UNLOCK YOUR HIPS

UNLOCK YOUR HIPS

 OUTER HIP STRENGTH AND FLEXIBILITY FOR THE LOW BACK AND S.I. JOINT

 

THE LOW BACK AND S.I. JOINT

Low back pain or S.I. Joint instability are quite common for many people and the cause seems to be a mystery. What most people don’t realize is that pain is usually the result of weak or underdeveloped muscles resulting in the overcompensation by other muscles. In other words, the body develops patterns that are perhaps not the best when it comes to our well-being. Why does it develop patterns? All of nature adapts to the environment. As beings of nature, we do exactly the same thing – the body adapts to what we give it. If we give it a shape and hold that shape for the majority of the day then it will develop patterns of elongated muscles and shortened muscles. Some of the muscles that tend to cause problems for the low back that are often overlooked are the ABDUCTORS of the Hips. 3 of the muscles that make up the abductors are the Gluteus medius, Gluteus Minimus and T.F.L. You can see in the photo to the right (or below if you’re on mobile) that the gluteus medius attaches to each side of the pelvis and to the top of the thigh bone. 

LOW BACK PAIN

The two sides of the pelvis are actually independently mobile structures due to the sacrum that lies in the middle which has a joint on either side that is called the S.I. Joint. This joint allows the pelvis on each side to move. This is a blessing but could also be a curse if the abductor muscles are out of balance. If one side is tight and the other flexible this could cause the pelvis to tilt, potentially resulting in low back discomfort or scoliosis. This was the case for me.

Growing up, I played hockey which strengthens the abductors. Unfortunately, I favored my right leg significantly which caused an over development and shortening of the musculature on the right side resulting in scoliosis and back pain throughout high school and college until about a year into yoga when I finally learned how to unlock my hips!

S.I JOINT

Now for other people, the low back isn’t affected but the S.I. Joint is. This seems to be most common amongst women, especially those that have had children – the ligaments tend to be more lax and so the sacrum can move inside the two sides of the pelvis resulting in pain on the back of the pelvis or radiating through the lower back near the pelvis and sacrum.

THE SOLUTION

There are many muscles that surround the pelvis that can pull on either side of the ilium or sacrum which could create pain, so where do we begin? Often times it can be overwhelming and ineffective to target all the hip and back muscles every yoga practice, so it is useful to focus on one area per practice. In the video below I share with you ways of working on the Abductor group for strength and range of motion. You may find that one side is not as strong as the other – if this is the case I recommend strengthening the weaker side which will help bring the abductors into balance.

I do have a workshop called Hips: Rock and Unlock Em that I created as a way to target as many of these muscles within one practice. You could start there to get a feel for what areas of your hips are underdeveloped or out of balance.

In addition, I highly recommend the JULY IMMERSION which focuses on the Chakras. The first 5 practices of that immersion will awaken your strength, flexibility and awareness of the muscles that surround the hips.

OPEN YOUR HIPS AND HEART

The July Immersion takes you on a 12 Class Journey through the Chakras and the elements, to develop your strength, flexibility, and awareness of each energy center and the corresponding muscles. There is a heavy focus on the Hips in the Earth, & Water classes, and the Back in the Water and Air classes, balanced by Core strengthening in the Fire section.

THE STEP BY STEP APPROACH

“Dream big, start small, then connect the dots.” This quote from Dan Millman’s Wisdom of the Peaceful Warrior has been the foundation of my yoga practice from the moment I stepped on the yoga mat. It was that book that led my to yoga in the first place, and that line that became a mantra in my head from that moment on. How does it apply to the asana practice? Most people come into the yoga practice and feel something magnificent and of course they want to come back. At some point, regardless of how egoless we believe ourselves to be, we become attracted to the external postures of the yoga practice. It’s typically innocent of course, we associate a feeling with certain postures, on a subtle level we believe that when we attain them we will feel strong, powerful, fearless, light, free, at peace, worthy of love, kindness, etc. On an intellectual level, we usually know that this is not reality but we get pulled into it anyway. The beautiful thing is that we are being pulled into practice and the practice reveals what we need to learn. So I wouldn’t ridicule this process, but rather as you walk the path remind yourself that everything you wish to feel already exists within you, and rather than expecting yoga to do the practice for you, step into the feeling you crave and let that amplify your practice. This is what it means to practice with intention.  

