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Category Archive for ‘Pelvic Loop’ rss

Fall in Love Again

This past weekend, I got to teach an urban Anusara Yoga Immersion retreat. We began by setting intentions, as we always do, and what I said was that I wanted to fall in love all over again.

The thing is, every time I go back into the basics of this practice, I fall in love with it again. It’s because every time I return to the teachings, they seem to be ever-new. They continue to blossom and offer new insights.

This time around, it was the rediscovery of that magical juncture point between the pelvic and kidney loops that creating that blossoming.


  • Open to Grace: In order to fall in love, you have to be open to it. This principle invites us into the invitation to more by expanding the inside and softening our outer edges.
  • Muscle Energy: The more that’s there is only as available to us as our own capacity to engage. I love thinking of Muscle Energy as drawing us from the periphery of life to the very core and essence. It hugs the muscles to the bones, draws the limbs to the midline, and connects the peripheral parts to the core (focal point).
  • Thigh Loop sets the tops of the thighs back into the hip sockets, and really must be established first before we can access the expansion of the back body that comes with the next two loops.
  • Pelvic Loop and Kidney Loop: Something magical happens at the juncture between these two loops. When the waistline flows back, the energy splits downward and upward, and the back body experiences a powerful expansion. The pelvic loop side of this draws the waistline back and down toward the bottom of the sacrum (pelvic focal point), presses the bottom of the sacrum forward, and then lifts the lower belly in and up. The Kidney Loop starts at the same place, drawing the waistline back and then lifting the back ribs up toward the heart focal point, where it presses forward and then softens down the front ribs.
  • Organic Energy: And when this magic opens up, you can’t help but fall in love again. It’s expressed by extending from the active focal point back out to the periphery.


  • Tadasana: Let’s begin by mapping the loops and this magical expansion of the back body. In tadasana, settle with gravity into the earth and then charge the legs fully by lifting the toes and drawing energy from the feet all the way up the legs into the core of the pelvis. Press the tops of the thighs back until they are in line over your ankles. Now breathe into the back waistline, drawing back from the middle of the lumbar region toward the back plane of the body. Here the energy splits with the pelvic loop going down and the kidney loop moving up. To feel the pelvic loop, slide one hand down your sacrum until you get to the bottom of the sacrum (that will be just above the thickest part of the buttocks. Bring your other hand to the front plane of the body, in line with the bottom of the sacrum; that’s where the pelvic loop rises up in the front body. Keeping the waistline sliding back, draw down toward the bottom of the sacrum and then press forward, so that the lower belly lifts up. Keeping that, now add the Kidney Loop. It also starts in the middle of the lumbar and flows back, and then moves up the back, lifting the back ribs (use your other hand on your back to encourage this lift), then flowing forward through the base of the heart and releasing the front ribs down. To feel the magical opening of the back body, use one hand to draw the bottom of the sacrum down and in, and the other hand to lift the back ribs up. This is the place of expansion.
  • High lunge: Start with both hands clasped on the front thigh and pause and soften. Then engage the legs fully, especially the back leg, so that the top of the thigh bone sets back into the hip sockets. Now pressing into your hands, breathe into the back waistline, that place where we can expand into moreness. Then split the energy down through the bottom of the sacrum and up through the back ribs. The lower belly should tone from the action of the Pelvic Loop, and the Kidney Loop creates a simultaneous softening of the front body.
  • Surya Namaskar with Rajakapotasana variation: This is one of my favorite ways to practice surya namaskar. Instead of doing plank to caturanga, bring your knees to the floor in plank pose, and then lift your feet off the floor, heels toward your hips. Flex your feet and press your knees into the floor. Then lower down into Rajakapotasana Prep pose by activating the pelvic and kidney loops.
  • Prasarita Padottanasana:
  • Virabhadarasna 2, Parsvakonasana, Trikonasana, Ardha Chandrasana: In all of the standing poses, emphasizing the expansion of the back body creates a powerful opening.
  • Vrksasana, Utthita Hasta Padangustasana: I love the standing balances for feeling this place of opening in the back body. In tree pose, use your foot on your upper inner thigh to set the top of the standing thigh back; then hold that steady as you sweep the sides of the waistline back to initiate the pelvic and kidney loops. The expansion of the back body will create a nice support for taking vrksasana into a backbend. In UHP, the same actions apply, and will help make space in the front hip for a forward bend variation.
  • Handstand
  • Pigeon: The form with the front shin parallel to the front of the mat (and foot flexed) will be a more powerful place to feel these actions and to prep for Eka Pada Galavasana. Start by settling into the pose with the hips square, and then spread the toes on the front foot into the earth to help tone the outer shin and allow the inner thigh to release. Now use your forearms pressing into the earth to help you lift up at the back waistline area; from there, extend down through the bottom of the sacrum as the back ribs lift. You’ll feel space open up in the front hip, so the belly and pelvis aren’t resting on the front thigh. This will help as you now try…
  • Eka Pada Galavasana: As in pigeon pose above, use these two loops to make space in the front hip, so you’re not just resting there. It will help you lift off.
  • Anjaneyasana with a thigh stretch
  • Ustrasana: In the backbends, creating an expansion at the magical juncture point of the pelvic and kidney loops will create support for the lower back and and a foundation for a deeper backbend in the upper back. In the setup for ustrasana, bring one hand (soft fist) to the sacrum and one hand to the lower ribs, to encourage the split of energy that happens in the back body. Then keep that space as you release the hands and move into the pose. Use these actions to keep length in the spine while coming out of the pose.
  • Supta Virasana: It’s common for the lower back to be over-arched in supta virasana, and this can cause compression. To access the expansion and length of the back body through the pelvic and kidney loops, come into the pose and then lift your pelvis off the floor. With the pelvis suspended and the legs strongly engaged, sweep the sides of the waistline back and then extend from there down through the bottom of the sacrum and up through the back ribs. With that length, place the pelvis back on the floor.
  • TMP, Krounchasana, Janu Sirsasana, Upavista Konasana: In all of the seated forward bends, opening the back body through the pelvic and kidney loops will keep the spine long and make space in the front of the hips.
  • Pascimottanasana: In particular, pascimottanasana is a great place to access these loops. Start in a prep power where you’re holding the tops of the feet and the spine is more in an upright position, rather than in a forward bend. Ground the tops of the femurs into the earth until you feel that it lifts the top of the sacrum in and up. Keeping the thighs grounded and the spine more upright, now expand back into the back waistline and split the energy down and up to fuel the pelvic and kidney loops. This will create a huge lift out of the front of the pelvis. Keeping that, extend into the pose.

