Ever had that experience when you think you’re doing what the teacher said, then they adjust you and it’s totally different to what you had been doing? I know I have, so so many times. Verbal cues are essential as a teacher can’t adjust everyone at once, yet they are so open to interpretation. They also require a certain level of body awareness from the student. If you throw some dubious cues into the mix then things can go a little pear shaped.
‘Tuck the tail bone’ is a favourite of teachers, particularly in Warrior or other standing poses. The reason for the cue is often people are tight through Psoas and so have an exaggerated lordosis (curve in the lumbar spine). The cue to tuck the tail bone is to encourage people to bring the pelvis back to neutral, reducing that curve and easing any crunching in the lower back. It a can be effective, but it can create strange activation patterns and transfer stress elsewhere in the body.
Performing this action involves engagement of the glutes and literally tucking the tail like a scared dog. This gives a good visual of the flow on through the posture from this action. It tends to close the shoulders forward. This may be great if that is what the pose requires, as in some arm variations in Warrior 1 or 2. This action also pushes the pelvis forward changing the dynamics at the hip joint.
Using the cue ‘roll the top of the hip bones back’ creates engagement in the core, a follow on from the ‘rib to hip’ connection. It’s an open and lifting version rather than a tucking and pushing forward of the pelvis. You could also visualise the pelvis as a bowl, a neutral pelvis doesn’t allow spills from the bowl. If we consider the core as energy storage, which it is, breaking the chain here with a forward pelvis or crumpling in reduces core access and energy ‘spill’. We stay more connected to our centre and stability with the neutral pelvis.
Play with the subtleties in your own body, practice variations of this type of cue and feel the activation of different muscle groups with them. Notice what happens throughout the body and how it changes the feel of the posture. If you are a teacher, watch the shifts carefully in students. It’s a subtle difference in interpretation perhaps and yet it can create vast differences in experience.