All that being said while we are living in this body we want to take care of it and allow it to reach its highest potential which includes movement practices, stability practices, diet, hygiene, mental health, creative expression, and so on. When I say highest potential, I don’t mean an end result or destination but rather a trajectory that gets us to walk the path. The purpose of this blog is to support your physical well-being in regard to your body. Asana is the practice that cultivates our body awareness, but most of us focus on the postures instead of our body and as a result we are left with thousands of shapes and alignment cues. A shortcut to body awareness is to put your body first, and the pose second! What does that mean? There are only a few major joints to learn in the body, and each has a few movements available to it. There are muscles that surround each joint that create this movement. If you use your asana practice to become aware, proficient, or even masterful in each movement then you will no longer be perplexed when you see a new pose, you will know exactly what is needed to put your body in that shape. You will grow to understand your limitations and your abilities, becoming your own best teacher.  

THE CHROMATIC SYSTEM 

I created Chromatic Yoga based on this concept of small steps toward our potential. Each month we have a focus in our classes, a Physical Through-Line (PTL), and a Thematic Through-Line (TTL).  The PTL is the one muscle group or joint action that we pull through an entire class, or workshop, while the TTL is similar but for building awareness of the mind and subtle energies of life. Because I encourage Chromatic Teachers to be authentic with how they teach, each will have their own way of creatively sharing the PTL and TTL. This month PTL – Abductors of the hip, is the focus of the video below. These are just a few ways to strengthen and become aware of the muscles.

To find a Chromatic Yoga Teacher near you be sure to visit us at www.ChromaticYoga.com 

3 Steps to Master the Abductors

  1. Awareness: learn the sensation of activating the abductors
  2. Strengthen: the muscle group through various postures in your yoga practice.
  3. Practice: activate the abductors over the course of time, through as many yoga postures as possible until you can easily activate them on command in any posture!

Step 1. Awareness

The first step to building awareness of any muscle is to intellectually understand where it exists in the body. The abductor group is generally located in the outer hip/pelvic region. In addition to the intellectual understanding, you must learn what it feels like to activate this muscle. For this, it’s typically easiest to “create a boundary” and press into it. So here I have placed a hand outside the knee and I press into the hand which creates the action of abduction and engages the abductors.

Step 2: strengthen

Next, you will want to develop strength in accessible postures. Typically choosing static postures for “isometric” engagement is a safe and stable way to strength. Isometric means activate the muscle without movement of the joints. For this video, I chose Chair pose to share with you. With feet about hip-width apart, push your yoga mat apart with your heels while keeping your knees pointing straight forward. Note: if your pelvis is tucked under you may not be able to access the abductors, stick your buttocks upward.

Step 3: Practice

Lastly, you will need to learn how to activate this muscle group through a range of motion. This means not only choosing a wide range of static yoga postures to activate the abductors in, but you will also want to do the movements that it creates. For this, I chose fire hydrant pose, both abducting the upper hip by lifting the leg up high, and the lower hip by squeezing the pelvis inward. Because the foot is on the ground, moving and rotating the pelvis away from the foot is abduction. You will feel it in your outer hip muscles.

Mastery Leads to Discernment

Why become masterful at anything? Mastery is not an end goal, it is simply a state of heightened awareness and capability. To become masterful in your physical body is not a chore but rather a privilege. Getting to know this vehicle that we have for only a short period of time is a form of respect and love. There is no end to mastery, just like there is no end to potential, it’s simply a trajectory or path that we walk out of respect to the greater energy that pulses through us. Mastery simply means that we can assess what is appropriate for the well-being of our body at any given time, and we have the tools to do what’s necessary to feel better. While we will always have blind spots, we can minimize the vast amount of guesswork by taking the step-by-step approach to understanding our body – one muscle group or joint action at a time.

To apply this approach to the body,  I recommend practicing The July Immersion – 12 Yoga Classes, 4 Guided Meditations – and Hips: Rock and Unlock ‘Em!  The online workshop is a journey through what I call the 4 quadrants of the hips, supporting you on the path toward mastery of the inner thighs, outer hips, posterior chain, and hip flexors.

