Body of knowl­edge

Un­der­stand­ing your tail­bone Healthy move­ment in your tail­bone may in­flu­ence your whole spine.

Yoga Journal - - Practice Well - By Amy Matthews and Les­lie Kaminoff YOU’VE PROB­A­BLY HEARD

many a teacher say,

“Tuck your tail,” in asana class, mak­ing it seem

like a widely un­der­stood and ac­cepted cue. But

the phrase can be in­ter­preted many dif­fer­ent

ways, of­ten re­sult­ing in a chain re­ac­tion of

un­in­tended move­ment. We can tuck in a way

that is ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive, or in a way that

leads to over­work and in­jury. In fact, what

seems to be a sin­gle move­ment (tail tuck­ing)

can be three dif­fer­ent anatom­i­cal ac­tions, act-

ing in­de­pen­dently or in com­bi­na­tion, each with

its own sen­sa­tions. Learn­ing to feel th­ese sub­tle

dif­fer­ences in your body will help you find a

place for your tail that feels right, whether you

are stand­ing in Tadasana or seated at your desk.

Be­fore we get into tuck­ing the tail, it’s

im­por­tant to know what the tail is. The ana-

tom­i­cal name for the tail is coc­cyx, from the

Greek word for a cuckoo’s beak. It is the “cau-

dal,” mean­ing tail, sec­tion of the spine, be­low

the tri­an­gu­lar-shaped sacrum bone that lies

be­tween the two iliac hip­bones of the pel-

vis at the sacroil­iac joints. The num­ber

and mo­bil­ity of ver­te­brae in the coc­cyx

vary widely from per­son to per­son:

you can have three, four, or even five ver-

tebrae, and some may be nat­u­rally fused

to­gether while oth­ers are not. Although

small, the coc­cyx is a site for mus­cle, lig­a­ment,

and ten­don at­tach­ments, and func­tions

to­gether with the two sit­ting bones as a tri­pod

of bony land­marks at the base of the pelvis.

Ev­ery coc­cyx has a move­able joint at the

bot­tom of the sacrum, ap­pro­pri­ately named the

sacro­coc­cygeal joint. Its main move­ments are

flex­ion and ex­ten­sion, with a lit­tle bit of side-

bend­ing and ro­ta­tion pos­si­ble as well. Th­ese

move­ments are not very large, but the mus­cu­lar

ac­tions that cre­ate them can have a sig­nif­i­cant

ef­fect on your pelvic floor. Chronic ten­sion in

the pelvic floor can af­fect the range of mo­tion

avail­able in the hip joints, the healthy func­tion-

ing of the rec­tum, anus, and blad­der, and can

lead to pain and over­work in the lower back

(lum­bar spine and sacroil­iac joints). Find­ing

your health­i­est and most func­tional move­ment

in the tail can in­flu­ence pain pat­terns through-

out the spine, from the sacrum to the head.

There are three dis­tinct ac­tions that re­sult

in tuck­ing the tail: sacro­coc­cygeal flex­ion;

counter-nu­ta­tion (nu­tate means “to nod”),

which is when the top of your sacrum tilts

back­ward and the bot­tom of the sacrum and

tail­bone move for­ward at the sacroil­iac joints;

and pos­te­rior or back­ward tilt­ing of the en­tire

pelvis in­clud­ing the sacrum and tail­bone. You

can ex­plore each of th­ese move­ments sepa-

rately, se­quen­tially, or si­mul­ta­ne­ously us­ing the

ex­er­cises out­lined in “A Prac­tice of Dis­cov­ery”

at right. Each will move the tail for­ward, but

only sacro­coc­cygeal flex­ion in­volves the inde-

pen­dent move­ment of the coc­cyx. Counter-

nu­ta­tion and pos­te­rior tilt­ing might carry the

tail for­ward in space, but only as a con­se­quence

of mov­ing the sacrum or pelvis.

There are cer­tainly times on the mat when

it’s use­ful to play with the in­ter­re­lat­ed­ness of

th­ese three ac­tions. In Child’s Pose, for exam-

ple, you may find a deep­en­ing of the flex­ion of

your spine and hip joints when you also tuck

your tail. On the other hand, be­cause the mus-

cles that flex your coc­cyx are dis­tinct from the

mus­cles you use to counter-nu­tate the sacrum

and pos­te­ri­orly tilt your pelvis, a teacher’s “Tuck

your tail” cue meant to change your pelvic posi-

tion may ex­ces­sively en­gage your pelvic-floor

mus­cles (which flex the coc­cyx but don’t tilt the

pelvis pos­te­ri­orly). Sur­plus ef­fort can ra­di­ate

into the mus­cles of your hips, pelvis, and spine

and get in the way of find­ing your ideal combi-

na­tion of sta­bil­ity and ease in the pos­ture.

With so much room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion—

and no sin­gle cue that will defini­tively work for

ev­ery­one, ev­ery time—yoga stu­dents need their

teach­ers to cre­ate the space that al­lows them

to find their way into their own ex­pe­ri­ence of

asana. The chal­lenge for stu­dents is to no­tice

the sub­tle shifts in breath and align­ment that

can, over time, ex­pand their prac­tice.

Amy Matthews

has been teach­ing anatomy and move­ment since 1994. She is a Body-Mind Cen­ter­ing and yoga teacher, and a so­matic move­ment ther­a­pist. is an in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized spe­cial­ist with 36 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in the fields of yoga and breath anatomy. He is the founder of The Breath­ing Project in New York City, where he and Matthews pro­duce and teach their live and on­line cour­ses. They also co-au­thored the best­seller Yoga Anatomy. Find more in­for­ma­tion at yo­gaanatomy.net/yj/.

Les­lie Kaminoff

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