How to Live with What the World is Offering

I came back from vacation all fired up, with a to-do list a mile long and more than two weeks of stored up creative energy to make it happen. And somehow, within hours of getting home, all of my plans were turned upside-down by a serious bout of food poisoning.

This may be a very mundane example, but as I spent the next few days in bed, it struck home that we have to learn to live with what the world is offering us, even if it’s not what you would wish for. We have to create an alignment between our desires and aspirations, and what’s really possible for us, in this moment. If the two are out of alignment, we’re bound for struggle and frustration. The world will feel like it’s against us, when really we are the ones fighting against what the world is offering.

My tendency, as an optimist, is to look for the silver lining when what’s coming my way isn’t what I want. But I’ve come to see a different perspective as well: sure, you can always look for and create an opportunity from bad things that happen. But in a certain sense, you still have to learn to live with hurt, and disappointment. Finding that silver lining doesn’t make the pain go away.

It’s an interesting paradox for a yogi to explore: to be able to hold and release into what the world is offering, while simultaneously seeking to turn even the bad times into opportunities for your own empowered experience.

In the body, I’ve been holding this paradox in the crucial juncture point of the waistline, where the Pelvic and Kidney Loops originate. Both of them draw the sides of the waistline back, but then the energy flows split. The Pelvic Loop draws the waistline back and down, flowing down the sacrum and forward through the bottom of the sacrum and then lifting the lower belly up. The Kidney Loop takes the waistline back, but then flows upward, lifting the back ribs and kidney area, piercing the heart focal point, and then softening the front ribs down.

Together, these two loops hold a paradox. The Pelvic Loop feels like receiving the offering of the world and turning it toward empowerment. The Kidney Loop feels like receiving the world, and learning to hold it in your embrace, no matter what is being offered.


  • Open to Grace: The first opening is to receive the world, the very gift of life, just as it is, just as you are. When you start with this, there will be a natural expansion of the inner body (including into the back waistline) and a natural softening of the outer form.
  • Muscle Energy creates a strong steady embrace of all the muscles to the core. It’s a radical affirmation of everything.
  • Thigh Loop: Even though the focus for this practice will be on the Pelvic and Kidney Loops, you have to build the loops from the foundation up. So it’s crucial to get the thigh bones rooted back in the hip sockets before activating the Pelvic Loop.
  • Pelvic Loop: Both Pelvic and Kidney Loop start in the core of the body, at a point in line with the middle of the lumbar, below the navel, and they both flow initially to the back plane of the body. I think of moving into the back plane as a kind of receiving, like drawing something into your embrace. Pelvic Loop flows down the lower back, drawing the bottom of the sacrum forward into the body and toning the lower belly so that the energy flows upward from the pubic bone toward the navel. This is the turn toward empowerment, of taking whatever comes your way and making it an opportunity. Except that I find this part tends to be pretty lazy in my own practice. How often do we forget to take the path of empowerment, and end up feeling like the world is happening to us?
  • Kidney Loop starts at the same place as the Pelvic Loop, but as it goes back it lifts up the back ribs, then moves through the Heart Focal Point (in line with the bottom tips of the shoulder blades and base of the sternum) and softens the front ribs down. In the back body, it feels like you can hold anything in your embrace, even the stuff that’s hurtful. And in the front body, there’s a sweet release.
  • Organic Energy: Hold these principles as a paradox, and then extend fully from the focal point in all directions.