Hips: Rock & Unlock 'Em

Get 2 full hours with Matt Giordano focusing on the techniques that increase the range of motion in your hips and provide long-lasting freedom. You will have immediate, unlimited access, and can enjoy the benefits today!

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  • 12 YOGA CLASSES
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BIRDS OF PARADISE

  • 12 YOGA CLASSES
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  • 12 PEAK POSTURES
  • 12 YOGA SUTRA THEMES
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BEST STARTER PACKAGE

  • 6 YOGA CLASSES
  • 2 GUIDED MEDITATIONS
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JOURNEY TO BLISS

  • 12 YOGA CLASSES
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KING PIGEON & HANUMAN

  • 12 YOGA CLASSES
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  • 12 PEAK POSTURES
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JOURNEY TO THE HEART

  • 12 YOGA CLASSES
  • 4 GUIDED MEDITATIONS
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  • 12 PEAK POSTURES
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BACK, NECK & SHOULDERS

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  • 4 GUIDED MEDITATIONS
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  • 12 PEAK POSTURES
  • 12 YOGA SUTRA THEMES
  • SALE Price:$128

Continue Learning

full side plank and modifications

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find your seat

3 BEST SEATED MEDITATION POSTURES

Find Your Seat: 3 Ways to Sit without Knee, Hip or Back Pain!

Find Your Seat

Let’s go over the 3 best seated meditation postures and find out which one is right for you. The deep benefits of seated meditation are well known to have been experienced by many. On the other hand, people around the world find the practice to be inaccessible because they can’t sit comfortably for more than a minute. This is true for me, even to this day! No matter how open my hips are, or how strong my core and back are, if I try and sit on the ground for an extended period of time one of my legs will fall asleep or I will at the least just be uncomfortable. If you have the same experience, you will find these particular postures to be very supportive!

THE CHALLENGES

Why is it challenging to sit? There are a host of reasons why we might find it difficult to sit on the ground – perhaps primarily because we just don’t do it. Sitting in a chair does not allow our hips to go through their full range of motion each day and as a result, our back and hip flexors don’t develop the strength needed to keep us upright. Yoga can serve as an amazing practice to redevelop the capacity to sit more efficiently although it won’t happen overnight – which is why it’s necessary to check out the 3 postures in the video and photos below, so you can sit comfortably on the ground while you are working on the long term hip-opening journey.

Trying to re-pattern our body takes repetitive practice. As with any other skill, you can only learn from doing it. That is why I created a 12 class immersion to help you feel better, sit better, and establish a meditation practice. MOVE•BREATHE•RELEASE helps you increase flexibility of the hips, strengthen your back muscles for better posture, teach you breathwork techniques, and gives you the tools for mental and emotional clarity and freedom. Meditation requires guidance just like yoga, and I guide you in all 12 classes so you feel safe, confident, and inspired with each practice.

MOVE•BREATHE•RELEASE

12 Class Package for Yoga, Pranayama, and Meditation

  • Breathe better with pranayama “breathwork” exercises
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  • Increase Focus and Clarity
  • Decrease Stress
  • Unwind physical & Emotional Tension
  • Move more freely
  • Release low back tension through hip opening
  • 12 All Levels Live Asana Classes
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Is Meditation Calming?

When Most people begin a meditation practice they expect it to have the results that everyone preaches; calm mind, relaxing, stress reducing. While some people do experience these results right away, others may experience the opposite. In weight lifting you must build a foundation of strength before you can move on to heavy compound movements, and establishing this foundation can at times be challenging and discouraging. Meditation is very much the same, the practice of it might feel like you are lifting heavy weights for your mind and as a result, you might initially only experience the challenge of it. With repetition, your mind will get stronger. You will be able to focus longer and the results will come faster!

On top of it, if you are physically uncomfortable when practicing meditation you are not likely to magically walk away feeling calmer. This is why it’s important to find a seat by selecting from one of the 3 best seated meditation postures.

