One alignment cue I hear far too often in yoga is to “tuck the tailbone”. Honestly, it’s one that I’d rather never hear again. Anyone in my classes will know that I get a twitch when I hear it. Why? Because 9 times out of 10 it’s counterintuitive to what we actually need, which is to stop tucking your tailbone in yoga poses.
Anatomy is amazing. I’ve been fortunate that my 200 and 300-hour yoga teacher training was super heavy in anatomy, physiology, and technique. We half-jokingly call ourselves ‘anatomy nerds’, but in reality it’s true. One thing I love to learn about is how our bodies move. And because of this, one thing I am sure of it’s that when standing the tailbone shouldn’t tuck! Read on to learn more or watch the video below.
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5 reasons you should stop tucking your tailbone
Firstly, let’s discuss what a tuck of the tailbone looks like. If you’ve done arch and flatten before, you’ll have moved through these positions: tucked, neutral and arched. Shown below you can see neutral, tucked and arched lie on the opposite extremes. Posterior and anterior tilt of the pelvis.
Secondly, I want to mention that there is nothing inherently wrong with the movement of tucking the tailbone. When it’s needed. And that depends on the PURPOSE of the movement. For something like cat pose, we need a tuck. However, for standing poses like tadasana we need to embrace the “S” curves of the spine.
Thirdly, most of us already in tucked position for the majority of the day. We sit to eat, sit to commute, then sit more at a desk to work. Even worse, we sit seated in a slouched position over-exaggerating the tuck of the pelvis. So why would we reinforce that tucked position with more lumbar flexion in our yoga. Again, SOME poses need a tuck, the majority don’t! You have to know. what you need.
Tucking shortens the pelvic floor
Tilting the pelvis posteriorly shortens the pelvic floor. While many think that this is a bonus, it’s not. Think of your pelvic floor like goldilocks, not too lax, and not too tight. A chronic short and tight pelvic floor can cause many issues. Such as: tailbone pain, low back pain, pain during intercourse, even prolapse, and incontinence.
Triggers fear/shame response
When we think about tucking the tailbone it’s easy to think about a dog tucking its tail in fear. No surprise then that tucking in humans elicits the same fear response. Tucking the tailbone creates a contracting of the front body, a pattern of fear, shame, and trauma. It’s a tough position in which to feel self-confident and empowered.
Another reason to stop tucking your tailbone is to allow the breath to to be
less constricted. Tucking the tailbone changes the action of the diaphragm and restricts breath. This can lead to anxiety and increase stress as we have to breathe more into the upper chest.
Decrease Glute Development
One major factor in tucking the tailbone is our glutes disappear. Tucking decreases glute development, reduces hip extension, tightens hamstrings, decreases hip extension and changes our natural gait. Instead of hip extension and long strides, tucking causes shorter more frequent steps, and less movement of the pelvis and lower back.
Disrupts lumbo-sacral rhythm
Tucking the tailbone reduces the lumbar curve and in doing so interferes with lumbosacral rhythm. Prolonged “flattening” of the lumbar curve can cause low back pain and degenerative disc disease. It can also alter the position of the organs and causing prolapse. Tucking causes the core stabilizing muscles to lose their focus on stabilizing the trunk and pelvis and instead, the lumbar flexors activate. The whole musculature around the pelvis gets confused and chaotic.
The Bottom line
In conclusion, know what you want from the yoga pose. Be aware that “standing tall” doesn’t mean flattening the lower back. It means embracing the natural curvatures of the spine. Remember, when standing, tucking the tailbone does not create more stability in the lower back. Stop tucking your tailbone.
- Have you heard this yoga cue before?
- What is your natural pelvic position?
- Do you spend a lot of time seated or in the tucked position?
This completely spoke to me as I have SI joint pain a LOT and the only relief I get is through yoga.
I definitely tuck my tailbone naturally and whether that’s through years of fear response is an interesting thought too.
Do you have any suggestions on how to train myself to untuck so that it will be my new normal?
Really great post from you
Thanks Ruth. I honestly think somatics and learning where my body moves, helped me so much in understanding my body. Fear response can lead to subconscious tucking so that may be something to dive into through therapy.
The devil is in the details. After studying Kung Fu and Taiji for over twenty years, I’ve found that “neutral” and “tucking” are both undesirable, but for opposite reasons. Tucking is too active, and introduces tension. Neutral is too passive, leaving a person’s lower back weak and vulnerable. People who do squats from the neutral position often end up sticking their butts out and struggling not to fall backwards as they get closer to the floor, and some tweak their backs while doing it.
