Current exercise culture demands we avoid curvature of the spine by the systematic tucking of the pelvis. Find out the origins of this myth and encourage your students to engage in the full range of lower spine motion in their practice.
By Paul Grilley
Bad News Ballet
The idea that a "tucked pelvis" is good for you comes from ballet. Ballerinas are taught to tuck their pelvis so they can spin on a straight axis. It is difficult to spin multiple times if the pelvis is not tucked. Ballerinas are also taught to tuck their pelvis so they can maximize the height and appearance of leg extensions. A tucked pelvis is necessary for a ballerina to perform her craft, but it is a decidedly unnatural movement to do all the time. Large numbers of ballet dancers end their careers with arthritic hips and sciatica due to this overemphasis on a tucked pelvis.
If ballet is bad for you, why imitate it?
Well, number one: not everything about ballet is bad for you. Much of ballet training is about balance, stretching, and learning to isolate movements. This is good for you. Number two: tucking the pelvis is a natural movement you should learn how to do. It only becomes destructive if you remain stuck in that position.
Why is the tucked pelvis of ballet so pervasive in other forms of exercise?
To answer this question, we must examine the recent history of exercise in this country. Back in the early 1970s, there wasn't much of an exercise culture. Running was about the biggest craze, and it didn't attract large numbers of the population. Women in particular often found themselves with a choice of boring calisthenics classes—or dance classes. Dance classes were much more fun and were usually taught by ex-dancers who had admirable physiques. But not everyone felt comfortable learning dance steps, so the next innovation was to simplify the steps and do calisthenics to music. Thus the aerobics craze was born. Once again, the teachers at the forefront of this movement were former dancers, trained for years in ballet technique.
In the last two decades, the exercise culture has blossomed into many different forms. Now there are classes in running, aerobics, weight lifting, spinning, swimming, dancing, and yoga. But in the aerobics and yoga worlds, the teachers are still predominately from a dance background. Many yoga teachers are dancers who do yoga to heal themselves, and they retain the visceral memories of their ballet teachers constantly yelling at them to tuck their pelvises. So these teachers repeat the same to their students. The irony of it is that old ballet teachers walk with a limp because overdoing the pelvic tuck has given them sciatica or arthritic hips.
Flat spine or curved spine?
The last two covers of Yoga Journal magazine feature photos of young women in deep backbends. This is the opposite movement to a tucked pelvis. The poses look beautiful and one can't help but admire the ease and range of motion of the models. But I doubt if anyone would think it healthy for someone to habitually hold their spine in this deep bend. If anyone attempted to do so, the discs in their back would degenerate painfully.
Constantly arching the spine is unhealthy. Constantly tucking the spine is unhealthy. So should we live our lives in a timid neutrality of spine position, neither tucking nor tilting the pelvis? The answer is an emphatic "No!" The neutral spine position is how office workers live their lives, and statistics show that 80 percent of them will suffer serious back problems.
I too agree with the other comments. As a dancer and dance teacher for many years and a current yoga teacher I can recall only one child hood dance teacher talking about tucking - back in the 1950's - an old russian teacher with a stick! Dance classes employ a very precisely structured warm up and in a good class, you are not asked to perform a movement or position for which you have not had adequate preparation - not so in many yoga classes - even from good teachers. Many dance injuries stem from performance passion - when adrenaline is flowing and accidents can occur - and from a grueling rehearsal and performance schedule - not from what they do in class and so is very different from the "practice" of yoga. So while it may be true that some dancers come to yoga to "heal" they are not healing from dance class but from the rigors of performing and the pressure that comes with that life style. I think a person can move between yoga and dance and be mindful of the differences as they enjoy each class.
Ditto! I trained and was trained to the professional level in Classical Ballet. The only "dancers" who tucked their pelvis were wanna be dancers. Because one cannot move when one tucks the pelvis! Everything is strained and that is when injury occurs. Those people never dance. And it has never been taught in a viable ballet class in my 63 years of existence on earth.
Just as in Asana class where the copious number of young inexperienced teachers are zealously and ignorantly talking students into positions they probably will never be able to do, is why recently the media ignorantly represented a yoga practice as being damaging.
As Shankara advises, do not be ignorant, practice mindfulness and discrimination in all actions!
There were a lot of yoga classes in the seventies and not all the teachers had background in dance. Lot of of them were hipies who went to study in India or meditators who studied with various indian gurus in the US. Tucking of the pelvis was not a common practice at least in the yoga circles I studied in.