  • Tadasana: Stand in tadasana and bring one hand to your lower belly. Feel the energy flow. Does it go down or up? Does it create empowerment, or does it feel subject to the world. Now engage the legs, lining up the tops of the thighs over your knees and ankles. Now add the Pelvic Loop, drawing the waistline back and down, so the bottom of the sacrum moves in to the body. Feel how the energy flow of the low belly lifts from the pubic bone up toward the navel. That’s the path of empowerment. (Believe it or not, the energy flow of the lower belly should lift like this in every pose.) Keeping that, draw the waistline back again, but this time turn the energy upward, so the back ribs lift. As the Kidney Loop moves through the heart, allow the front ribs to soften.
  • Surya Namaskar: You’ll feel the effects of these two loops in all poses in surya namaskar, but I particularly got an opening in cobra pose. Start in a low cobra, with the pelvis anchored to the floor. Create a good alignment in the upper body by lifting the inner body, softening the heart, and drawing the upper arm bones back into the shoulder sockets. Keeping all of that, now add the two focus loops. Sweep the waistline back and then split the energy in the lower back, down through the bottom of the sacrum (yes, the lower belly lifts here too!) and up through the back ribs (and the front ribs will flow down). Then extend the pose on top of this.
  • Anjaneyasana/High Lunge: In both of these poses, the pelvis tends to tip forward so that the lower belly distends. Fire up the legs and get the thigh bones rooted back, and then add the energy flows of Pelvic and Kidney Loops. You’ll have to work the Pelvic Loop really strongly into the resistance of the Thigh Loop to get the front of the pelvis and the lower belly to lift up off the front thigh (especially in Anjaneyasana). Adding Kidney Loop will create a spaciousness in the lower back that allows for an ecstatic backbend.
  • Pigeon pose: Notice if your pelvis is resting on your front thigh, and what direction the energy flows in your lower belly. Draw the knees energetically toward each other to activate Thigh Loop, and keeping that, lift your waistline to the sky. From that initiation point, again split the energy, down and up. Your lower belly should still tone here, creating space in the front hip.
  • Uttanasana: In all of the forward bends, it’s important to keep the action of the low belly lifting through the Pelvic Loop to avoid overstretching the hamstring attachments and crimping the hip flexors. Come up onto fingertips to allow more space, charge the legs, and press the tops of the thighs (not the knees) back, to straight. Then as you push your fingertips more actively into the floor, lift the waistline, and anchor the bottom or the sacrum to tone the lower belly, while also engaging the Kidney Loop. Keep the space between the tops of your thighs and lower belly as you bow all the way forward into the pose.
  • Parsvakonasana, Trikonasana, Ardha Chandrasana: In all poses (need I say this again?), including all of the standing poses, the lower belly needs to tone. Get the thigh bones back, and then activate these middle loops without the thighs pushing forward. You should be able to see the energy flow in the lower belly moving up. You can also bring one hand to your belly to feel that tone. Because the hamstrings are extended in Trikonasana and Ardha Chandrasana, getting the lower belly to lift is particularly important in protecting the hamstring attachments.
  • Vrksasana, Garudasana, Virabhadrasana 3: I love the standing balances for playing with these actions. Start in Vrksasana, where you can use your bent leg foot pressing up against the opposite thigh to create tone on the inner thighs and set the standing thigh back in the hip socket. Then hold that as you add the Pelvic and Kidney Loops. It’s so gratifying (this is the path of empowerment, after all) to see and feel that tone. This will help tremendously to keep space in the hip flexors in Garudasana, and it will also help keep the front hip from cramping in Vira 3.
  • Virabhadrasana 1: I always find that the back body shortens in this pose, and activating these two loops creates more support there. Draw both sides of the waistline back (the front leg side will need more Pelvic and Kidney Loops, in general), and then create space in the low back as you split that energy down and up. Together, these loops provide a strong support for the upper back to open.
  • Handstand, Pinca Mayurasana: Now that you’ve felt it in so many right-side-up poses, try going upside-down. Keeping the waistline back, even while you’re kicking up, is one of the key places to work if you’re trying to learn to balance in these poses (they help to counter the infamous “banana back”). Note that that the energy flow of the lower belly is now downward (toward the floor) even though it still moves from pubic bone toward the navel.
  • Sirsasana and variations: Pressing up into headstand with both legs requires moving deeply into the back body, so try working these loops as you press. Once you’re balancing comfortably in the pose, try these variations with a focus on the split of energy in the back body that comes from the Pelvic Loop and Kidney Loop: virasana legs, with a twist; bringing one foot down toward the floor in front of you while the other stays vertical; hovering with both legs together as they lower toward the floor.
  • Anjaneyasana and Pigeon thigh stretches: We already found that in both of these poses, because the front hip is flexed, the pelvis and low belly can easily rest on the front thigh. But that can jam the front hip. To create space there, you have to start from the back body. Set up the pose, then bend the back knee in for the thigh stretch. Keep drawing the back knee energetically forward on the mat to ignite the Thigh Loop (and those quads). Then use your free hand pressing into the front leg to help you move both sides of the waistline back (as if you could get your waistline to meet your back foot). Keep the waistline full, and then draw down through the bottom of the sacrum so much that you feel the shift toward empowerment in the front, in the lower belly lifting. Keep that, and then also lift the back ribs.
  • Ustrasana, Laghu vajrasana, Kapotasana: In all backbends, you want to create space in the lower back so that there’s not too much “bend” but rather more extension. In the set up for ustrasana, focus on pressing the thigh bones back, and notice how that creates more lumbar curve. That’s a good start, but if you were to backbend over such a deep lumbar curve, your lower back will feel jammed. So keep your thighs back, and then move to the waistline flowing back. Draw the bottom of your sacrum down and forward as powerfully as you can without the thigh bones pushing forward. Then lift up the back ribs for the Kidney Loop, softening this energy down the front ribs. Note that backbends should not jut your rib cage forward. It’s too much pushing in the world, and not enough receiving. Also, these two loops create a deep support for the upper back to curl and open into the pose.
  • Supta Virasana: The back can easily over-arch in this pose, especially if the hip flexors are tight. So try this: Allow the inner thighs to release down, and then walk back just so you are on your elbows. Press down into your elbows to lift your hips off the floor, to allow more mobility in the lower body. Allow the waistline to release down with gravity, and then create space in the back by splitting the energy toward your knees and toward your head. Then release the pelvis back to the floor and come all the way into the pose.
  • Upavista Konasana (and forward bends): Depending on the general openness of your hamstrings, you will either find that your low back tends to round (that would be tight) when you sit for upavista, or that your pelvis sits easily upright (that would be open), with the sitting bones energetically moving back behind you. If your back rounds, focus on getting the thigh bones rooted to the floor and the top of your sacrum drawing in and up (this is all from Inner Spiral) before moving further into the forward bend. If your thigh bones are already rooted and your pelvis is in a neutral position, it’s important to work with the Pelvic and Kidney Loops as you do the forward bend to protect the hamstring attachments. One of the best landmarks to know that you’ve created enough Pelvic Loop is the energy flow in the lower belly — it should be drawing up. Another key landmark is the relationship between the crest of your hips and your thigh bones: if the hips are resting forward on the thigh bones, draw your waistline back even more (you can use your fingertips pressing into the floor to help create this action), and then find these two loops.

