the benefits of the posture will extend far beyond mere muscle and bone.
Set up a good foundation by spending a few breaths with both legs straight and strong and the left hip reaching toward the right foot. Find stability here, and then come into the full pose.
- Opens the hip flexors
- Strengthens and aligns the knees, hips, and ankles
- Helps you feel more grounded
- Counters stagnation in the lower digestive organs.
The right knee is sagging inward and too much weight is on the inner edges of the feet. The lower back and the chest are collapsed because the spine is not extended and the thighs and left gluteal muscles not engaged.