Myth #5: The sit bones should always be down in marichyasana A, B, C, and D
In this article I’ll continue my series on critically evaluating some common yoga alignment cues. We’ll take a look at the intentions for working four marichyasana postures: marichyasana A, B, C, and D, sometimes also referred to as marichyasana 1, 2, 3, and 4. Specifically we’ll explore whether or not it makes sense to try to keep the sit bones down in marichyasana postures.
Why are we often told to put the sit bones down in the marichyasana poses?
I have to be honest, this one is a head scratcher for me. I do always assume that these types of instructions absolutely came from a positive experience in someone’s practice. In other words, the cue is well-meaning and coming from someone trying to help people have a positive experience in their own body. My sense of this particular cue is that it falls into the category of an advanced asana practitioner applying an advanced cue to students who are not ready, or perhaps even capable, of doing these postures in this way. To be honest, this cue, more than any other, worries me for a couple of reasons.
Most important, is that in marichyasana B and D, when both sit bones are down, it often means that the knee is up for those with tight hips. When knees from that lotus leg are up and floating, it often leads to someone, student or teacher, also wanting to press it down toward the floor. There is nothing more likely to injure the knee than pressing down a floating knee while it’s in a lotus position.
Next, this cue has a tendency to give an unrealistic process to students who are far away from being able to do it. In other words, it doesn’t seem like a very logical step in a process that leads to the full expression of the posture. When I see students in marichyasana B or D with both sit bones down and their knee in the air, I have to ask myself how would this ever lead them to binding, or twisting, in these two postures?
Why proportions matter
One of the most critical pieces to look at in terms of whether or not your sit bones will ever go down while in the marichyasana postures, is proportions. Sure, there are anatomical factors as well, and we’ll discuss them, but as you know, proportions matter. We can probably all agree that the individual anatomy of each person’s body is going to affect how postures look. The length of our arms, legs, and torso are going to affect where and how we can place other parts of the body in space and in relationship to each other.
When we apply that to the marichyasanas, we have to look very specifically at the proportional relationship between the upper (femur) and lower (tibia and fibula) leg specifically. As you should be aware already, the sit bone is technically called the ischial tuberosity and it is part of the pelvis. The femur connects just above the ischial tuberosity in the socket called the acetabulum. The femur meets the foreleg at the tibia to create the knee joint.
So, while we’re thinking about these connections, let’s imagine a couple of scenarios. While sitting on the floor, bend one knee completely, just like marichyasana A. Now, imagine that you have a long tibia and a short femur. The shorter your femur, or longer your tibia is, relative to each other, the higher the pelvis will be lifted off the floor on that side. Alternatively, imagine a long femur and a short tibia. This would naturally lead to the pelvis being closer to, or on, the floor.
So let’s take this idea into the marichyasanas, starting with marichyasana A. In marichyasana A we have one leg bent to place that foot on the floor and we are folding forward with the torso toward our other leg, which is out straight on the floor in front of us.
If we are doing marichyasana A and we have a short femur to long tibia relationship, then as we fold forward, our sit bone on the side with the bent leg will likely come up. Of course, you could choose to keep your sit bone down, however, it’s unlikely that you could keep your sit bone down and also fold forward and bring your chest close to your thigh. You have to choose one action or the other, unless of course your hips are extremely flexible. If we have a longer femur relative to a short tibia, then our sit bone on that side is more likely to maintain contact with the floor as we fold. But all of this is only factoring in proportions.
As I said, if your hips are really flexible, then it’s possible that you can keep the sit bone down and fold forward. What would be required, then, is that your pelvis can continually rotate forward around the head of the femurs on both sides. The bent leg doesn’t usually leave you much room. Because the hip is already flexed, you need to quite literally bring the torso in front of the thigh. That is a lot of flexibility. We also can’t leave out the straight leg. The tighter your hamstrings are, of course, the harder it will be to get that pelvis to rotate and fold forward while keeping those sit bones on the floor.
In marichyasana B, we add the effect of the half lotus on how the proportions of the legs relate to each other. We also have to look even more at the flexibility of the hip in terms of how much rotation is available at the hip joint. If we move one leg into a half lotus position, and then bend the other leg, the pelvis naturally tilts in most people. The sit bone on the side with the half lotus will likely be close to the ground and most likely the sit bone on the other side will come up, particularly as you start to fold forward.
At this point, for both sit bones to be down in marichyasana B, you would need to have very open hips and the right proportions. What do we mean by open hips? The lotus leg in particular would have to have enough flexibility in it for the knee to drop particularly low if both sit bones are down. The main reason for this is because the action of sitting back onto the sit bones and planting the foot on the floor has a tendency to tilt the pelvis back, not forward as in a forward bend. With the pelvis tilted back and both sit bones down, most people will have their lotus leg and knee in the air.
In marichyasana C, we are twisting rather than folding forward. It is the most likely of all the marichyasana postures to allow us to put both sit bones down. However, in order to set up a deep twist, we often have to fold forward a bit in order to work into the binding, which can bring the sit bone of the straight leg off the floor.
The proportion of our torso to our bent leg (femur in particular) can also come into play here if we are trying to do this posture with a bind. The reason for this is that if you have a long torso to short femur relationship, your shoulder is much higher than your knee. The effect of this proportional relationship could bring the sit bone of the bent leg off the floor. The other reason this sit bone can have trouble going down is tension on the outside of the hip joint. By outside of the hip joint, I mean the gluteal muscles in particular. At that point we’d have to decide which intention is more important for us to emphasize at that moment.
In marichyasana D, we are twisting and we have the second leg in a half lotus position. We basically are combining all of the aspects of the three other marichyasanas. Just getting into this posture requires a considerable amount of openness in the hips and the shoulders. For that reason alone, I’m not sure how important it is to try to get both sit bones to the ground. There are so many other aspects that are fundamental to this posture that you could choose to focus on. The question becomes, which part leads you to the next step in the process of learning a posture like this?
Like marichyasana B, for both sit bones to be down on the ground in marichyasana D, several things all have to happen. You would need very open hips and the right proportions between thigh and lower leg.
The biggest potential problem in this posture is when the knee of the lotus leg is floating in the air. If you are in the posture bound, with both sit bones down, and your knee is up in the air, and you (or a teacher) tries to bring it down to the floor, you are creating a VERY significant amount of pressure in your knee. I honestly think this is dangerous and would NEVER recommend doing this unless you have super open hips. Even then, I’m not a fan.
Why put the sit bones down or not in the marichyasana poses?
Whether or not the sit bones will go down in each of the marichyasana poses is one question. A separate question is why we might want to try to put the sit bones down, or not, in the first place. Connecting the sit bones with the floor can create a feeling of grounding. A sense of grounding before we layer on another intention, like forward folding or twisting, can be very helpful for establishing a sense of where we are lengthening or twisting from. But, I would also ask, why is it that the lotus leg or foot on the floor is not seen as just as valid of a grounding foundation? I personally think it is a valid foundation and a safer one.
If our proportions are such that we cannot do two things at the same time, for example keep both sit bones on the ground and fold forward in marichyasana B, then we have to decide which intention is most relevant for us in that moment. Which one do we want to give up for the other? And why? If we want the sit bone to stay on the floor and we have a short femur, then we may have to give up some depth in the forward bend and not fold as far forward. If we want to emphasize depth in forward folding, then we may need to allow the sit bone to come off the floor.
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David explains why over-stretching connective tissue along the spine might contribute to feeling a burning sensation in the lower back after forward bending.