VIDEO TO FIND YOUR SEAT

CHOOSE FROM THE 3 BEST SEATED MEDITATION POSTURES

Assess your hips

Each of us has our own movement patterns which cause some muscles to be stronger, some weaker, some are tight, some are not, etc. We also have different bone structures that will make some positions easier than others. Finding a comfortable seat is one of the most important aspects of a seated meditation posture. If you are uncomfortable, it is very hard to move the mind beyond the discomfort of the body. This is why I have provided three options for seated meditation postures. Go through each and ask yourself which one is most sustainable. Keep in mind there is no perfect seated posture for meditation, there is only the best one for you and that is the one you feel most comfortable in and that also allows you to stay awake and present.

“3 Best Seated Meditation Postures” Detailed Break Down

best seated meditation posture

Option 1 - Bhadrasana (Hero's Pose)

My personal favorite seated posture for those who have tighter outer hips and inner thighs as it requires little flexibility in these areas. It presents a challenge for those with tight quads and shin muscles. Using blankets and blocks can help alleviate these challenges. I would suggest warming up and stretching the thighs and ankles prior to working on this posture. In the above video, I go over a twisted thigh stretch and a seated posture on heels. If these postures prove to be too challenging after a warm-up, then this posture is likely to cause discomfort during a seated meditation.

best cross legged seated meditation posture

Option 2: Cross Legged

Sukhasana, the so-called “easy seat” – an ironic title, as it can be incredibly misleading. For those with open inner thighs, hip flexors, and outer hips this can be an easy posture indeed, but if that is not the case for you then you’ll definitely want to use props. Using the right amount of blankets and block support can make this posture easier and more accessible.

seated meditation posture on chair with props

Option 3: On Chair with Blocks

In the video I show a seated option call sidasana, however, I wanted to offer one other one here. Sitting in a chair can seem like cheating, as it can be incredibly easy to get too relaxed in it. Here you will notice how I prepare the chair with blocks and a blanket and I sit on the edge of the seat so that I still used my back and hip flexors to keep me upright. Some level of muscle engagement is important to stay awake and present when meditating.

MOVE•BREATHE•RELEASE

12 Class Package for Yoga, Pranayama, and Meditation

  • Breathe better with pranayama “breathwork” exercises
  • Release Hip Tension with asana practice
  • Increase Flexibility & Strength
  • Increase Focus and Clarity
  • Decrease Stress
  • Unwind physical & Emotional Tension
  • Move more freely
  • Release low back tension through hip opening
  • 12 All Levels Live Asana Classes
  • Lifetime Unlimited Access to All  

How to Start Meditation

The best way to practice meditation, like anything else, is to have guidance. When I was younger, I struggled for years to meditate without the support of a teacher and mostly I became frustrated and lost in my thoughts. When I stumbled upon my teacher “Rudrani” she helped provide me with the tools and guidance to make meditation accessible and enjoyable. This is why I created the MOVE•BREATHE•RELEASE  to share with you the techniques that produce the intended results that so many talk about; peace of mind, inner freedom, focus, mental clarity, joy, equanimity, balance, etc.

From Body to Mind

One thing I noticed early on in my meditation practice was the discomfort of my body. I couldn’t focus my mind on anything when I was seated because I was distracted by my back, my knee, my neck, and so on. This realization led me to the physical practice of yoga. Through the yoga practice, I gained a heightened sense of awareness of my body. At first, this was almost a curse because I could feel everything – including my discomfort! Over time and practice, I gained a bit of mastery in my body, in that I could feel the discomfort and choose postures to better accommodate myself and release it. I suggest you choose from one of the 3 best seated meditation postures above and use it for now as your “go-to pose”. I also recommend you get to know the other two poses as well because you will find that on some days your “go-to” is just not the appropriate one for you.

The seated meditation practice became so much more enjoyable for me when I could extend my attention beyond the physical, knowing that I wasn’t causing damage by forcing myself to sit through knee or back pain. While I do believe that some pain in the body can be a result of mental projection, I also know firsthand that placing love and attention on the body can support the health of the mind.  There really isn’t a divide between brain and body – the mind is a collective of all our physical and emotional experiences. For sound mental health to be our primary state of being we must get to know ourselves on all levels and develop our awareness.

