Foundational Practices for Hips: A 3-Part Series – Part 3

A Real Pain in the Butt

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Many family, friends, and students have come to me to ask for help with an increasing pain in their gluteus muscles, the muscles at the back of the hip, the buttocks. There can be several different things happening to cause this pain in the back-end and if you are experiencing sharp and stabbing pain please visit your doctor to assess the cause. In this article I will address the over use of the piriformis and other smaller, shorter muscles embedded behind the gluteus muscles. This overuse is often a result of the under-use of the larger, stronger muscles of the gluteus (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus).

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It is very common for the gluteus muscles to underwork in many people. Even in very active people, these muscles can relinquish their important job to smaller muscles, thus leading to strain and over-work in those muscles.

There are two key experiences we need to give the body in order to start relieving the discomfort and re-train the proper work distribution in the hip and core muscles. First, we need to remember how to activate our gluteus muscles and, second, we need to de-activate the hard-working piriformis and friends.

First let’s find the gluteus muscles.

While standing, place one hand on the muscles at the back of your right hip and squeeze that muscle. Then release. You can repeat a few times to strengthen your awareness of this area. You are activating the right gluteus muscles.

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Now switch sides, placing your left hand on the muscles at the back of your left hip. Squeeze these muscles then release. Again repeat a few times to build increased awareness to this area.

At this point refer back to Part 2 of this article series and practice Tadasana using the block. Once you have located the gluteus muscles and the core muscles we can start to bring their work together.

Chair Pose (Ukatasana) with Block (Standing Variation)

Precautions: Knee instability or pain, lower back injury, bulging disc. Please get the “ok” from your doctor before proceeding.

  • Start in Tadasana with a block position discussed in Part 2. Chair-Pose-B
  • Squeeze the block with your adductor thigh muscles.
  • Maintain that work and now squeeze your gluteus muscles, both right and left at the same time and to the same degree of effort. You may notice that one side is willing to work harder than the other side. Bring the effort on both sides to a similar level.
  • Maintain the work of squeezing the block and engaging the gluteus muscles and then lift up your arms straight out and up as high as is comfortable.
  • While keeping your arms lifted begin to bend your knees, guiding your hips back, keeping your knees relatively over your ankles. Go slowly as your muscles, especially your gluteus muscles, may cease working as you go deeper into this posture.
  • Keeping the muscles working and your breath moving, bend your knees and send your hips back, coming into a Ukatasana or chair pose. Remember to keep squeezing the block.
  • You may feel your muscles fatigue and stop working. That is ok. Simply release the pose, let the muscles rest for a moment, and then come back in.
  • Hold this muscular work and shape for 5 – 10 breaths.
  • On an inhale breath slowly rise back up to standing and then release the muscular effort and the block.
  • Return to Tadasana and take 5 – 10 breaths noticing what your body and mind are experiencing.

Chair Pose (Ukatasana) with Block (Seated Variation)

Precautions: Lower back injury, bulging disc. Please get the “ok” from your doctor before proceeding

  • Start in Tadasana with a block position discussed in Part 2. chair-yoga-urdhva-hastasana-arms-e1451969508374-918x1024
  • Squeeze the block with your adductor thigh muscles.
  • Maintain that work and now fire your gluteus muscles, both right and left at the same time and to the same degree of effort. You may notice that one side is willing to work harder than the other side. Bring the effort on both sides to a similar level.
  • Maintain the work of squeezing the block and engaging the gluteus muscles and then lift up your arms straight up, as high as is comfortable. Lean forward at a 45-degree angle with your upper body.
  • Keep the muscles working and your breath moving. Remember to keep squeezing the block. You may feel your muscles fatigue and stop working. That is OK. Simply release the pose, let the muscles rest for a moment and then come back in.
  • Hold the muscular work and shape for 5 – 10 breaths.
  • On an inhale breath slowly lift your torso back up, release your arms and then release the muscular effort and the block.
  • Return to Tadasana and take 5 – 10 breaths noticing what your body and mind are experiencing.

Little Bridge (Setubandhasana) with Block (Floor Variation)

Precautions: Neck or spine injury or concerns (such as bulging disc, osteoporosis, damage to the joints or bones). Please get the “ok” from your doctor before proceeding.

  • Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent, your heels Bridgeland Yoga 2014_248directly below your knees and your hands at your sides.
  • Place a block between your thighs, just like you did in Part 2.
  • Squeeze the block with your thigh muscles, feeling the hip, lower back and pelvic floor muscles also work to help.
  • Now engage (squeeze) your gluteus muscles evenly.
  • Slowly lift your hips from the floor while maintaining the squeezing of the block and the engagement of the gluteus muscles. Lift your hips only as high as you can while still maintaining the muscle engagement.
  • Hold the position for 5 – 10 breaths. Remember to keep squeezing the block.
  • Slowly lower your hips to the floor, maintaining the muscular effort and your breath. Once the hips are back on the floor, gently release the block and release the effort and any possible tension from the muscles.
  • Pause in this position for 5 breaths.
  • Repeat 2 more times.

Little Bridge (Setubandhasana) with Block (Chair Variation)

Precautions: Neck or spine injury or concerns (such as bulging disc, osteoporosis, damage to the joints or bones). Please get the “ok” from your doctor before proceeding.

  • Sit in a chair, with your feet on the floor or on blocks and your knees bent. Place your heels directly below your knees.
  • Place a block between your thighs.index
  • Bring your hands to the sides of the back of the chair, holding about mid-back so your elbows are able to bend.
  • Squeeze the block with your thigh muscles, feeling the hip, lower back and pelvic floor muscles also work to help.
  • Now engage your gluteus muscles evenly.
  • Slowly lift your chest upwards and your shoulders back while maintaining the squeezing of the block and the engagement of the gluteus muscles. Arch your upper back slightly and draw the back of your hips toward the seat of the chair.
  • Hold the position for 5 – 10 breaths.
  • Slowly, on an inhale, bring your spine back to centre, maintaining the muscular effort. Once the spine has returned to its upright position gently release the block and release the muscular effort and any possible tension from the muscles.
  • Pause in seated Tadasana for 5 breaths.
  • Repeat 2 more times.

Part 1

Part 2

Foundational Practices for Hips: A 3-Part Series – Part 2

Getting to the Core

With your growing awareness of what conscious foot placement feels like (see Part 1), let’s work on another important stabilizing part of the body: the core.

There are many muscles and joints that are involved in what we call “the core.” As the picture below illustrates, your core is made up of the abdominal, back, hip, and leg muscles. When developed in conjunction with each other, these muscles align, move, and support the spine, hips and to a lesser extent the knee joints.

Anatomy-Core-Muscles

Having a “strong” core means having balanced muscle development, mobile and stable joints, and responsiveness in the connective tissue. Just like building awareness of foot placement, before improving core strength it is important that we first have a sensory awareness of the parts of our core. There are several ways to do this. I will offer one practice that has, over the years, proved very effective for students in locating the key areas of their core.

Strange as it may sound, to find your core we will begin with your legs. The thighs and especially inner thigh muscles (adductors) have a significant role in providing support to all the other core muscles and joints. These adductor muscles are also attached, by way of the calf, to the foot. And thus, we started with your feet and now we move to the adductor muscles of your thighs, the foundational muscles of your core.

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bricks

 

For this practice you can either stand or sit. You will require a Yoga brick or similar prop. It shouldn’t be heavy but does need to be about the width of the narrowest part of a Yoga brick.

 

 

Tadasana with block (Standing)

  • Stand with conscious foot yoga-block-between-the-thighsplacement (see Part 1) and your arms at your side, palms facing forward.
  • Place a block between your thighs (above your knees).
  • Release any lock in your knees so that you feel weight being supported in the feet and not in the knee joints.
  • Take a few breaths like this and feel your feet, legs, back, shoulders and neck placement.
  • Squeeze the block with your inner-thigh muscles.
  • Feel the strength of these muscles. You may notice that one side squeezes the block more than the other side. You may be challenged to maintain this engagement. That is OK, do the best you can and release when you need to. Simply come back into the practice when you are ready.
  • As you continue to squeeze the block with your adductor muscles, can you feel other muscles also working? Maybe you feel your pelvic floor muscles or hip muscles working. Do you feel any back muscles or other thigh muscles trying to help out?
  • Maintain this muscular effort for 5 – 10 breaths noticing what you are feeling: What muscles are working, how your joints feel, and how your breath moves.
  • Keeping the knees unlocked and the feet aligned, begin to subtly draw the back ofhow-to-fix-anterior-pelvic-tilt your hips downward toward the back of your thighs, a slight posterior pelvic tilt. This is not a very big action and involves a tilt of the hips down the back not a pressing of the hips forward. So be sure to keep your hips over top of your heels. As you take this action while maintaining the squeezing of the block, you may notice the lower belly muscles join in to the work, as well as more of the back and side muscles.

 

  • Ensure you stay upright in your torso and open through your chest as you sustain all this work for another 5 breaths.
  • Release the muscle activation and slide the block out from between your thighs.
  • Return to your Tadasana, releasing the activation and any possible tension from the muscles that were working so hard just a moment ago.
  • Take 5 – 10 breaths here, allowing the muscles to relax.
  • Repeat this practice 2 more times.

