Where Are My Sits Bones? Six Instructions Simplified

Drawing Shoulderblades Down

Drawing Shoulderblades Down

Drawing Shoulderblades Up

Drawing Shoulderblades Up

Have you ever taken a yoga class and felt lost when the teacher gives a verbal instruction on how to do a pose or find better alignment?  As an instructor, I appreciate the difficulty of clearly cueing others through physical postures and transitions; but as a student, I equally appreciate how frustrating it is to be on the receiving end, regularly translating yoga terminology.  So, this month, let’s figure out a few commonly-used, but often confusing, phrases, shall we?

NUMBER 1.  “TIP/TUCK THE PELVIS”

Ah, the pelvis — the alignment thereof can make or break a perfectly balanced pose.  Plan on hearing about pelvic alignment more than once in your yoga career, especially “tipping” and, its counterpart, “tucking.”

  • Your Anatomy: The pelvis is made up of several bones that help give shape to lower back and hip area.  Specifically: (1) on each of your right and a left sides, you have a large hip bone, made from a fusion of three smaller bones called the ischium, ilium and pubis;  (2) in the back, your hip bones join with a part of the lower spine, called the sacrum, and (3) in the front, the hip bones join at a piece of cartilage called the pubic symphysis.  These bony structures and their joints create a round-ish shape, like a bowl.  Thus, this area is sometimes called the “pelvic bowl,” holding the contents of the organs located in the lower abdomen.
  • Your Action: When “tipping” the pelvis, the top part of your pelvis comes forward, while the bottom part goes backward; this usually implies a soft arch of the lower spine.  It can be a difficult instruction to understand without a visual, so try this:  imagine your pelvic bowl, but instead of the usual life-supporting organs it usually holds, let’s say your bowl contains, for example, miso soup.  When your teacher says “tip your pelvis forward,” the goal is to keep your legs steady and tilt your bowl, as if you were going to pour your soup out in front of you.  In contrast, “tucking” is the counterpart to tipping.  To tuck, find a slight rounding in the lower spine; the bottom part of your pelvis comes forward, with the top part going backward.  Or, if you’re sticking with our visual, you’re trying to keep your soup safely in the bowl without spilling a drop.

NUMBER 2. “SIT ON YOUR SITS BONES”

So while we’re talking pelvis, let’s talk about one of the primary parts of it in yoga: sits bones.  You might hear your teacher say this when you’re doing sitting poses on the floor, like seated forward bend (Sanskrit: paschimottanasana).  And you might think “well, duh, easy enough…except, if someone is giving an instruction on simply sitting down, maybe it isn’t?”

  • Your Anatomy: Your “sits bones” refer to the ischium bones in your pelvis, which create two bony protrusions on the very underside of your seat called ischial tuberosities.  Because this area is notably fleshy, though (e.g., muscle, fat), these protrusions can be difficult to feel.  Ideally, when we sit up straight, we balance on them, but poor posture can lead to significant curvature of the lower back and we send our weight, literally, to other areas.
  • Your Action: Sit up straighter, pull back the flesh from the underside of your seat, tip your pelvis forward (per Number 1, above), and try to connect your protrusions with your mat, letting them support you.

NUMBER 3.  “ROOT/GROUND THROUGH THE FEET”

The basis of nearly every standing pose, this cue comes from the unfortunate fact that most of us don’t stand or walk evenly, which can cause imbalances in posture and, hence, back pain.

  • Your Anatomy: Maybe you’ve heard that you lean towards the outer or inner edges of the feet (or noticed that the soles of your shoes are usually worn down on one side).  Or, if you’re a runner, you might bounce from the balls of your feet when you’re getting in your miles.  Most of us have such imbalances.  Whatever your tendencies, “rooting” or “grounding” refers to the entire foot — all four physical corners of it (outer upper, inner upper, inner lower, outer lower) — making contact with the support underneath. 
  • Your Action: Begin standing.  Lift all 10 toes off of the ground to connect with the ball and heel of your foot, and to distribute your weight evenly.  Replace your toes on the ground for gentle balancing, being careful not to “grip” the mat with them.  Close your eyes and picture actual roots, growing from each of your feet’s four corners into your mat, and stand strongly.

NUMBER 4. “SHINE YOUR HEART FORWARD”

My clients are really familiar with this one, a staple in my teaching terminology.  Simple put, it’s a more emotive way of saying “lift the sternum.”

  • Your Anatomy: The sternum is the bony chestplate in the front of your upper torso, and serves as an attachment for the first 7 ribs.
  • Your Action: In addition to lifting your sternum north (or, “superiorly,” in Anatomese), also bring the front of your body more towards the ceiling, requiring a subtle arch through the thoracic (upper) spine.  Imagine showing your heart to the sky as you breathe, filling up the lungs as you lift.

NUMBER 5. “EXTEND THROUGH CROWN OF THE HEAD”

This cue asks you to lengthen your spine and move your head away from the torso, usually while sitting or standing.

