Sacroiliac joint issues in yoga
Recently I’ve been exploring the cause and effects of Sacroiliac joint dysfunction. Postural instability can cause pain and discomfort in the long term. The SI joint connects the hip bones (iliac crests) to the sacrum. (The sacrum is the triangular bone between the lumbar spine and the tailbone/coccyx).
Many years ago I discovered that my pelvis was considerably unbalanced. This was manipulated and managed through regular osteopathy treatments. The issue had been perpetuated by sitting for long periods of time at a desk job. My interest has piqued again since teaching yoga. I’ve seen many participants suffer from “lower back” or “hip” pain. However, upon further investigation, aggravation is often revealed in the SI joint. For some, it has come about by a one-off incident such as pulling out a root in the garden. Others feel discomfort brought on by habitual movements or lack thereof.
I’m looking at ways to offer stabilising movements and postures in my yoga sequences. Donna Farhi is highly knowledgeable in this area (learn more about Donna here). I’ve found her tips helpful and have explored these adjustments on my own yoga mat. If you’re interested in seeing how your SI joints can be better supported in your yoga practice, watch this video. Also, read further information from Donna below the video.
Video Demonstration of Safe Yoga Cueing with Donna Farhi
If you are a Yoga teacher or practitioner hoping for healthy joints that last a lifetime, you might want to head straight for the door when you hear that ubiquitous Yoga teaching cue. “Square the hips” in wide-stance standing Yoga postures like Triangle and Warrior I & II.
In the video above, renowned Yoga teacher Donna Farhi explains why squaring the hips in wide-stance standing poses such as Triangle and Warrior II is an anatomical impossibility. If forced, can result in dysfunction and pain of the sacroiliac joint (SIJ).
Squaring the hips in these poses causes us to put uneven force on our left and right sides, Donna notes. This, in turn, can destabilize the joint and cause pain throughout the lower limb.
In her travels over the world, sacroiliac joint problems is one of the most common issues she sees in Yoga students and teachers.
To understand why this is such a common problem, look at the structure of the pelvis and SIJ. Your pelvis is composed of two ilium bones that attach in the back of the body to the triangular sacral bone and in the front at the pubic symphysis. It’s the hub of motor movement and meant to be stable. The SI joints allow for just a tiny degree of movement to support easeful walking.
By squaring the hips in wide-stance poses, we essentially pull the joint apart. We are attempting to have one leg in a turned outwards position and the other in a turned inwards position. All without adjusting the whole pelvis. What we should be doing instead, says Donna, is to treat this structure as one unit.
For that to happen without risk to the hip, knee or SI joint, the pelvis must organize itself around the legs. That is, the back leg side will move forward to accommodate the external rotation of the front leg. Your hips won’t be “square,” but your SI joint will stay healthy and balanced!
See Video Demonstration of Safe Yoga Cueing above
If you already suffer from SI joint discomfort, making this simple shift in your practice should help offer relief pretty quickly.
To see how this can work for you, Donna demonstrates a simple way to set yourself up on Warrior II that will allow you to feel the optimal position of the pelvis. Here, the front leg can speak to the back leg through the communicating bridge of the pelvis. And it works with any standing pose.
Even yoga practitioners who haven’t experienced pain should pay attention to the risk posed by constantly trying to square the hips. Especially in flow sequences where we move from one asymmetrical posture to another. Before you know it, you’ll be a member of what Donna calls The SI Joint club, one club you’d never want to join!
What if you are that well-meaning yoga teacher who’s been invoking the “hips square to the front” cue? Donna says to forgive yourself for the misunderstanding. You can immediately begin to incorporate your new understanding into your teaching.