Do you know where your Sacrum lives? Do you know when it’s hurtin’ or happy? Could it be important to your health? Well from the point of view of your physical structure it’s the central bone in your skeleton. That sounds big. It is the wedge shaped one at the base of your spine that fits into your pelvic ring, like a keystone in an arch, where the upper and lower body join together. Without a keystone, in its right place, you don’t have structural integrity.
The word means sacred since it was once thought to be the seat of the soul and was closely associated with the organs of reproduction. To the Taoists it is important for structural and energetic reasons, reasons that often account for a bad back or a wobbly balance or a lack of feeling grounded.
Because your sacrum is the root of your spine, and is flexible, we need to talk about that relationship. There is some controversy about what a healthy spine is shaped like. Everyone agrees that it should be vertical as seen from the front or the back and that it should not be twisted. No one thinks scoliosis or torque is a good idea. From the side view we have our differences.
1. The current favorite textbook model is a serpentine shape with backward curves at the sacrum and ribs and forward curves in the neck and low back.
2. Recently another model has emerged, called a J shape, a relatively straighter spine, especially the lumbar, with a backward curve at the sacrum, which is thought to be a more natural indigenous form, predating our sedentary lifestyle.
3. A third model is also a J but with the tailbone curve going forward, which you find in the likes of Tai Chi and other martial arts.
As you might expect I’m making the case for number three, but I’m not wading into the morass of denigrating the other two.
Chi Gung/Qigong has a basic premise that your body alignments are important because they set the conditions for your energy to flow freely. It’s something like water flowing faster in a straight line flume than around curves which diminish the force and speed. So a straighter, more vertical spine is considered preferable to a curved one.
Consider the efficiency of the physics. Verticality by definition means aligned with gravity and hence is ironically the one position (except horizontal) where a spinal column can most be at rest. Tilts and curves require muscular effort to maintain, the bigger the more, so they’re considered to be a waste of energy. Any muscle/fascia/ tendon tension will inhibit the energy flow.
That’s within your body but we also live between the heavens and the earth which exude their own energies. These are essentially vertical flows descending down and springing up so a vertical spine has the best chance of being receptive to them. This is one of the reasons to sit with a straight spine when you meditate.
So what about the forward curve at the bottom? It’s not much of a curve; the sacrum is still vertical or just slightly tucked under. This is meant to send the energy from the spine down the legs and into the feet and the ground, so it gets your upper body grounded. And Grounding is considered to be immensely important. Connecting to the earth gives you stability, physically and meta-physically. Physical stability has the effect of amplifying mental and emotional stability and who might like more of that? From a martial arts perspective, say Push Hands, there are practitioners who are so well grounded it feels like you’re pushing against the earth itself.
To achieve this kind of rootedness the tailbone angle has to be just right. Again, your best indicator is a vertical sacrum but there is some leeway in the angle. A partner can help you find the tolerances: Standing, with your knees just slightly bent, have them take hold of your ilia (hip/pelvic bones, your waist) and press straight down toward your feet with 5-10 pounds of pressure. If the sacrum is too far off vertical the force will go off in that direction and you will start to lose balance. You want the angle where you feel the force going directly into your feet.
It helps to drop your sacrum out of your spine. What does that mean? It means lengthening the low back downward and creating a little more space in the vertebral joints. You can get a feel for this by placing one or both of your hands, maybe the knuckles, on your backside just below your waist and letting the weight of your arms weigh down. Eventually you want to accomplish the drop by just relaxing downward, no hands.
If you can find the exact hinge point of your sacrum and lowest vertebrae (L5/S1 in our lingo) try to drop open right there.
Finding the physical connection from the upper body to the lower, from the spine to the feet, is relatively easy. Finding the energetic connection is trickier. It is largely a mental exercise where you use your mind to feel the pathways, the simplest path being a line down the backs of your legs, like those seamed stockings that are long out of fashion.
There are degrees of the energetic skill and there are a few ways to develop it.
1. You can trace the lines with your hands as described at length here.
2. Dissolving works well. This is where you relax your physical tension at deeper and deeper levels, effectively removing the impediments to flow. That’s the Yin way.
3. The Yang way involves internally pushing down and pulling up your fluids, blood, synovial, and interstitial. Sounds advanced? It is. I say a bit more about it in this yoga post.
It can take a lot of time and practice to your get your sacrum grounded while standing, and that’s one of the reasons so many qigong exercises are done standing in one place; there are fewer distractions. Once you get it in your body reliably you can move on to other positions like standing with your weight on one leg, bending over a workbench, squatting down, etc.
Eventually you will want to learn it while moving around. A simple trick, again, is to walk around with one or both of your hands weighing down on your sacrum. Walking is one of the best places to get it since it’s probably our single most common activity. The very least you’ll walk away with is a happier back and better balance & stability.