  • Your Anatomy: Physically, the “crown” refers to the center of the top of your head (if you’ve ever heard someone refer to a baby “crowning” during birth, it’s because this is often the part of the head that exits the mother first).
  • Your Action: For yogis, extending through the crown of the head means straightening the spine, especially through the cervical vertebrae of the neck.  First, balance the head directly over the neck (i.e., not forward, backward, or to either side), with the neck in a straight line, perpendicular to the shoulders.  Imagine a golden thread attached to the top of your head pulling you toward the ceiling.  Resist the urge to simply lift the chin.

NUMBER 6. “DRAW YOUR SHOULDERBLADES ONTO THE BACK”

This might be the most common instruction you’ll hear, referring to the movement of the scapula or “shoulderblade,” which is incredibly important in many yoga postures.

  • Your Anatomy: As its common name describes, the scapula is a blade-shaped bone.  You have two scapula, one on each side of your spine, suspended in the muscles of your upper back.  With their surrounding musculature, they are heavily responsible for many shoulder movements.  Generally, when you squeeze your arms in front of you, your shoulderblades move outward, away from the spine; when you squeeze your arms back, they move inward, towards the spine.  When you shrug your shoulders to your ears, your shoulderblades are moving up; when you lower you shoulders away from the ears, they’re going down.
  • Your Action: “Drawing your shoulderblades onto the back” is a combination of moving the scapula in (towards the spine) and down (towards your hips).  To practice, inhale to prepare, lifting your arms overhead and shrugging your shoulders (as if you’re a turtle trying to hide your neck).  Then, exhale, keeping the arms up but squeezing your shoulders back and down, finding space (releasing your neck out of its “shell”).  See photos above.

Of course, these tips, while intended to provide some clarity while you’re in class, aren’t the end of the story — and they aren’t used by all yoga professionals.  You can always ask your teacher for additional guidance (if not during class, than after).  Good luck with the lingo, and remember that yoga isn’t about being perfect.  That’s why we call it practice!

**  NOTE ** The information provided here is for informal, general, educational purposes only, and does NOT substitute for medical information or advice in any manner whatsoever.  For specific health concerns, inquiries and/or information, please consult your health care provider.

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13 Responses to Where Are My Sits Bones? Six Instructions Simplified

  1. Jenny says:

    Really helpful translation of yogi talk that I never really understood until now. THANK YOU SO MUCH. I really like the soup analogy for helping me visualize my pelvic position.

    • Kelly says:

      So glad it was helpful, Jenny! I remember being totally confused as a student by these terms, too. Happy sitting. :)

  2. Mckinley says:

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  3. Eric says:

    Thank you for the article.

    I recently started taking yoga classes to add to my exercise and conditioning regimen. Coming from a martial arts background, I find the fluffy fru-fru language some instructors use very annoying. Shining my heart, hugging my spine with my back, kissing the earth.. Ugh. My “sit bones” were another phrasing mystery, akin to “relaxing the mouth bone” (yeah, that means Jaw or Mandible).

    Again, thank you for clarifying – it’ll be much easier to follow instructions now.

  4. Sidra says:

    Hi Kelly,
    Thank you so much for this article. I take pilates classes and these terms are often used by my instructor, so the clarification is much appreciated. As Jenny mentioned above, the soup analogy very simply explains what can otherwise be quite a confusing movement to get your head round. Thanks again ;-)

  5. Auto Rack says:

    thanks for sharing this information……..!!

  6. Divya says:

    Superbly helpful. Love the explanations. You have practically covered every term in yoga that leaves the student clueless. Keep up the good work. Love Divya

    • Kelly says:

      Glad it was helpful, Divya. Sometimes, I’m just as confused as any other student in class. :) Keep practicing!

  7. miranda says:

    While I truly admire your wish to help people understand these common descriptions.
    My take is that it would be more helpful if teachers gave instructions that anyone can understand without needing explanations. To me its like any profession with very specific technical jargon (lawyers, engineers, doctors) use their language with lay people. “Shine your heart forward” why not lift your chest or breastbone–though I don’t think you can do one without the other.Though to me, before your explanation, I would have understood that you push your chest forward, not up.

    I know there is lots of “yoga speak” out there. I feel that if you really want to teach, then use language all your students can understand.

    • Kelly says:

      Thanks, Miranda. I, too, believe that teachers should strive to use the clearest language possible (and this was also a key point when I was a lawyer, working with legal clients!). It’s something my teacher colleagues and I discuss, as well. After working with thousands of students, we’ve learned that it is impossible to give one verbal cue/instruction that 100% of students hear the same way, though. Certain phrases seem to really work well with some students, and different phrases with others. What is clear, though, is that most teachers have a set of instructions that they often repeat and use regularly, and that can be helpful in terms of consistency and understanding. I also encourage students to TELL their teachers “I don’t understand what you mean.” This is wildly helpful for instructors because we can modify what we’ve said and continue refining it to the students’ needs. Feedback is fabulous!

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