How To Free Your Low Back & SI Joint With Leg Alignment in Yoga
Building yoga poses from the ground up is not only a logical and linear way to approach them, it also sets a stable foundation on which the entire body sits. In part one of this article, we looked at the specifics of foot placement, and how to set your connection to the ground in a balanced way.
In this, part two of the series, we break down the action of the legs, which, when done well, frees the low back and Sacro-Iliac joint from pain. Unlike part one of this article, we won’t separate the standing poses into two groups, instead—and this is the good news—these alignment pieces can be done in every
standing yoga pose!
To master these techniques, practice first in Tadasana, with your feet hip-width apart. These four steps layer on each other, so do them in order from start to finish.
Once you’re more familiar with them, try it out in other standing poses, where the leg alignment is more complicated.
In an ideal world, all four corners of the soles of your feet will be evenly weighted on the ground. This process begins with allowing a heaviness to exist in your foundation. This physical relaxation allows a sinking down and is a metaphor for being fully present in your body.
- Release down with gravity.
- Press a little more weight to the inner edges of your feet.
- Keep the inner edges anchored, then spread laterally, through the balls of your feet and toes, to anchor the outer edges of your feet.
Once you work your feet in this way you’ll begin to activate your lower legs. Even just spreading your toes while pushing your footprints down charges your outer ankles with more power. This builds a framework of stability that gives you the power to move your upper legs to create freedom in your low back and pelvis.
- Spread your fourth and fifth toes while pressing into the four corners of both feet.
- Create a soft bend in your knees so your legs are straight, not hyper-extended.
- Without actually moving them, act as if you could drag your feet towards each other.
- Do this strongly enough your inner thighs fire, but not so hard you’re shaking (a good technique is to put a block in between your calves while you practice).
In your upper legs you utilize the connection between your femurs (thigh bones) and how they sit in the acetabulae (hip sockets) to push open more space across your pelvis and low back. In this light, visualize moving your thighs back deeper into the sockets. To access this power, anchor and draw in (as in the above two actions) until your inner thigh muscles engage, then add the following steps.
- Move your upper thighs back to create a hollow at your groins (this sets the femurs in the acetabulae and places the muscles in your pelvis and low back into healthy alignment)
- Without allowing your knees to twist, rotate or bow out, press your thigh bones away from each other.
- Visualize this widening happening all the way up into your pelvic bones and across your lumbar region (I often place my hands on the outer edges of my hips and try to push them apart by widening from my inner thighs).
- If you feel cramping in your outer hips or butt, then you’re likely creating space by pulling from your outer hips rather than widening from your inner legs.
- The front leg of any yoga pose, for instance Virabhadrasana 2 (pictured), will always need to release down more at the hip, while the back leg will always need a little more lift. (This helps get the femur heads better settled into the acetabulae).
Now that you have some room and freedom in your pelvis and low back you need to lengthen the whole pose. Do your best to keep all the alignment pieces you’ve practiced up to this point and add some stretch by pressing back down into the ground.
- Draw your lower belly in and up without flattening your back
- From the core of your pelvis press straight down through your legs and lengthen out through your torso and arms
- If your front leg is bent, as in Virabhadrasana 1, make the lines of the bent leg longer from hip to knee, then from knee down to foot without shifting your pelvis
- Press down into your feet, spread your toes and start the whole cycle over again
See it in Action