In order to gain the most out of any practice that requires precision of the muscles, joints, bones and ligaments of the body, the physical alignment of the body is vital.
This is highlighted both in Iyengar yoga and ballet – classes which also provide good lessons on how to stand, walk and sit outside the studio, in order to keep the body in its ultimate condition. An important part of correct placing, which we see not only in ballet and yoga but also in daily activities such as walking, running, and even standing and sitting, is the correct alignment of the pelvis.
The practice of Sukhasana, the asana frequently used to start a yoga practice, provides an easily understood example of a good pelvic alignment, as does the initial positions taught in classical ballet.
In many yoga classes, we begin the class by sitting in Sukhasana; sitting with our legs crossed in front with an erect spine. Our intention is to create a receptive, open and focused mind, ready for the practice we are about to embark on. It is the time to start observing oneself inwardly, rather than focusing on external impressions. When practiced with awareness and care, the asana also sets our body in an alignment that we can continue to carry with us not only during the class, but throughout the rest of our activities that day and beyond.
Looking at Sukhasana from a physical perspective, begin by sitting and folding the legs in front, mid-shin. The knees should rest above the feet, so sitting on a folded blanket or a bolster to lift the hips higher is useful if the knees do not release down enough or if the legs are crossed at the ankles. This keeps the hip joints relaxed and lets the thighs release. From there, ensure that the weight is even on both buttock bones and that the pelvis is dropping neither back nor forward.
See the pelvis as a bowl of water, where the rims must be kept level in order not to spill the water out in any direction. If the pelvis is tilting forward with the front hip bones dropping down, the water will spill out in the front, and the lumbar spine arches. If the pelvic rim is dropping back, the water spills out behind you, and the lower spine curves.
These curves, though they may seem small, affect our posture in yoga, as well as in ballet and while running or working out at the gym. With the correct alignment of the hips and pelvis, the spine can lengthen and straighten into its natural curvature, and the body begins to set itself in a healthy, strong place to work from.
Similar to the commencement of a yoga practice, we use different tools to set ourselves up on the barre before a ballet class; lengthening through the spine, lifting up through the back of the neck, lifting our core, and turning our legs out from the top of the thighs. This is a physical and psychological preparation for the class ahead – aligning both body and mind with the intention of practice.
Here, too, the pelvic alignment plays an important role. When standing in first position–the initial turned out ballet position taught from pre-primary levels–the pelvic rim should again be even at the front and at the back. It means there should be no tipping, or even dripping of the water forward or back.Tilting the hips back, the spine curves, pushing the thighs forward and pulling the weight into the heels (the weight is held in the balls of the feet in ballet for maximum control of movement and balance). When the hips are square, level, and controlled, the dancer has control of the core, lift through the spine, and a wider range of movement. If the front of the hip drops forward, the stomach also drops down, the spine arches, and maintaining the external rotation of the legs becomes difficult.
And the lesson to learn beyond yoga and ballet? It is to set yourself and your spine up in daily life by keeping the rims of the pelvis in line, without spilling that vital water in any direction. Build yourself up for strength, your highest range of motion, for core stability, and for a healthy, neutral alignment by keeping your bowl of water forever filled.