In almost any yoga class, at some point in seated positions, you will be asked to sit up on your Sitz Bones. For most new yoga students, this creates a raised eyebrow: What the heck are those, and why do we need such precise directions just to sit, anyway?
Your Sitz Bones (also commonly referred to as “sitting bones,” “sit bones,” or sometimes “buttocks bones”) refer to the very bottom part of your pelvis. You feel your Sitz Bones most when you sit, because this is the part of the pelvis that bears weight in seated positions. But because we have large muscles, fatty tissue, and flesh here, they are often difficult to notice.
The pelvic region is made up of the hip bone (or Coxal Bones/Coxae), sacrum (flat triangular bone at the bottom of your spine), and coccyx (tailbone). The hip bone itself is composed of the ilium, ischium, and pubis. So, very technically, the Sitz Bones are part of the ischium bones of your hips or pelvis and, even more specifically, they are the ischial tuberosities. “Ischion,” in Greek, means “hip.” “Tuberosity” simply means “protuberance” or “rough projection,” so your Sitz Bones are the two protruding bony parts at the very bottom of your pelvic region. Though the Sitz Bones are part of your hip bones, because we think of hips as at our sides, it might be more helpful to envision your entire pelvis. You don’t need all this specific vocabulary to learn, most simply, that you are trying to sit up and rest evenly on the protruding bones at the very bottom of your buttocks.
Why Care about your Sitz Bones?
Sitting on your Sitz Bones is part of good posture. If we do not balance on our Sitz Bones, we can over-curve our lower back and send our weight (and, over time, pain) to other areas. Sitting up on the Sitz Bones in certain asanas (yoga postures) helps you learn to balance the weight evenly on each side of the body, maintain proper tilt of the pelvis, and aids elongation of the natural axis of the spine, thereby enhancing healthy and comfortable posture.
In addition to preventing poor posture and injury, sitting on your Sitz Bones can help in other ways. Using conscience awareness to move bones into positions where they carry load properly leads to the conservation of muscular effort. We can keep our bodies in positions longer, without strain.
Moreover, your Sitz Bones are the point of origin for the inner thigh muscles and the three hamstrings. Runners and other athletes often get pain at their Sitz Bones from pulling their hamstrings. One possible solution to such pain is to encourage flexibility in the hamstrings, and this requires attentive positioning of the Sitz Bones. Tight hamstrings pull down on the pelvis, which pulls and flattens the lower spine. Over time, this can cause “thoracic kyphosis,” which looks like slumped posture, with a curve in the middle back and shoulders hunched forward. This can cause pain in that area or, eventually, herniated disks. Sitting up on your Sitz Bones may help correct this—and other—habitual pelvic misalignments. Tight quadriceps and a forward-tilted pelvis can lead to over-arching, or “lumbar lordosis,” or you may jut your head and neck forward and, when standing, put too much weight on your front feet. Or, you might habitually lean too far back and keep weight on your heels while standing.
In seated positions, attentively sitting up on your Sitz Bones brings awareness to the connection between your pelvis and spine, encouraging healthy posture. In many poses, such subtle adjustments also assist releasing muscles of the legs, motions that are even more pronounced in standing poses. Awareness of the position of your Sitz Bones can be brought into standing postures as well. Paying attention to your Sitz Bones while you stand can balance your pelvis, stabilize and make space for your spine, while also bringing attention to proper weight bearing in your feet.
Body awareness of the Sitz Bones is most easily explored while you sit. Just a little attention goes a long way.
How to Sit on your Sitz Bones
So, what do you do when your yoga instructor says “sit up on your sitz bones”? In general, it means sit up straighter and pull the flesh of your buttocks away from the underside center of your bottom. You may need to tip your pelvis forward slightly (bring the top of your pelvis forward while the bottom part goes back); very occasionally, some people need to tuck their pelvis instead (bottom of the pelvis goes forward, top goes back). Try to connect the protruding Sitz Bones to your mat, and allow them to support your weight evenly on each side. They feel like two little bony knuckles. If you still cannot find your Sitz Bones, try rocking slightly backward and forward to find the sensation of their protrusions. In many seated positions, you can also simply add height under your buttocks, by using blankets, a bolster, or even a block, to help balance on your Sitz Bones. This also helps lower the knees, lengthen the spine, and make many seated poses better aligned and thus more beneficial. Once you are firmly and evenly balanced on your Sitz Bones, make sure your shoulders are directly above your hips and elongate your spine and lift through the crown of your head, chin parallel to the floor. Voilà—you are now a sitting expert! Try this at your next yoga class.
Going Further with Yoga
As part of yoga practice, seated positions are often underappreciated.
The art of sitting helps you fine-tune your awareness, especially of internal states. Any furthering of sadhana (committed practice) requires a deep understanding and improvement of seated postures in order to enhance lung capacity and a steadiness and firmness of body and mind. Sitting asanas (yoga poses) allow effective Pranayama (breath control) and assist all forms of meditation. The self-realization made possible by yoga practice requires being well-grounded in how to sit well.
Many yoga practitioners resist what appear to be the simpler seated poses; they seem “too easy” and students often mistakenly think they “aren’t doing anything.” Beginning yoga students often find the subtle work of seated postures more frustrating than complicated and noticeably demanding ones. This is, in part, because much of contemporary society sends the message that if you are not overworking, you are not accomplished or maybe not even working at all. Additionally, subtle and attentive work—like noticing and refining the art of sitting—can be frustrating to those of us who are conditioned by habits of gripping, proving ourselves, and getting caught up in extremes. The nuances of the art of sitting are sometimes not easy to do precisely because they challenge us to be quiet, vulnerable, still, and open-minded, and learn to appreciate that which is crucial but often overlooked—like the Sitz Bones themselves.
Chau, Nikki, “Where are My Sitz Bones,” Yoga with Nikki Chau. Last Modified May 29, 2009.
Iyengar, Geeta S. Yoga: A Gem for Women. Spokane, Washington: Timeless Books, 2013, pages 164-165.
Keil, David. Functional Anatomy of Yoga: A Guide for Practitioners and Teachers. Chichester, England: Lotus Publishing, 2014. pages 101-161.
Lasater, Judith Hanson. Yogabody. Berkeley, California: Rodmell Press, 2009, pages 93-108.
Long, Ray. The Key Muscles of Yoga. New York: Bandha Yoga Publications, 2006 (org. 2005), pages 10-21.
Trostale, Lindsay. “The sitz bones [aka ischial tuberosities].” Thousand Petals Lotus Living.
Other Useful Links:
Rich, Tracey. “Five Keys to the Art of the Sit.” White Lotus Foundation. Santa Barbara, California.