Everday Abdominals

I know how it is. I used to dread doing abdominals, too. They always felt like a weak point for me, and so I avoided abdominal exercises at all costs.

But then to my own joy I discovered that abdominal exercises are built right into the Universal Principles of Alignment, which is to say, if you’re doing the principles, you’re engaging and strengthening and stretching your abs in every pose.

This is the cool thing. Abdominal exercises need not be something that you only do in isolation, in the same way that a practice of yoga need not be something that you do only on a yoga mat. Instead of isolating the abs, or our yoga practice, from our everyday experience, how can we see that they are embedded in everything we do?


  • Open to Grace: Begin with a passive release with gravity from the pelvis into the earth
  • Muscle Energy: When you engage muscle energy, everything tones, and that includes the abdominal core.
  • Thigh Loop and Inner Spiral: These principles set the thigh bones back into the hip sockets, and keep the hip flexors soft when you engage your abs. The hip flexors tend to be strong, and they’ll easily overwork. It’s interesting how your body will try anything to avoid actually working those abs.
  • Pelvic Loop and Outer Spiral: Both of these principles help create more tone in the abdominal muscles. I find that Outer Spiral, which initiates with the waistline flowing back and the tailbone tucking under, creates more of a lift in the lower belly, while the Pelvic Loop, which also draws the waistline back but goes only down to the bottom of the sacrum and forward, engages more the lowest part of the abdominal core. Both principles together will give you an even tone through the abs. Note that the engagement of the abs initiates from the action of the back body (waistline back, tailbone and bottom of the sacrum down and in) rather than a contraction of the front. Of course, the front body does contract, but it’s more the fluid result of the engagement through the back body.
  • Organic Energy: Especially when the pelvis is the focal point, the stretch of Organic Energy through the bones of the body will give you tone and length in the abdominals.


