LETTING GO OF REDUNDANT YOGA MANTRAS IN 2018: What do we mean by the mantra “Navel to Spine”? ← Back to Blog

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By Mary Paffard

Yes, I know it’s common parlance in many pilates and yoga classes. This term is used as a kind of blanket command that will get the deeper abdominal area engaged.  But does it? Most folks respond by activating an area of the upper abdomen, sometimes hardening around the diaphragm, and rarely glimpsing the delights of a connection in the hearth of the deep lower abdominal area.  This navel to spine rant encourages superficial muscular support rather than any sense of awakening this extraordinary 2nd chakra, back pelvis vitality.  It also leads to another mantra that still has some kind of vibrancy in yoga circles   “Tuck the Tailbone!”  

Admittedly both mantras can be precise and useful occasional yoga instructions.  But as mantras they have done so much long term damage.  Why?  Because they both undermine the entire freedom and stability of the spine as a curved and fluid structure, they bring an aura of “control” versus “explore” to our practice.     If you look at animal like a dog or cat who is fearful…what do they do? What do we do if we are afraid?  We tend to tuck and close down vulnerable areas like tail and belly!  On some simplistic logic, it makes sense to lengthen the spine in this way if your lower back is achey, but it’s a very temporary solution.  With the often accompanying instruction to bring “navel to spine”, we end up flattening the sacral area and cultivating pelvic instability and hip joint issues.  Never mind an overly “tight ass” which we deludedly consider some form of Mula Bandha!  

 “Navel to Spine” became de rigeur when the Pilates world infiltrated the yoga studio world.  I often send folks to skilled Pilates teachers.  Joe Pilates was originally inspired by yoga to help prevent the kind of injury and instability that is becoming more common in regular practitioners who perform both mantras over assiduously.  Again, navel to spine has its place as does occasional tucking and rounding, but how many more hardened diaphragms, flattened spines and lack of awareness in the lower extremity do these mantras need to create?  Could we not use a little more variety in our language and seek more than “tight abs and arse”?

Join me on February 11 at our Oakland studio for a deeper understanding of the abdominal area and using the interior body to support inversions and more challenging poses.


Mary Paffard has been teaching and training teachers nationally and internationally since 1985.  For more information about Mary visit www.maryyoga.com.