I always use the analogy of letting the tailbone sink down. This strengthens the lower back without introducing tension. It frees up the breathing mechanism, and also allows for greater rotational ability. I’ve found that this approach makes using my “core” a natural part of my movement, which adds so much power to regular tasks. Also, whenever I meet people with lower back pain, bending their knees and sinking their tailbone has always given them immediate relief – sometimes for the first time in years.
A friend of mine is a physical trainer, and she very much disagrees with me on the “Eastern” approach I use. True enough, I have no formal credentials, so take what I’m say with a grain of salt, but at the end of the day, my friend suffers from severe back pain and declining strength, while physical activity for me is pain free, and keeps getting easier and more effective.
“letting the tailbone sink down” is also what my mentor would call “Sneaky tucking”, just not as forceful. The point was that the cue to tuck gets used as a blanket statement for everybody, when in fact that could be detrimental. It needs to be assessed on an individual basis depending on their current state.
Great information! Lately I’ve noticed I hold a lot of stress and tension in my pelvis and along with slouching, my hips tend to push forward at times and I also tuck my tailbone and clench my butt. It happens involuntarily and I have to consciously check myself, even moments after I get myself to relax it happens again! I am thinking this could be what’s attributing to my pelvic pain below my bellybutton.
Really working on better posture and relaxation.
I have the same challenge with it being involuntary. I have a standing desk and notice myself in the tucked position multiple times a day. My hamstrings have gotten super tight over the last year and I think this is one reason. Lately I’ve taken to swaying a little while I work just to try to keep everything loose. (Great information by the way.)
Hi Audrey, sorry for the tardy response life has been crazy. For a standing desk I’d look at doing some exercises every hour. Just 5 mins. I love standing desks but they do cause some postural issues as we tend to lock out our knees and tuck our tailbones, or stand lob-sided. So some knee lifts, desk dog (downward dog with hands on the desk), even some gentle standing ‘cat cow’ would help!
I am so happy to hear this. I just went to a Pelvic Health Physio with the problems you’re mentioning. One of the things she said right away “Don’t tuck your tailbone!”. “Why are you tucking your tailbone?” and I couldn’t answer her. I always thought I needed to tuck my tailbone even though it is uncomfortable and feel unnatural, but I did what I was told. Thank you for sharing the message! 🙂
I am really glad to read this! I’ve always had an arched sacrum and have been trying to strengthen my abdominals and pelvic floor and tucking my tailbone in the process. I currently can hardly walk due to lower back pain and I think this is why!
You and me both! When I discovered that my “fixing” of my natural arch was causing my back pain my jaw hit the floor. Lesson learned long ago but stuck with me!
I never knew that tucking could be so problematic. Thank you for throwing light at it. No more tucking for sure!
Yep a small movement that in the wrong circumstances can be problematic
That’s a very informative and helpful post. I will also follow your tips from now on
Great glad it helped!
I think I tuck my tailbone unknowingly…This is such an eye opening post. I should better check on my posture regularly.
Yep there are many reasons it can happen, mostly because we’re told to ‘stand straight”
Interesting… so much of this. I hadn’t thought of the fear response but I suppose anything is possible. I guess we all just do what we’re told and in accordance with what feels right for us. Thanks for sharing this.
Yes we do what we’re told but we need to question WHY. Sometimes the teacher isn’t informed.
When I saw the posture of a tucked tailbone, this gave me an idea of what might cause my back pain. Didn’t even know there is a lot going on in the body with a tucked tailbone. I’d better watch my posture more and keep this in mind.
Yep, been there with ya!
When I hear “tuck the tailbone”, I think of the ballet classes I took when I was a girl and the teacher repeating that instruction. It’s good to know that you should not be tucking your tailbone in most yoga poses!
Honestly, it shouldn’t be done in ballet either. Most teachers now know better!
I do spend a lot of time seated due to my work. I didn’t realise prolonged flattening could cause degenerative disc disease.
Yep, squishing the discs in an unnatural way.
This is interesting. Now I’m wondering whether I tuck my tailbone or not… I’m going to have to try standing in front of a mirror and seeing which of the silhouettes in your picture I match most closely. I don’t THINK that I tuck my tailbone but I could definitely be wrong with that!
Best way to think about when you walk, how much does your leg come behind you. If it doesn’t, most likely you tuck!
Wow! I didn’t even know on could tuck in their tailbone willingly. I’m not even sure how to tuck it in even if I wanted to lol
totally, it’s actually a tilt of the pelvis but the cue is the tailbone