  • Tadasana: Believe it or not, even tadasana is an opportunity to work your abs. In fact, if you’re truly standing upright, your abs will be engaged to support your stance. Try the tried-and-tested exercise of tadasana with a block between your inner thighs to feel the difference between Outer Spiral and Pelvic Loop. Engage the legs, activate Inner Spiral, turning the inseams of the legs back and wide. The block will move back as the tops of your thighs line up over your knees over your ankles. Notice how the belly might tend to distend with the action of Inner Spiral. Now add Outer Spiral, drawing the waistline back and scooping under through the tailbone. (To feel the lengthening of the tailbone, bring one finger to the tailbone and press the tailbone down into your finger.) Notice how the belly lifts with this action. Now do tadasana again, setting up in the same way, but instead of Outer Spiral, add the Pelvic Loop, which initiates by the waistline flowing back and then draws the bottom of the sacrum down and in. (To feel the action of the sacrum, bring one finger to the bottom of the sacrum/AKA top of the butt crack and draw that part down and forward into the body.) This will also tone the abs, but notice how it feels different from the action of Outer Spiral. To me, the tone is much lower from Pelvic Loop, and much more deeply integrated. Now root through the pelvis and legs and stretch your arms overhead, and you’ll get a stretch to those abs while they’re toned. Yes, this is how tadasana will always be performed in alignment. Everyday abs.
  • High lunge: When you come into the pose, notice the relationship between your back thigh and your belly. If you lift the back thigh to line it up in the hip socket, does the belly collapse forward? And if you try to lift your belly, does the back thigh pop forward? A healthy engagement will have both the back thigh rooting back (into the hip socket) without the belly distending, so keep the power in your back leg and then sweep the waistline back and draw down through the bottom of your sacrum to get the low belly to lift. If the front hip is resting on the front thigh, this signifies a lack of tone through the Outer Spiral or Pelvic Loop.
  • Parsvakonasana: Similarly, the low belly should be toned and lifting in this pose. Work through the principles in order. Getting Inner Spiral established is key to getting the tone in the lower belly without it pulling on your hip flexors or low back. Then once you have the thighs anchored back, draw back through the waistline and scoop under through the bottom of the tailbone/sacrum, especially on the front leg side, until the lower belly lifts up.
  • Thigh stretch (in pigeon pose or anjaneyasana): It’s always nice to do a thigh stretch (or more) before doing targeted abdominals, because that allows the hip flexors to soften and release rather than trying to pull you up. So do either of these thigh stretches. Watch in these poses how the belly and pelvis will tend to tip forward as you bring the back leg in. So keep good action in the legs (and especially the top of the back thigh BACK), and then add the Outer Spiral or Pelvic Loop to draw the waistline back and get the length in the lower back with a lift in the lower belly. The front hip should be lifting off the front thigh.
  • Supine abdominal exercises: Doing abdominal exercises in a supine position gives the thighs something to press against (i.e. the floor), and this feedback helps us know when the hip flexors are overriding the abs. I recommend using a block between the inner thighs or knees for all of these, because it helps to de-activate the hip flexors. Between each set do a bridge pose (setubandha) to lengthen the front body.
    • Use a block between your knees, and then bend them in so the thighs are vertical (knees right about your hips). Let the thigh bones release down into the hip sockets. Squeeze the block and then turn the inner thighs in and down until you feel the lower back arch lightly. Then lengthen the bottom of your sacrum long and into the body. From this action, you’ll feel the lower belly tone. Now bring your hands behind your head and begin doing little crunches. Yes, little crunches. In fact, you can do them in your head, and it will probably have a strong effect. The key is to keep the thighs released (curve in lower back) and the action of the bottom of the sacrum drawing into the body. The best part (to me) is on the way back down from the crunch. If you keep the tone, as you lengthen down (with Organic Energy, rather than dropping back to the floor), you get engagement and length in the abs simultaneously, and this is what I find really supports posture. Once you’ve done a few crunches up and down, try twisties (aiming toward one knee and then the other).
    • Take the block between your inner thighs, and bring the legs straight on the floor. Now the floor gives the feedback as to whether the tops of the thighs are indeed anchored down (with Inner Spiral/Thigh Loop). You should have a nice, lordotic curve in the lower back. Then add the Pelvic Loop, lengthening the bottom of the sacrum and drawing it into the body, without flattening the spine. Hands behind your head, and lift up! You can do little crunches, and also twisties (turning from side to side, bringing one elbow to the floor at a time), as long as the thighs stay anchored, the low back keeps its curve, and the bottom of the sacrum draws in. The twists will help you strengthen the obliques, while the straight-ahead crunches will help work out the rectus abdominus. All of them help tone the transverse abdominal muscle.
    • Jathara Parivartanasana: Take the block between your knees again, and bend the knees in to 90 degrees. Stretch both arms out to the sides, palms up. Work through the principles so you have a curve and length in the lower back, then begin twisting by bringing the knees to one side and then the other. Keep both shoulders on the ground (you’ll notice that, on the side that you’re twisting away from, the arm bone will want to lift off the floor) so that you really are working your abs to do this. To intensify the exercise, try first straightening one leg as you take the knees to the opposite side, and then straightening both legs on both sides.
    • Last one! With the block between your inner thighs and the legs straight up to the sky, bring both palms flat under your butt. Hug in to the block and turn the inner thighs in and down, so you have a curve in your lower back, and then let the pressure of your hands on your buttocks help to lengthen the spine. Then slowly bring the legs down to hover above the floor. Keep the inner thighs released, and the length in your lower back. You can do presses like this, or just release all the way down (one of these is often enough to fire up that rectus abdominus).
  • Parsvakonasana, Trikonasana, Ardha Chandrasana, Parivrtta Parsvakonasana: Go through some standing poses with this heightened awareness of the tone in the lower belly. REMEMBER that the low belly lifts as a result of the action in the back body, so focus your attention on the tailbone/sacrum action of Outer Spiral and Pelvic Loop.
  • Virabhadrasana 3, Standing Splits: These two poses require a strong lift in the lower belly to keep the front hip from binding — and this lift must come from the back body
  • Handstand: Hopefully handstand will feel a little more easeful after all the work you’ve been doing. Note that the actions of Outer Spiral/Pelvic Loop are super important for finding balance here. Practice at the wall (set up as close as you can), getting the thighs back and then adding that length through the lower back. See if this new tone helps you to balance.
  • Anjaneyasana/Thigh Stretch: Especially in anjaneyasana and the thigh stretch variation, I find that the pelvis and belly like to hang out on the front thigh. So this is a good place to build a remembrance of engagement through Outer Spiral and Pelvic Loop.
  • Ustrasana: I love all of the backbends for finding tone and length in the abs, but ustrasana is particularly good to feel the length in the belly. Try doing it with a block between your inner thighs, to remind the thighs to stay back while you add Outer Spiral/Pelvic Loop. You’ll feel the abs tone even before you curl back into the pose. Use Organic Energy to keep the pelvis rooted while you lift up and out of the lower back/lower belly into the backbend, and you’ll get a deep stretch in the abs while they’re toned.
  • Cool down anyway you like.

When You Feel Stuck, Take Flight

Last week I lost my voice, and I found myself feeling very stuck inside my own head with no way to really communicate with others from my sick bed. (I tried texting, I tried instant messaging, believe me, I tried everything, because I wanted to talk and feel connected.) So instead I read, and one of the books I read was The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby of his explorations of consciousness.

Bauby had suffered a stroke that cut his spinal cord off from his brain, and this left him with no mobility in his body other than the movement of his left eyelid, a condition known as “locked-in syndrome.” He describes his condition in the first few paragraphs of the book, and the possibility of such extreme isolation is terrifying. Except that he immediately turns his situation upside-down, by saying something like “…my mind takes off like a butterfly. There is so much to do.”

So much to do?!? And then he goes off on these journeys through consciousness, in the infinity of memory and imagination.

What inspired me so much about his memoir was the recognition that, no matter how stuck you may feel, no matter how much the circumstances of life limit you, consciousness always offers the possibility of an empowered engagement, the possibility of expansion.

Obviously, Bauby’s example is extreme. But we all feel stuck sometimes, and not just feel stuck, but can be truly limited or oppressed by circumstances beyond our control. Yoga is the invitation to engage every experience toward empowerment and expansion. As Bauby shows us, that possibility is always open to us.

When you feel stuck in your asana practice, remember there’s always a way to expand the experience, and a good place to start is by expanding the inside (Open to Grace), where the possibilities are vast, and expanding into the back body, which re-affirms this inner expansion.

This week, we’re going to look at how to open space for the hips and lower back by aligning and strengthening the psoas muscle, particularly by moving into the back body through the actions of Pelvic and Kidney Loops.

The psoas muscle has two parts that function as antagonists. The lower psoas (from the middle of the lumbar to the lesser trochanter), when activated, will create more lordotic curve in the lower back. The upper part of the psoas (from the origin at T12 down to the middle of the lumbar) creates more length in the lumbar spine. When both the inner upper thighs (lesser trochanter) and the middle of the lumbar/waistline move to the back plane of the body, the psoas lines up and you’ll have optimal curve in the lumbar spine.

