“. . . according to the Yoga Sutra (3.1), the term [Bandha] refers to the ‘binding’ of consciousness to a particular object or locus (desha), which is the very essence of concentration.”
Georg Feuerstein



Monday, January 17, 2011

How to Use “Nutation” to Refine Uttanasana—Part I


Many moons ago I had the privilege of spending an extended period studying yoga at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India. During my time there I made it a point to watch Yogacharya Iyengar practice whenever possible. I not only observed the form of his body but also the way he practiced, how he moved from one pose to another, and the way he worked in the individual asanas. I was fascinated by how he continued to refine his art. Bear in mind that B.K.S. Iyengar is the author of Light on Yoga, and he had been practicing for over 50 years at the time. Still, like a master artist, he polished his poses as if his body were a dynamic sculpture.
sacral nutation
Sacral nutation - exaggerated for effect.

One day, as fate would have it, I was the only other person in the practice hall and Master Iyengar was going through his backbend sequence (picture the most advanced backbends from Light on Yoga to get an idea). I sat on the staircase and watched. He finished, and as he was getting dressed asked if I would like to go with him to visit some people around the city. The next thing I knew, I was in the back of a car speaking with Mr. Iyengar. I mentioned that he still worked to improve his poses, even though he was a master of the art. He gave me a somewhat surprised look, as if to say, “Of course I am!”


This is a characteristic of masters in any discipline. Even when they have achieved excellence, they still look for incremental improvement. One of the great things about yoga is that we can always work to improve our postures. In this week’s series, we use Uttanasana to illustrate this technique. 

sacroiliac joint ligaments
Anterior (front) and posterior (back) views of the sacroiliac joint with ligaments.
The sacroiliac joint is one of the most stable in the body due to the stout ligaments that surround it. It doesn’t move much—some say it doesn’t move at all. The movement that is available is called “nutation,” which means nodding (as in nodding your head). In nutation the sacrum tilts forward just a little bit between the iliac crests. We can use this movement to deepen forward bends such as Uttanasana. This adds some incremental forward bending from within the pelvis, rather than the lumbar spine, and aids to protect the spine from hyperflexion.

Think about the sacroiliac joint and nutation. Tune in tomorrow and I’ll show you a tip on how to use this movement to improve Uttanasana by engaging the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius. Also, take a moment to browse through our new books on the right side of the page to learn more about combining Western science with the art of yoga… 

Namasté,

Ray

14 comments:

  1. re "We can always work to improve our postures—this is what makes it a practice." - i think i can apply the same to my learning of anatomy and function ;-) but then, that's what makes it a study ;-)

    very glad you have this blog up, thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's it Adan . . . the learning never stops.
    Namasté
    Ray and Chris

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello Ray, Thanks so much for this article! I recently studied this in a workshop with Judith Lasater and REALLY REALLY appreciate your information. It is all new information for me! I think it is going to change the way I teach. VERY TIMELY and well written... Can't wait to follow up!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I too recently studied with Judith where she insisted the joints of the pelvis do not move. I found this troubling because the pelvis absolutely moves, especially in relation to childbirth...

    ReplyDelete
  5. hi, i am confused about whether you are saying it is nutation or counternutation that improves forward fold. initially you state that "Sacral nutation is one way to incrementally improve forward bends.", but later you say, " In counter-nutation it tilts backwards. We can use this movement to deepen forward bends such as Uttanasana. "
    clarify for me please?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Tova,

    Nutation tilts the sacrum forward, aiding in deepening forward bends. Counternutation tilts it back. This can be used to help in backbends. Thanks for pointing this out. I'll clear it up in the post!

    Best,

    Ray

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks so much for these posts! I have long admired (and used!) your books, and this blog is a great addition.
    Cheers!
    Tracy
    PS
    It also helps clear up my confusion about nutation and counter nutation!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks Tracy! Glad we could help clarify this somewhat subtle concept.
    Namasté,
    Ray and Chris

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks a lot for sharing your work.
    Is it possible that only one of the sacro-iliac joints (let's say the left) allows for nutation movement, and that the other (let's say the right) gets somehow frozen so that the iliac bone (right) tilts forward with the sacrum? If yes, what could be the reason and how could it be unlocked?
    Thanks! Emanuela

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Emanuela,

    Remember that nutation represents a very small amount of movement since the SI joint is very stable (normally). That said, it is possible to have asymmetric movement between the two sides. It's quite difficult to diagnose with accuracy, since it is a "feeling" of uneveness. In such a situation, I use the muscles to work towards balance. For example, I would engage more firmly the TFL and gluteus medius on the side that feels stuck by attempting to drag the foot on that side a bit more firmly, as described in part 3. It may not produce immediate results--usually requires consistent work. Let me know how it goes.Thanks for your excellent comment too.

    Namaste’

    Ray

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you Ray for adding the western aspect to the poses. I have been fortunate to be with a few very renowned Gurus of Yoga and Naturo-pathy in my life. We were never educated about the muscles or the bones. Everyone of them referred to the part of the body. But i think when we are teaching Yoga in the western world we need to explain the name and role of muscle in the poses.
    After reading your books and using the names of the names of the muscles and the bones, my students have increased, and my classes are now packed.
    So thank you for letting me learn one more aspect of teaching Yoga in western world.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi Tova,

    Nutation improves forward bends. Counternutation improves backbends. Apologies for the confusion in the text--I appreciate your bringing this to my attention. I corrected it in the post.

    Best,

    Ray

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi
    Great blog... love it. where are you? Australia, US?
    sylviane

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi Silviane,

    Thanks for the compliment. I'm in New York.

    Best,

    Ray

    ReplyDelete