Tadasana with block (Seated)

  • Sit in a chair with your hips centred on the seat of the chair and yourChair tadasana spine upright. Extend your arms at your sides, palms forward.
  • Place your feet in conscious alignment (see Part 1) with your heels below your knees.
  • Place a block between your thighs (above your knees).
  • Take a few breaths like this and feel your feet, legs, back, shoulders and neck placement.
  • Squeeze the block with your inner-thigh muscles.
  • Feel the strength of these muscles. You may notice that one side squeezes the block more than the other side. You may notice a challenge maintaining this engagement. That is ok, do the best you can and release when you need to. Simply come back into the practice when you are ready.
  • As you continue to squeeze the block with your adductor muscles, can you feel other muscles also working? Maybe you feel pelvic floor muscles or hip muscles firing up. Do you feel any back muscles working or other thigh muscles trying to help out?
  • Maintain this muscular effort for 5 – 10 breaths, noticing what you are feeling: What muscles are working, how your joints feel, and how your breath moves.
  • Keeping the feet aligned and begin to subtly draw the back of your how-to-fix-anterior-pelvic-tilthips downward into the seat of the chair. This action is not very big and involves a tilt of the hips down the back not a pressing of the hips forward. As you take this action while maintaining the squeezing of the block you may notice the lower belly muscles join in the work now, as well as more of the back and side muscles.

 

  • Ensure you stay upright in your torso and open through your chest as you sustain all this work for another 5 breaths.
  • Release the muscle activation and slide the block out from between your thighs.
  • Return to your seated Tadasana, releasing the activation and any possible tension from the muscles that were working so hard just a moment ago.
  • Take 5 – 10 breaths here, allowing the muscles to relax.
  • Repeat this practice 2 more times.

With the help of the block you were able to engage many of the muscles that make up your core. As well you may have felt how, when these muscles are working in conjunction with each other, there is an expanding and supportive effect on the embedded joints (hip, spine, knees).  Using a block in this way is very helpful for many students in activating their true core muscles as well as heightening the awareness to this area.

Part 1

Part 3

Foundational Practices for Hip Stability: A 3-Part Series – Part 1

Let’s talk foot placement

feet-image

We all stand a little, or sometimes a lot, differently. Some of us stand with one foot slightly turned out, or in. Some stand with both feet turned out, or in. You might stand with more weight on your right foot while someone else may stand with more weight on their left foot. Some people stand more on their heels and some people lean into their toes. These are the habits of the body, built over time or through injury. Any foot placement slightly off its neutral alignment can cause a chain reaction through the joints, muscles, and connective tissue up the body. These minor shifts are the body’s way of trying to maintain equilibrium. At first these shifts in stance may not be an issue, the body is brilliant at adapting and adjusting to maintain balance, but over time, over years, or decades of habitual foot placement, the other joints will have taken on undue pressure, skewed movement and imbalanced weight distribution which may contribute to ankle, knee, hip, lower back, and other issues.

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To help re-train the body and take the skewed pressure and imbalance off the joints and muscles, we start with how we stand in our feet.

Looking down at your feet, notice the angles from your toes to your heels. For most people, though you may have to adjust a bit, aligning your second and third toes to the centre of your ankle will place the ankle joints in a neutral, or low pressure, position.

You may notice that when you place your feet in this aligned way, your knees feel different, or your hips feel tilted, or your back shifts. This is the body realigning itself to a new foundation.  As long as you are not experiencing pain after placing your feet in this way you can continue the practice. If you find you experience pain in your joints because of shifting the placement of your feet please visit your doctor to identify what may be going on.

To further assist your body in finding the new alignment, try placing your feet directly underneath your hips. This will allow some pressure to reduce in the hip joints. The simplest way to measure this is to make your hands into fists and place these two fists side-by-side between your feet.

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Once you’ve set up your feet, stand (or sit) tall and notice what you feel in your body and breath. Try releasing your knees slightly if they are in a locked position and allow the experience of weight to travel down into your feet. Now that your knees are set up in this consciously-aligned way your feet are ready and able to support the whole body.

Try building your foot-awareness throughout your day. You can align your feet when you are standing in the grocery store, or at your kitchen sink. You can practice this when you are brushing your teeth or sitting at your desk. Giving your feet and, in turn your whole body, this experience, even just for a little bit each day, will help to re-train the muscles, joints and connective tissue to maintain this supportive alignment.

Beginning with a conscious foundation will support your practice, your body and your mind.

Part 2

Part 3