The action of expanding to the back waistline is the initiation of both the Pelvic and Kidney Loops. The Pelvic Loop flows back and down, toward the bottom of the sacrum/tailbone juncture; the Kidney Loop flows back and up, lifting the kidney area and the back ribs toward the heart. This split of energy creates a huge expanse in the lower back, to support back bending, taking flight in arm balances, and a healthy opening of the hips.


  • Open to Grace: The first expansion of Opening to Grace brings you into remembrance of the ways in which you are connected to more than just yourself. The fullness of the inner body that comes with Opening to Grace is important to establish and maintain as you add the other actions.
  • Muscle Energy: Draw all of the parts of your body into connection, especially by hugging the legs and hips to the midline. This strength in the outer shins and tone on the inner thighs is the power you’ll need to open up Inner Spiral.
  • Inner Spiral, by taking the inner upper thighs back and apart, helps to align the lower fibers of the psoas, which attach at the lesser trochanter of the thigh bones. Inner Spiral will create an increased lordotic curve in the lumbar spine, and this should be an even curve from the top of the sacrum all the way up through the lower back. Often, however, the sacrum and L5-L4 vetebrae are less mobile, and so the curve in the back happens more at the top of the lumbar region. Keeping the fullness of the back body established with the first principle, and really activating Inner Spiral from the power of the upper thighs, will help create a more even lumbar curve.
  • Kidney/Pelvic Loops: Both of these loops start at the middle of the lumbar (in line with a point below the navel) and flow back, so they bring you back into a connection with the back body. This is initiation is activated in part by the upper fibers of the psoas, which lengthen the lumbar spine. When they flow back, the energy splits in two directions: pelvic loop draws the waistline back and down (toward the bottom of the sacrum) and kidney loop draws the waistline back and up, lifting the back ribs and kidney area. In this way, the two loops create a vast spaciousness in the lower back that is crucial in both forward- and back-bending. In back-bending in particular, these two loops will make space in the kidney/adrenal area so they are not squeezed to intensely by the “bend” in the back (resulting in the well-known backbend headache); they also provide the support for a deepening shoulder loop in backbends.
  • Organic Energy: When the pelvis is the focal point, the split of Organic Energy down through the tailbone, pelvis and legs, and up through the torso, head, and arms will lengthen the psoas in a healthy way. Organic Energy should extend up out of the pelvis as much through the back waistline as through the front.


