Let’s be honest. The word ‘pubic’ is kind of funny. I know this is totally immature, but when I first got into yoga and a teacher would reference the pubic bone, I couldn’t help but giggle a little. Full disclosure: the word ‘pubic’ always makes me think of pubic HAIR. Gross.
But as it turns out, your yoga teacher is actually pubic-bone-obsessed for good reason. The pubic bone is a very important geographical location in the body.
First things first: where the heck is the pubic bone?
I might blow your mind when I tell you this, but you don’t have just one pubic bone, but TWO! That’s right – you have a left pubic bone and a right pubic bone.
When most yoga teachers mention the pubic bone, they’re usually talking about the pubic symphysis. Okay, so what the heck is the pubic symphysis?
The pubic symphysis, or PS for short, is a cartilaginous joint. Wait, WHAT?? Don’t let this big word frighten you. Cartilaginous just means it’s a joint connected entirely by cartilage. The PS connects the right pubic bone to the left pubic bone. (It’s similar in make-up to the intervertebral discs.)
If you’re reading this in your yoga pants, imagine you’re wearing a pair of jeans or any pants that zip up in the front. Your PS is located roughly where the bottom of your zipper would be. Okay now stand up. Bend your knees a little bit and imagine moving the base of your zipper down and back between your legs. You’ll feel your pelvis rotate forward over the heads of your femur (or thigh) bones into an anterior tilt, like in cow pose.
Congratulations! You just moved your pubic symphisis!
So why is this action – the movement of the pubic symphisis (or imaginary zipper) down and back – so important?
Well, lots of people – especially those of us who sit at a desk every day – tend to spend most of our lives in a pelvic tuck. Our hamstrings are tight, and are poor psoas muscles are in constant contraction, which pulls on our sitting bones and our lumbar vertebra. All of this causes our pelvis to be in a constant posterior tilt, like cat pose.
As a result, we lose the natural curve of our lower back. This can lead to all kinds of lower back pain, tightness in the groin and hip flexors and reduced lung capacity. Yuck! Who would want any of that?
Are you starting to understand why the pubic bone – or more accurately, the pubic symphysis – is so important? The PS is a specific landmark we can all connect to, and by moving this landmark down and back, we can finally move out of the pelvic tuck, and the lumbar curve is restored! Plus, by restoring the natural curves of the spine, you may just give your poor psoas a much-deserved break!
So if your teacher is yammering on and on about the pubic bone, it’s likely because he/she is trying to get you out of your habit and move you back into your body’s natural alignment. The first action is the movement of the PS (or the bottom of your zipper) down and back. The second action is to heavy the tailbone. The dropping of the PS is the primary action – this is the prana or inhale pattern. The dropping of the tailbone is the secondary action – this is the apana or exhale pattern. When you find both, a kind of alchemy will spontaneously occur right there on your mat. It feels amazing! Suddenly there’s space in your lower back! You can breathe in easily and breathe out completely. Hallelujah!
Luckily, locating our tailbones seems to be easier for most of us than locating our pubic bones. Plus the word ‘tailbone’ just isn’t as startling as hearing ‘pubic’ bone.
But ‘coccyx’ on the other hand… I might just start giggling again.