A number of people who practice yoga, especially women, develop pain in the sacroiliac (SI) joints. Some of the pain in women is structural – in women only two segments of the sacrum move with the pelvis while in men 3 do. This leads to less stability in the joint itself. Another structural issue for women is that the joint tends to be more flat as opposed to curved so they simply don’t fit together quite as tightly. Being a little further apart can affect the biomechanics in walking as well as other movement.
In yoga practice there is a great deal of twisting. Twisting is very beneficial in terms of digestion, keeping the spine supple, destressing, detoxing and more. And twisting can help to reduce back pain too. But we need to be twisting correctly. There are some principles that need to be followed when moving into a twist whether it be from a standing position, lying on the back or seated:
The spine needs to be long: Lengthen up from the root of the spine and imagine you are creating space between every vertebra. This way you will stretch the rotator muscles in the spine, something we want, while not locking the vertebra in any way.
Breathe: As with all yoga poses, your breath is your guide. Every time you inhale further extend your spine. Every time you exhale deepen your twist. You may deepen in segments, meaning you twist first at the lumbar spine in the low back, then into the thoracic spine, then into the cervical spine. Use several breaths to come slowly into a twist.
Stabilize your SI joints: We are taught often to keep the sitting bones planted to the floor in a seated twist or to not allow movement in the pelvis. Sometimes we end up trying to twist out of our SI joints in this way. Be careful about where the twist is starting. The SI joints themselves aren’t meant to twist and when we try we can overstretch the ligaments leading to SI joint pain over time. Keep the pelvis stable and allow the twist to come out of the lumbar. If that doesn’t feel possible, allow the pelvis to move with you. Make sure the pelvis and sacrum move as one. The lumbar and cervical spines tend to move quite freely, the thoracic – not so much. Really focus your twisting (and back bending) on getting into the thoracic spine. That’s where it’s most needed. A knee down twist is a great example of moving the pelvis and sacrum (and hence the SI joint) as one. Seated and standing twists might be the culprits when it comes to overdoing it on the SI. Pay close attention to what’s happening in your pelvis. Being very mindful of how your body feels is such an important part of the practice of yoga.
Enjoy! Remember that poses in yoga can be quite challenging, but they are meant to leave you feeling good! If you are experiencing pain from your practice in joints there’s a correction to be made. Seek the advice of a trusted yogi.