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Newsletter

When You Subscribe You Will Instantly Get Access To

  • The Technique Pack: 15 Yoga Pose Breakdowns
  • Exclusive Online Course Discounts 
  • Exclusive Blogs and Videos
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Avoid Hamstring Tendonitis “Yoga Butt”

YOGA STRETCH FOR HAMSTRINGS

HAMSTRING TENDONITIS:

AVOID HAMSTRING PAIN “YOGA BUTT”

HAMSTRINGS

A Different Approach To Stretching The Hamstrings

Stretching the hamstrings provides many benefits – including my personal favorite, low back relief! In the pursuit of flexibility, many of us accidentally go too far in our practice. It can be challenging to gauge where our limits are, and sometimes we reach them. Rather than feeling frustrated or ashamed about hurting yourself in yoga, just direct your attention to healing and maintaining health. In my early years as a yogi, I tore my hamstring attachment near the sit bone and with some diligence healed it up pretty quickly. However, I didn’t quite learn how to practice in a way that would maintain its integrity and as a result, I tore it once again. After my second tear I finally decided to find another way. In this video, I go over the techniques I use to maintain hamstring integrity at the sit bone attachment point (just under the gluteus Maximus, buttocks muscles). The idea is to become aware of the fact that most of us use gravity to stretch because quite simply it is easier to completely let go and not put in any effort. First I want to make the point that there is nothing wrong with passive stretching, and allowing gravity do the work for you. However, it is important to understand that the movement patterns in your body will only become stronger – whether they’re good or bad. Whenever you let your body do what it wants to do it will always default to patterns. Same is true with the mind, which is why meditation is such a powerful practice in re-wiring the patterns of our mind. Normally a thought arises and we react, neurons fire in a predetermined pattern, and this elicits a response in either a sequence of thoughts or actions. For example, someone in the middle of a city street raises their hand, your mind probably thinks “oh they are looking for a taxi.” This is how the mind holds patterns. The body holds patterns in the exact same way. If we simply stretch without activating muscles, we will perpetuate our patterns. If our patterns serve us then this is absolutely OK, but if they do not, then we could easily cause injury.

Facilitated Stretching For the Hamstrings

The approach I like for the majority of my practice is active engagement. This means finding the muscles that tend to be asleep and weak and activating them. This also includes something called facilitated stretching. This refers to the process of activating the muscle or muscle group that is stretching. So in the case of a forward fold where the hamstrings are stretching, a facilitated stretch would involve activating the hamstrings. This is not an easy task. Most of us are only familiar with activating a muscle in order to create movement, but what if we activate the muscles and do not move?  The benefit of this approach is that you do not have to sacrifice your flexibility while you re-pattern your body’s responses. Most people actually find a major increase of range of motion when using the facilitated stretch technique, because it “tricks” the muscle into a deep relaxation effect when you release the engagement – this is also known as PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation). For most people, this method is safer and more effective. The one thing to be mindful of is the amount of muscle activation you use. I suggest 15-30% engagement of the muscle that is stretching. If you engage muscles too strongly in a lengthened position you could transmit too much force to the joints, or run the risk of injuring parts of the muscle. Rather than intellectualizing what a facilitated stretch is, try practicing along with this video. If you are interested in practicing in this way, I highly recommend the workshop “Hips: Rock and Unlock ‘Em” as it is packed with this approach to flexibility. For a more in-depth study, check out the 12 class package called “The Breakthrough“.

THE BREAKTHROUGH

HIP OPENING & ARM BALANCES

12 Full length yoga classes focused on hip opening and arm balances. For the most comprehensive and in-depth study of the hips, this immersion is an excellent deep dive into the development of body awareness, flexibility, and strength.

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Reciprocal Inhibition

When the muscle group on one side of the joint contracts, the opposing muscle group will relax. This happens naturally, but can be used as a technique for stretching.

 
beginner yoga hamstring stretch

Step 1 - Align Thigh Bones

Align the femur bones so they are vertical. There are many reasons for this. One reason is that the head of the femur (thigh bone) is most congruent in this position, meaning it has the most amount of space for the range of motion to occur. The other reason I do this is to put weight in the hands so that the leg muscles aren’t involuntarily engaging – kind of like starting from a blank canvas. Put more weight in your hands and you can bypass a lot of holding patterns that might exist. Lastly, by leaning forward two things will happen: you will lengthen the calf muscles, and later on when you place the hands on the ground, your calves will activate in order to stop you from falling forward. This becomes a facilitated stretch for the calves without you having to even think about it.