  • Lunge: start with your hands on your front knee (back knee lifted) and bow forward over your front leg. When you do this, you’ll have greater access to Inner Spiral on the back leg (lifting the top of the back thigh strongly up to toward the sky). Keeping the back leg that lifted (this aligns the lower psoas and creates a lordotic curve in your lower back), press your hands into your front thigh to help lift the back waistline (below the navel) up. This fires and strengthens the upper psoas. Now split the energy of the two loops from the waistline down and from the waistline up to come upright. Watch that the back thighbone does not pop forward when you do (it’s very easy for the butt muscles to override the power of the upper inner thighs). Lastly, stretch organically from the focal point (pelvis) down through the hips and legs and up through the torso and arms. I know, it’s just a lunge, but if you get it lined up it’s a great stretch for the lower psoas and strengthener for the upper fibers of the psoas.
  • Anjaneyasana: in this pose, the pelvis will tend to tip more forward, so getting the waistline to move back is somewhat harder, but it’s a good strengthener for the upper fibers of the psoas. You can use your hands on your front thigh to help get the power needed to lift the back waistline. Make sure that you keep the base of the back thigh bone (the part above the knee that’s pressing into the floor) drawing forward and up, so that the thigh sets back.
  • Downhill Skier: This is a modified form of utkatasana, with your hands on your knees instead of in the air. It’s a good place to work on these actions symmetrically.
  • Tadasana: Use a block between your inner thighs to help keep your awareness of the upper inner thighs drawing back. When you do inner spiral, watch that you don’t pitch your torso forward. Isolate the inner upper thighs moving back, and the top of the sacrum will draw in and up along with the lumbar vertebrae. Now add the two loops, splitting the energy at the back of the waistline down and then up. Stretch your arms overhead and feel the support in the back. You can take this into a mini backbend, or even drop all the way back to urdhva dhanurasana.
  • Parsvakonasana, Virabhadrasana 1, Virabhadrasana 3: All of the standing poses (these 3 are particularly good) for strengthening both the lower and upper fibers of the psoas). Make sure that the actions of the Kidney and Pelvic loops don’t override the power of the thighs rooting back. In general, you’ll find that the waistline on the front leg side will need to flow back at a faster rate than on the back leg side, particularly in Warrior 3.
  • Handstand/Forearm stand: The inversions can be good indicators of the health of the psoas. (I learned this from Doug Keller’s Yoga as Therapy book.) If the upper fibers of the psoas are weak or not engaged, the result in inversions will be the well-known “banana back.” Try doing your inversions at a wall, about a shin’s distance away from the wall so that when you kick up, you can place your feet on the wall with the knees bent at 90 degrees. Once there, hug your legs in and turn your inner thighs back, so you start with natural curve in the lower back and the lower fibers of the psoas are lined up. Then keeping that, draw your waistline back and split the flow of energy down (through the back ribs) and up (through the tailbone) to create length and space in your lower back. Then work to straighten the legs toward balance.
  • Handstand leg lifts: OK, now if you really want to build some strength in the upper part of the psoas, try a handstand as close to the wall as you can get, bringing both heels to the wall with straight legs. Keep one heel at the wall while bringing the other in a split down to at least 90 degrees (or toes to touch the floor). To keep from toppling out of the pose, you’ll have to draw the waistline back strongly and lift up through the bottom of the sacrum/tailbone area from there. Once you’ve done the splits, bring the leg back up (this is the hard part), and do the other side.
  • Pigeon prep pose: These poses where the hip is externally rotated and flexed (pigeon front leg, baby cradle, agni stambasana, etc.) can be incredibly opening for the psoas, or they can easily pinch the psoas and hip flexors if done out of alignment. The key is to keep the inner thighs flowing back while lifting the waistline so that the front hip doesn’t just collapse down onto the front thigh (jamming the hip flexors in the process). So in pigeon prep pose, try this: on the front leg side, manually turn the inner thigh in and back and wide (use your opposite hand, and you’ll get the best leverage). Then, keeping that, press your other hand into the floor to help lift your waistline up and off that front thigh. Draw the front hip under as you lift the back ribs, and then extend more into the pose. When you’re bowing forward in pigeon pose, make sure that the front of the pelvis and waistline does not collapse down onto the front thigh.
  • Thigh stretches: I addressed this somewhat in a previous Nerd blog (5 Steps to a Deeper Thigh Stretch), but what’s important to add here is that thigh stretches must include this action of drawing the waistline back to be strengthening for the upper psoas. Try a thigh stretch in pigeon pose, and notice what happens to the waistline when you bring the foot in with a strong action to root the thigh back toward the foot. In general, this will set the lower psoas into good alignment, but the bowl of the pelvis will tend to tip forward and the waistline will collapse forward. So to add the upper part, keep the foot in close and the back thighbone rooting back, and then add the actions of Pelvic and Kidney loops. When you do, the pelvis will tip upright and the waistline can flow back so far that you may be able to rest your waistline on the ball of your foot (this is the “shin pillars” variation).
  • Supta virasana: One of the reasons this pose can be painful for the lower back is that it’s easy for the lumbar spine to over-arch if the upper part of the psoas is weak. Try setting up the legs with the shins and feet lined up and the inner thighs flowing down (to get a natural curve in the lower back) and then just go back part way into the pose, resting your elbows on the floor. Keep your inner thighs flowing down, and then lift your pelvis up off the floor to get greater access to the Pelvic and Kidney Loop. Draw your waistline back, and lengthen the energy from the waistline out through the buttocks and knees and up through the back ribs. This will bring the spine to a more neutral curve. Then bring your pelvis back to the floor.
  • Ustrasana: This is one of the best backbends to feel the opening of the lower back that comes from splitting the energy from the waistline down and up, I think because so much of the lower body is part of the foundation and that helps you to feel the rooting more. Try doing this with a block between your inner thighs to keep the awareness and action of Inner Spiral while you add the loops. (Backbends tend to push the thigh bones forward anyway, so it’s very easy for these two loops to override the action of the inner thighs.) Squeeze the block and press the inner thighs back, and keeping that, fill up the back waistline. From the waistline flow down through the sacrum and up through the back ribs, so the lower back is expanded, and then come back into the pose, doing more of the backbend in the upper back. Once you’re holding on to your ankles, recreate these same actions. Use the block to maintain inner spiral, and then expand the lower back from the waistline in two directions. You can take this into kapotasana or laghu vajrasana variations.
  • Urdhva dhanurasana: In backbends, it’s hard to feel the waistline flowing back, but you can really access the expansion of energy in two directions from the back waistline. (Think of backbends more as “back extensions” and you’ve got it.) Go into this pose in stages to really keep the expanded quality of the lower back: 1) place your hands and feet and just lift your pelvis off the floor. Here, hug the legs in and turn the inner thighs down, and then breathe into the back waistline. From the back waistline, extend energy downward (that’s toward your knees and feet) so much that your knees come more forward and you get more weight in your feet. Keep anchored in the lower body and then from the waistline, lift the kidney area and back ribs toward your heart, and then curl more in the upper back. 2) Repeat once you’ve curled onto the top of your head. 3) Repeat again once you’re in the full pose. THIS FEELS SO GOOD AND SPACIOUS IN THE LOWER BACK.
  • Hip openers: All of the hip openers are great for practicing these actions. Indeed, if you feel stuck in your hips, expanding to the back body through the waistline will help you to find more freedom. As I noted in the pigeon pose description above, any hip opener (where the hip is externally rotated and in flexion) can be either great for the psoas or it can cause tweakiness. The main thing is to keep the inner thighs flowing down while making space by drawing the waistline back. Try baddhakonasana and agni stambasana, for example, to feel this.
  • Janu Sirsasana (and other forward bends): The same is true for forward bends. If the waistline collapses onto the front thigh, the energy will get stuck. In janu sirsasana, bow forward and hold the foot from the inside with your opposite hand. Place your front hand on fingertips just wide of the front knee. With the front leg straight and the thigh rooting down into the floor, press strongly through your fingertips into the floor to lift the waistline up and off the front thigh. That’s the upper psoas toning. Keep the lift as you draw down through the back of the pelvis and up through the back ribs. Then bow forward fully into the pose, without letting the front waistline drop down.

The Spine’s Serpentine Path

Teaching in Louisville, KY last weekend, I found myself practicing in front of a mirror for the first time in a long time. The mirror can be a useful teaching tool once in a while, and I had some insights into how to create a more fluid curve in the spine.

The spine is a pathway for the shushumna nadi, a current of energy that runs inside the vertebral column. In many traditions, this is the path of Kundalini, the serpent power coiled at the base of the spine that can be awakened and raised through a practice of yoga. In the Rajanaka tradition, Kundalini is already awake: your birth was the dynamic unfolding of Kundalini into the form of embodied power. So rather than trying to awaken Kundalini, yoga is to align to the empowered self. Enlightenment is not an attainment, it’s a recognition.

