We aren’t ever really “squaring the hips”.
Your two hips are on either side of your pelvis, where the pelvis and upper leg bone (the femur) meet.
On the mat, what we mean if we are using the words “square the hips”, is to “square the pelvis“.
This more accurate phrase typically means bringing the front plane of the pelvis parallel to the front or side edge of your yoga mat.
We are often trying to, cuing, or being cued to “square” in positions where the two hips are in quite opposite directions. For example:
- Warrior I
- Warrior II
- Half Moon
- The Splits
The Anatomy of Squaring the Pelvis
Beyond approximately 80 or 90 degrees of angle separating the femurs (the thighs), inevitably your pelvis will adapt to whatever orientation is necessary to accommodate this leg position. Most of the time in a strongly asymmetrical position, unless the person practicing has extremely shallow hip sockets, the pelvis is not facing 90 degrees from either leg.
Watch this video for a visual:
In poses where the legs are either not separated very much, or are in symmetrical positions, like:
- Mountain pose (Tadasana)
- Wide Angle pose (Konasana)
- even Pyramid pose (Parsvattonasana)
…the pelvis can typically be “squared”.
This will depend on the individual, of course, and many humans who are naturally stiffer will have even less ability to “square” their pelvis.
More information about that can be found here:
Semantics? Too Literal?
Is this post taking the cue “Square the hips” too literally or being overly-semantic? Maybe.
But instructing to “square the hips” in shapes where it is not possible, is both an inaccurate and harmful cue.
It is not intended to be a harmful cue. But the cue encourages students to force positions that are not practically attainable for most. Therein lies at minimum the psychological harm, which can cause true physical harm over time.
Secondly, this cue reinforces the idea that the body can conform to geometric shapes. It is a form of perfectionism that denies our organic biology. Despite the Sanskrit root “kona” often translated to “angle”, in the title of many yoga poses, your body is NOT made up of right angles.
For many yoga teachers, including myself, using the cue “square the hips” is a habit. Like any habit, it may take time to break it. But it is worth replacing the phrase with the more accurate version “square the pelvis” and using it more judiciously in poses where the action is actually possible.
Have you read our previous blog post about this subject? Have you stopped using the cue “Square your hips”? As always, we welcome your thoughts in the comments below and will do our best to respond to each and every one.