hamstring stretch with low back strength for chair yoga

Step 3: Lift Sit Bone

Lifting the sit bones requires two muscle groups to activate; hip flexors and low back muscles. The low back muscles (Q.L, the Erector group)  will arch the lumbar spine (low back) and pull the pelvis into anterior tilt (forward fold) which will lengthen the hamstrings upward away from where they attach at the back of the knees. The hip flexors will do the same with the added benefit of reciprocal inhibition (relaxing the hamstrings). This step, with hands on the chair, is what stretches the hamstrings without gravity. It is important to understand that you have a responsibility to observe the level of stretch sensation in the hamstrings while you do this. If your low back and hip flexors are strong you may overpower the hamstrings and cause an overstretch. For this reason, it is beneficial to only go about 60% of the way into the stretch sensation.

hamstring stretch with internal rotation of hips

Step 2: Internal Rotation

Pressing the backs of the legs apart will initiate internal rotation of the thigh bones. When moving into a forward fold, if the objective is to lengthen the hamstrings, it is incredibly helpful to rotate the thigh bones inward because it initiates the tip of the pelvis forward (anterior tilt). With this cue, the typical muscles that activate are the abductor group (gluteus medium, gluteus minimus, and tensor fascia lattae, aka T.F.L). Activating the T.F.L, in particular, is helpful because it is also a hip flexor and internal rotator. Activating the hip flexors and internal rotator reciprocally inhibits the external rotators of the buttocks. Reciprocal Inhibition simply means when you activate a muscle group, the opposing muscle group relaxes and lengthens – this is the opposite concept of facilitated stretching.

chair yoga hamstring stretch

Step 4: Facilitated Stretch

Lastly, to maintain the integrity of the hamstrings we will want to activate them. The ability to engage a muscle regardless of the depth of stretch or length of the muscle is one way to determine the health of the muscle. If you simply work on flexibility but the muscle loses its ability to contract along the way, you run the risk of acute injury or chronic pain. The body is a system, which means that a loss of hamstring integrity could show up as chronic pain in the sacrum, low back, or even neck. Quite often in modern yoga, there is an emphasis on lengthening the hamstrings, and not much on strengthening them, this approach supports both and is why I practice this way and why I teach this method to flexibility. The action I call for in step 4 is to isometrically tuck your tailbone. That means to try to press the sit bones down toward the heels in order to activate the muscles, but maintain the structural alignment of the pelvis (anterior tilt)

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I personally have seen the massive benefits of facilitated stretching, as well as reciprocal inhibition in my practice and in my students over the last 10+ years. However, there are times where I find passive stretching or even holistic stretching (bouncing) to be more appropriate. Use this approach as one of many tools for yourself, learn it well, and observe the benefits and drawbacks, then you will be able to decide when it is appropriate for you and when it is best to go another way. If you have questions or something to share, please feel free to comment at the bottom of the page. Please share this post if you found it useful, and for a full practice using this approach, check out Hips: Rock and Unlock ‘Em

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Pigeon Without Knee Pain

Pigeon Pose

without Knee Pain

Why Stretching your hips might cause knee pain

Pigeon Pose is one of the most widely beloved postures in the yoga practice across a multitude of styles. This is for good reason. However, the issue I see most often with this posture is that it comes with little guidance as to how to activate your muscles and align your bones and joints, and as a result many people experience pain in their knees or quite simply never find an increase in hip mobility.  In this video I share my top three steps to a deep stretch in the hips without compromising the knee joint.

In my most recent online workshop, “Hips: Rock and Unlock Em” I go over some key actions in detail, and guide students into one of my favorite variations of pigeon posture – so if you like what you get in this video, definitely check out that full 2 hour workshop that goes over all you need to know about hip opening.

The key point that I go over in the video below and in the online workshop is that some of the hip muscles cross both the hip joint AND the knee joint, and so when we stretch the hips we are also stretching the knee. In addition, many hip stretches require putting pressure on the knee joint in order to rotate the thigh bone in the hip joint. One of the techniques I personally use is something called a facilitated stretch in order to target the belly (middle) of the muscles rather than the attachment points near each joint. Facilitated Stretch simply means an activation of the same muscles that are stretching. In the case of pigeon, I aim for the activation of the buttock muscles.