The pathway of Kundalini, then, is a circuitry that you can create and empower, rather than a ladder that you must ascend. Sometimes you’ll want to make the heroic leap from the mind back down to the heart, or from the heart to the throat (the place of self-expression), or from the waters of the belly to the root of yourself.

So, too, in working to align the spine.

In its optimal alignment, the spine normally has four curves: the tailbone tucks under (a kyphotic curve), the top of the sacrum and lumbar vertebrae draw in to the body (a lordotic curve), the thoracic spine is kyphotic and the cervical spine is lordotic.

In Stage 1 forward bends (where the hips are bent to just 90 degrees), the spine is in its neutral position and, in alignment, will have these four curves. And as you move from Stage 1 to full form forward bends, the entire spine should round at an even rate.

What I was noticing in the mirror in Louisville was that exactly the opposite was happening in my body, and this is common. Tight hamstrings will tend to pull the pelvis under when the legs are extended and the hips flexed, and this reverses the curve in the lumbar spine (the vertebrae will stick out). Even if the hamstrings are not tight, if the upper back is really mobile and moves toward a flat spine (rather than kyphosis), it will push the lumbar vertebrae out. This is particularly true in seated forward bends, where the pelvis and legs are all part of the foundation: the lower part of the spine gets more stuck, while the upper part, because it doesn’t have the resistance of the floor, pushes in at a faster rate.

Take inventory:
Before doing full form forward bends, check in at Stage 1 to be sure that you can get all 4 curves in the spine. Try this first seated in upavista konasana, just to feel.

Notice what parts of the spine are sticking out and what parts are moving in to the body, and then see how that relates to the optimal curves of the spine. You don’t need a mirror for this. Just run your fingers up your vertebrae from the top of the sacrum up towards your upper back.

Because of the reasons mentioned above, most people will find that the upper back is pushing in faster than the lower back, creating reverse curves in the lumbar and thoracic spine.

Connecting the Circuitry:
In order to line up the spine optimally in a neutral place and for forward bending, the strategy will be to stabilize the hyper-mobile part in order to gain access to a deeper opening in the part that is more stuck, like this:

  • Set up in Stage 1 of the forward bend
  • Back out of the hyper-mobile part of your spine by breathing and even rounding back. For most people, this will be the thoracic spine, but you’ll see what it is for you.
  • Keeping that part stable (moving back), charge your inner thighs by hugging the legs to the midline and then turn the inner thighs in, back and apart (Inner Spiral). This action will draw the top of the sacrum and lumbar vertebrae into the body, creating a natural curve. If you still feel stuck in the lower back area, back off even more through the upper back — you might have to lean back past 90 degrees in the pelvis to gain access to the action of the thighs.
  • Once the lumbar vertebrae have moved in to the body, draw your tailbone down and lift the spine up and out of the pelvis
  • In moving deeper into the forward bend, extend the whole spine evenly. Notice whether the neck or the upper back are moving faster into the forward bend than the lower back, and if so, back out there, re-anchor the inner thighs, and then extend again. You can use your fingertips on the floor in front of you pressing down to help move th mobile part of your spine back.

Use the principles outlined above to create a more even, fluid curve in the spine in these poses. If you have a mirror, use it to watch the curves (if not, you can just feel your vertebrae with your fingertips)

  • Cat/Cow
  • Downward-facing dog with the hands on the wall (L-pose): the upper back (and neck) will tend to be more mobile here, pressing toward the floor with gravity, to stabilize these areas by backing out of the pose and then move into the lower body.
  • Downward-facing dog
  • Prasarita padottanasana
  • Parsvakonasana: notice how if you lean forward in your upper body to get the thighs back, this is more form than action, and won’t be very effective in getting curve in the lower back. Keep your upper back in line (even puff out through the back lungs), and then access your inner thighs and use them to create lumbar curve.
  • Parsvottanasana: start standing upright, and bring your spine just to horizontal first (this is stage 1); back out of the upper back until you can use your legs to draw the lower back into the body, then come into the forward bend. Use blocks for your hands, or bring your hands to a wall, if you need.
  • Prasarita padottanasana toward press handstand: I finally figured out that this is the key to pressing up into handstand. You have to move your spine from forward bend to neutral, and getting the low back to draw in and up is essential
  • Supta virasana: notice how the lower back here tends to be arched more than the rest; lift your pelvis up off the floor to extend the tailbone more and lift up through the kidney area so that the tailbone and upper back curves are kyphotic.
  • Upavista konasana: I don’t recommend using padding under the pelvis to accommodate tight hamstrings in seated forward bends, because it tends to move the legs toward hyperextension. Try instead to just get Stage 1 upavista konasana, with natural curves in the spine. If your hamstrings are really tight, you may have to lean backwards quite a bit in the upper back, then use your legs strongly (hug the midline, inner spiral) to get the inner thighs to flow down, the pelvis to tip upright, and the lumbar vertebrae to draw in and up.
  • Triangmukhaipada pascimottanasana/krounchasana
  • Dandasana: For me, this is one of the most challenging poses of all. With the legs straight ahead, you don’t have the space that upavista konasana affords, and with your pelvis and legs on the floor as part of the foundation, there’s limited mobility. Work this one with the legs separated sitting bone distance apart, and put a block between your feet or your shins as resistance for hugging the midline. Then go through all of the steps above, leaning back as much as you need to in your upper back to make space to access your inner thighs.
  • Pascimottanasana: Once you’re able to get natural curves in the spine in dandasana, come forward into pascimottanasana.
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