The Myth of Tucking The Tailbone

Instructor Jimi Antoine demonstrates the (dangerous) practice of Tucking the Tailbone

The single most destructive posture practice I've witnessed in my fifty years of traditional healing and martial art experience is Tucking the Tailbone. Demonstrated in the above photo, the practice involves purposeful flattening of the lumbar curve of the lower back. As will be described below, this destructive practice denatures the body's design for power and flex. The following represents a typical report from a student who, as a Tai Chi student in another program, was instructed by to tuck in the tailbone during chi kung (qigong) and Tai Chi practice:

When I first began Tai Chi and chi kung training with my first teacher, I was taught to flatten by lumbar spine and round (hunch) my shoulders forward. I found that although I was getting a peaceful feeling from the slow repetitive movements of these exercises, after a few weeks of classes, physical problems I had with my body were accentuated. My shoulders, hips and neck began giving me more problems. I felt something was wrong. Later I learned how to practice “suspension” while maintaining the curve of the lower back. This took the pressure off my former “resting points” and helped a lot. I felt my body get more connection and power. Instead of flattening the lumbar curve, the system of suspension built upon and sustained the natural lumbar spine. I now carry this way of training my body into all my present practices including meditation, kung fu, chi kung and simply walking. I feel like I am making progress.
--- Ryan

Ryan’s experience is unfortunately a common by students I've worked with who were taught as part of their former practice to " tuck the tailbone." For years I wondered why students would persist in the study of something that was so damaging to their health. The answer is that there are many who will go to extraordinary lengths, even breaking their body’s natural connection and design, if they believe the practice will gain them POWER. Ironically, although over the last forty years of mostly friendly sparring matches with martial artists from almost every style, I have never been impressed with the power of someone who tucks in the tailbone. That doesn't mean they don't exist, only that I haven't seen them. In my experience, those who do practice Tucking the Tailbone move clumsily, carry tense posture and facial expression and have always complained of neck problems. Unfortunately, many teachers promote this unhealthy practice. More discussion and consideration of research supporting this point after these pictures of the highly regarded internal martial arts master, Fu Shu-yun

Photos show no evidence that Master Fu denatured her lower back shape

So, how should the serious student approach this problem? First, understand and deeply appreciate the ingenious design of the body and learn to favor training that promotes/ maintains/ enhances the body’s natural design. Second, don't be afraid to think "outside the box" and refuse to automatically accept what others –– including martial art masters –– are telling you to think.
(There are many individuals who are heavily invested in getting others to think like them). For that matter, don't automatically believe what I write either, consider the evidence on your own and make up your own mind. Here is some more evidence.

Pete Egoscue's "CONDITION III"

Pete Egoscue well known for the San Diego based clinic and and the therapy system he developed believes in respecting the body’s natural design. What he refers to as "condition III" (illustrated in the above diagram from his book) appears to be a description of what happens when someone artificially tucks the tailbone.

According to Pete, unnatural flattening of the lumbar curve leads to anxiety, lack of confidence, and because the eyes seek to perceive a level horizon, to counter-balance the unnatural flattening of the lumbar curve, compensation occurs by forward hunching of the shoulders.
In The Egoscue Method: Healing through Motion [ Amazon link here ] Pete emphasizes three habitual posture conditions that are detrimental to health. One of these, Condition III, he describes in the following way:

"until recent years, this pattern the action (of pointing the hips upwards instead of level) was mostly seen in women, but in recent years, increasing numbers of men have been diagnosed with this condition."

Pete continues: . . . In Condition III, the hips are tilted under, which tips the top of the pelvis to the rear as though a pair of hands had gripped the hips from behind, pulling back and down and with tremendous force.

Imagine the pelvis as a satellite dish with the concave portion pointing straight ahead to a point on the far horizon. The dysfunction is pulling to the sky at an angel. A principle effect of the hip displacement is to flatten out the S-curve of the spine . [emphasis added]. The other characteristics of Condition III are rounded, slumping shoulders and a head that juts forward until it seems like a miracle that the whole body doesn't topple over. You probably recognize what I am describing. It's the posture of despair and dejection, depression and defeat. We see it in photographs of prisoners of war, the homeless, drug addicts, and inmates on death row.
From: The Egoscue Method: Healing through Motion by Pete Egoscue

Ken Dychtwald
Here's how Dychtwald therapist and author of Bodymind describes the same phenomenon
[Amazon book link]

When the pelvis is tipped upward (so the liquid would flow from the back of the bowl), causing a flattening of the lower back, there tends to be a lessening of sexual energy and focus. This pelvis position is usually associated with a holding in of sexual feelings. It is not uncommon to find that when the pelvis is situated in this position it tends to be rather trim and undeveloped. People with flat rear end also frequently have legs that are either rigid or undeveloped, displaying a corresponding inability to stay focused or grounded in any emotional activity. Structurally, I have noticed that when people have their pelvises excessively tipped in this fashion, there tends to be a decrease in the amount of energy that goes into the legs, which have to do with grounding and focus, and the belly, and a corresponding over-development of the chest, which has to do with expressing and controlling, and the head, which is concerned with thinking and rationalizing. As a result, many of these people are prone to suffer from a variety of corresponding physical problems, including frequent leg injuries, sexual dysfunction, bladder irritability, abdominal tension, hemorrhoids, lower back pain, and tension headaches .

Left: Intermediate level student in “open embrace posture” Right: Advanced student in same posture

Two students demonstrating correct standing posture. The student to the left is intermediate level, and the right more advanced.
Both examples show correct and safe “standing practice” involves naturally holding the body so the that natural curve of the lumbar spine is maintained. The posture allows the head and upper back to rest over the pelvis in a straight “plumb line.” Such a posture allows the muscles of intercostals (rib cage) to become involved in the training.

In conclusion, a student of should be wary of fantasy stories that suggest practice of unnatural exercise that could harm the body. Be cautious to avoid any training method that breaks the body's natural connective-ness and integration, especially those involving flattening of the lower curve of the spine and tucking in the tailbone. In my experience, such ill advised training can cause years of damage and weakness to the body. The general rule: one cannot violate the laws of the body's design without paying a price. I am available to consult with any senior student or instructor who has questions about this matter without charge.