I wanted to discuss the SI Joints and pain that may occur during an asana practice. S.I. stands for Sacroiliac. This is the place where the sacrum fits into your pelvis.
The sacrum does a lot for us whether we practice yoga or not. It allows our hips to move the way we need them to just to walk. We need a certain level of flexibility here just to do normal tasks in our lives. However, if there is too much movement or not enough, there can be pain.
I know in my own body the pain in my SI Joints is caused by too much movement without proper stabilization. Common poses that can aggravate your SI Joints include:
- Triangle and Revolved Triangle
- 3-Legged Down Dog
- Any type of misaligned backbend
- Any type of misaligned twist, but particularly twists where the legs are doing different things – think Revolved Lunge
Assuming you haven’t been in a car accident or had some other type of traumatic injury, stabilization should help quite a bit with pain. Stabilization, as I’m using the word here, refers to proper alignment and muscle engagement. Let’s start with muscle engagement.
Bandhas are energetic locks within the body and there are quite a few, but for the sake of ease I will only mention 2 today: uddiyana and mula. Uddiyana bandha is also called the “core lock”. The transverse abdominis muscles are the deepest abdominal muscles and important for uddiyana bandha (1). These muscles literally press your internal organs into your spine for support(2). When you engage your abdominal muscles you should get a feeling of support in the back as well. This is tricky to explain in the written word, but play with it in your own body to feel it out. The other thing I would like to suggest while you’re working on this is to work the action of bringing your lowest ribs towards your hip points. They don’t actually touch! Don’t try, this isn’t a folding action, but an action of creating space in your lower back. This combined with a scooping under of the tailbone will allow for space in the lower back and encourage your abdominals to engage.
Mula bandha or root lock, which is the muscles around the pelvic floor(3), gives you a lifting up sensation in the center of your body. When you work on finding mula bandha, you might feel sensation near your bladder, this is normal. When the pelvic floor is engaged it helps to stabilize your sacrum. If you are attempting any type of backbend, or even 3-legged down dog, try to keep your pelvic floor engaged. To help you find mula bandha, stand in Chair Pose and squeeze a block between your thighs. This activates the adductor muscles and helps you “find” mula bandha.
It’s also worth noting that these are practiced actions just like the rest of the asana practice. If you don’t “get it” right away, keep playing with it.
Alignment is extremely important. I know most students don’t want a lecture on alignment and they just want to jump right into the fun stuff, but without proper alignment the asana practice can be quite dangerous. I’m not exaggerating here – dangerous is a completely appropriate word. I’m not trying to discourage anyone, but anyone participating in any type of physical sport or workout should always put safety first.
With that being said, how can alignment help SI Joint pain? Let’s use Dancer as an example. Most yogis, myself included, will allow the lifted leg hip to roll open. Why do we do this? To allow for greater depth in the pose. I don’t necessarily see a problem with this, but it can cause pain in the SI joints. If you look at the picture above and see how the sacrum fits into the pelvis you will see that it fits in there. When you have your hips turned in a dynamic way such as most people do in dancer you can imagine what is happening in your SI joints.
Conversely, if you have your hips in line, which is much more difficult I will tell you from experience, you won’t get as much depth in the pose and it is more of a challenge because of the extra stretch in the front of the hip/thigh of the lifted leg. This is shown below in the picture on the right. While the hips and SI joints are happier with the alignment as shown on the right, you must be aware of compressing the lower back to make up for the lack of depth that most people encounter when practicing dancer as it is shown on the left.
Another option to practice Dancer with your hips even is to use a strap. This is a different variation, but will still stretch the front of the lifted hip, open the shoulders, and challenge your balance. As you can see my shoulders are opening in a different and more dynamic way. This can be fun and opening the shoulders in this way prepares you for hollow back work while inverted. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out this post.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of poses that can cause SI pain. If you are already experiencing SI pain, most likely you will find many other poses that aggravate the inflammation. My recommendation from personal experience? Take a day or two off. (Yes – no asana for 2 days. Try mediating instead!) If the pain is really bad, go to a qualified chiropractor. Besides those things, take mental or written note after your practice on the poses that aggravated your SI joints and ask your teacher after class for a modification or stabilization technique. You are also welcome to shoot me an email or leave a comment with questions!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor do I pretend to be. Any information here is not intended to diagnose or treat an injury or illness.
Do you have SI Joint pain? How do you deal with it?
(1)/(2)/(3) The Key Muscles of Yoga by Ray Long, pg 119/pg 125/220, respectively