The Gluteus Maximus in particular is my focus because it feeds into the IT band, and the IT band connects to the knee joint. Any stretch of the buttocks could result in a straining of the knee. I find it incredibly helpful to activate the buttocks in order to ground and stabilize the knee joint. In addition, I also offer an activation from the other surrounding joint – the ankle. By activating certain muscles of the ankle I have found more access to spaciousness in the knee.

To be fair, nothing is fool proof. I have, however, tested these techniques among various body types over the past ten years and I have found it to be incredibly effective for most students. The result is deeper stretch in the hips and less or no strain or pain at all in the knee. That being said, this is your body and you have the greatest understanding of it when you tune in to how you feel and what you feel. The online Hips workshop is designed to help you with exactly that – Learn to feel your body on a more specific and nuanced level. Enjoy this free tutorial and as always let me know if you have questions about your body or your practice. If the video is helpful please share it!

Facilitated Stretching

Increases your range of motion while maintaining muscle integrity. Facilitated stretching is the activation or engagement of the muscles that are stretching. Activating the muscle while stretching causes the Golgi tendon organ to send a signal to the spinal column, and the spinal column speaks back, telling the muscles to relax.

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3 Steps for Pigeon Pose

Step 1 - Evert the ankle

Everting at the ankle joint aligns the shin at the knee joint, and activates the outer shin muscles (fibularis muscles). In addition, when in pigeon pose, it supports the external rotation at the femur bone (front leg) in the hip socket. When everting, you can try rolling the calf muscle forward toward the front of your mat to initiate external rotation at the knee. This can help to open the inner portion of the knee.

Step 2: Press outer Front knee Down

From your buttock muscles, press the outer front knee down and as a result, you should feel your hips lift up a little bit. If you don’t feel this you may have to think about pulling your front knee toward the back knee. Once you get your buttocks to activate, your femur (thigh bone) will begin to externally rotate. This action supports more congruency (more space) at the knee, and begins a facilitated stretch.

Step 3: Rotate The back Hip inward

Rotating the back thigh bone will help to rotate the pelvis toward the earth. Because the muscles of the front hip are connected to the pelvis, if you rotate the pelvis it lengthens the muscles causing a deeper stretch. I only recommend this if you are feeling at ease in the front knee. If so, go slow because it is very easy to lose what you have already created in step 1 and 2.

Sit, Stand, Walk.

Keeping the buttock muscles healthy and supple can really help in finding comfort when sitting, standing, or walking. Since most of our day is spent doing one of these three things, I highly recommend taking the time to do postures like pigeon pose, and do them well.

Listen To Your Body

Alignment cues and muscle engagements can be highly beneficial, so take the time to feel how they land in your body. There is no magic action or alignment for everyone, so I really encourage you to explore these actions while truly listening to your body. This particular set of cues might be what creates an “aha” moment for you, or it could be the complete opposite, so try them and ask yourself what you feel and what your experience is. Try to dissociate feeling bad with effort, and good with doing nothing. They sometimes correlate and sometimes not. If these actions wound up being right for you then I recommend practicing them whenever you are doing pigeon, and always maintain awareness of what your body is feeling. Through deep focus and exploration you will be able to collect the right actions for you.  If you found this useful, please share this post and for a full practice using this approach, check out Hips: Rock and Unlock ‘Em

OPEN YOUR HIPS AND HEART

The July Immersion takes you on a 12 Class Journey through the Chakras and the elements, to develop your strength, flexibility and awareness of each energy center and the corresponding muscles. There is a heavy focus on the Hips in the Earth, & Water classes, and the Back in the Water and Air classes, balanced by Core strengthening in the Fire section.

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Get 2 full hours with Matt Giordano focusing on the techniques that increase the range of motion in your hips and provide long lasting freedom. You will have immediate, unlimited access and can enjoy the benefits today!

