So… I have been working as a yoga teacher – and more recently Alexander teacher – for a few years now. Something that really fascinates me is how culture is written on the body. We are all born with the same skeleton, more or less. We have the same bones in the same structure with the same connective tissue. Use affects structure, creating patterns of tension, of strength and weakness… So we individualize our tissues. We write our concepts of self onto our bodies through our use.
Have you ever met someone and felt as though you knew a lot about them just from first glance? These ideas are of course assumptions, but you might be surprised at how many of them are true. How are you forming these ideas within seconds? Well, over time, someone’s outlook on life becomes written into their face. Through the use of certain muscles to smile or to laugh or to frown repeatedly over many years, lines and patterns and wrinkles are formed… creating in the end an accurate picture of how someone thinks and feels on an everyday basis. In other words: your outlook becomes your look.
But beyond individual use, culture is written onto the body in ways we don’t even recognize. One specific example I want to investigate is the use of the pelvis. At some point in almost every yoga class, you will do a forward fold or a backbend. These poses involve an anterior and a posterior pelvic tilt, respectively.
The pelvis is debatably the most beautiful bone structure in the body. It is a set of four bones (two hip bones – illium ischium and pubis, sacrum and coccyx) that uncannily resembles a butterfly (these drawings are looking down from the perspective of the front ribs):
It is true that the male and female pelvises are built slightly differently, to allow women’s pelvises to stretch for childbirth. However, it is difficult to say whether the difference in the tilt of the pelvis is genetic or cultural: nature versus nurture, if you will.
Here is a cool guide to pelvic tilts I found online:
In my work as a yoga and AT teacher, I have noticed that almost all my female students come in with an anterior pelvic tilt (first picture), whether subtle or severe, and many of the injuries or tensions they complain about can be traced back to or related to that pelvic tilt. In contrast, almost all my male students come in with a posterior pelvic tilt (as in the second or third pictures), subtle or severe, and many of their injuries could be related to that.
I myself had quite an extreme anterior pelvic tilt before I began my journey of body awareness. This tilt contributed to my flared ribs, my lower back compression, my hyper-extended knees and my tight hip flexors. Forward folds in yoga class were a piece of cake for me…. I relished in them. I bet my female readers can relate! In contrast, the guys around me always had to sit up on blocks and could barely fold forward past 90 degrees, let alone hug their toes. But every yin has its yang, and when we would move onto lunges, stretching open the hip flexors in the front hips, it was definitely the ladies (myself the worst of all) who felt the burning fires of hell in their loins. So what was going on?
Hmmm…. I see a pattern here. Could it have anything to do with this?
I literally just googled “sexy woman” and did not see one single photo that didn’t contain an anterior pelvic tilt.
Okay… now let’s try “sexy man”…
Wow. Look at those posterior pelvic tilts… sooooooo sexy. *note sarcasm. (I admit, I did see one picture of a man with an anterior pelvic tilt… but I am gonna bet you this is not targeted at a heterosexual audience:)
So… what have we learned? Pretty much our culture is teaching us that to be sexy (in the heteronormative way), all men have to thrust their hips forward, tilting the pelvis back, and all women have to thrust their butts back, tilting the pelvis forward. … Wow. F**k you, culture.
So… when women come in complaining that their hip flexors are tight, their low backs hurt, they have weak knees or hyperextended hamstrings, I tell them to look around at the advertising they are exposed to. Similarly, when men tell me that they cannot bend forward, their hamstrings and glutes are so tight, or their chest and front shoulders are contracted forward, I ask how many billboards and commercials and tv shows they have encountered throughout their lives. Whether or not we are choosing to look at cultural standards of beauty and consciously shape our bodies that way, or if we are just exposed to them on a daily basis against our wills, this culture is leaving its imprint on our bodies, causing us gendered tensions.
Could knowing our own body’s design and using it with freedom not be the ideal sexy body type for all human beings?
So what to do with this knowledge?
I am NOT advocating that you consciously use effort or muscular action to try to correct your pelvic tilt. If reading this has revolutionized your pelvic awareness, then that is a huge step in and of itself. If you do notice a cultural posturing of your pelvis, then play with asking yourself what you are doing to pull your pelvis out of alignment and see if you can undo that action rather than adding on another counter-action in opposition (this is only creating more tension). You cannot fix your body. But you can undo the things that you are doing to pull it out of its natural, free, aligned design. Of course, seeking the help of an Alexander Technique professional or certified yoga teacher or anyone with training in the body awareness field can help you undo rather than do more harm.
If you found this useful, or if you have any feedback or thoughts, please let me know and share on social media. Spreading the love and changing the world one consciousness at a time.