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Continue Learning

full side plank and modifications

full side plank and modifications

Full Side Plank With Modifications STEP BY STEP VASHISTHASANA BREAKDOWNFULL SIDE PLANK FULL SIDE PLANK & MODIFICATIONS: VASHISTHASANA USING THE WALL AS A PROP Full Side Plank (Vashisthasana) has many modifications and variations to help make it more accessible or...

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Backbends and the Glutes

Backbends and the Glutes

Should I engage my glutes in a backbend?

Should I Engage my Buttocks in a Backbend?

In the yoga world, there are many opinions on alignment and what muscles “should” or “should not” be engaged. One of the common questions I get is, “Should I engage my buttocks in Wheel pose or bridge pose?” I decided it’s time to address this question with a video response to help clarify the anatomy behind the posture. 

In the video, I go over the anatomy of Full Wheel aka Upward Facing Bow or Urdva Danurasana. The action at the hip joint in this pose is called extension. This is when your thigh bones go back behind your pelvis; think of the back leg in a crescent lunge pose.   The muscles that create extension at the hip are the Gluteus Maximus, Hamstrings, and Adductor Magnus. The Gluteus Maximus is the big buttock muscle that most of us see as “The Butt.”  To easily answer the question of whether one should engage their buttocks or not when going into Urdva Danurasana, I would say yes of course. To be more specific, if you are trying to go into extension at the hip it is incredibly useful to employ the muscles that create that action. 

“Wait, why have people told me to relax my butt??”  The origin of this cue was based on the fact that so many people splay out their knees, which is a result of external rotation at the hip. One of the muscles that create external rotation at the hip is the Gluteus Maximus…yes, it performs both actions. So by trying to relax that muscle, you may not externally rotate as much. The issue with that is that the over external rotation is mostly a problem if you are using the deep external rotators of the buttocks – this could throw off the sacrum and cause the pinch in your upper pelvis, hip, or low back. 

My personal suggestion is simply to turn on your internal rotators, which are your outer gluteus muscles (gluteus medius and minimus), TFL, and Adductors (inner thigh muscles). Don’t worry, you don’t need to know these muscles in order to internally rotate your thighs. All you need to do is focus on pressing down through your inner heels and big toe mound. By focusing on pressing into your inner feet, you will undoubtedly turn on your internal rotators without compromising the extension at the hip that is gained from the Gluteus Maximus engagement.

With my mentorship students, I break down the difference between what I call Balancing Action and Fundamental Action. Knowing the difference makes it so much easier to know what is appropriate for yourself in any given posture. A Fundamental Action is any action that is required for the posture to exist. In the case of Urdva Danurasana, the Fundamental Action at the hips is Extension. Without the action of extension, your hips wouldn’t leave the ground. A balancing action is any action that is the opposite of the fundamental action, or the opposite of what the tendency is when creating the fundamental action. In this case, when creating the fundamental action of extension at the hips, the tendency will be to let the knees splay out to the sides (external rotation at the hips). A balancing action, in this case, is Internal Rotation at the hips which would keep the knees straight forward. Just to clarify, the direction of your knees isn’t the direct concern, it’s more about what is happening in the hips and sacrum that is of importance. 

Can you do Urdva Danurasana with externally rotated legs? Yes of course! Will it be good for you? That’s a great question, and dependent upon so many factors in your body. My suggestion is until you have a deep relationship with your body and know what is a good sensation and what is not good, simply stick to the balancing action of internal rotation at the thighs by pressing the inner heels down. 

I recognize this conversation is quite technical. If this was challenging to follow, simply watch the video to gain the visual aid as well. Enjoy strengthening and engaging your buttocks! If you are interested in learning more about techniques and anatomy, let’s set up a call to see if the Mentorship Mastery Program is right for you!

Hip extension

In order to go into hip extension in poses like Urdva Danurasana (full wheel pose) you will need to recruit your hip extensor muscles, which are located in the buttocks. By relaxing these muscles you are relying on your back muscles to do the heavy lifting.

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3 Steps to Activate the Buttocks

Step 1 - form The Arch

Forming the arch first is recommended prior to placing more force and pressure on the spine and hips. If you don’t feel a sense of spaciousness while lying on the ground, you certainly won’t feel it when applying more pressure. Often the inability to activate the transverse abdominals correlates with a lack of spaciousness between the vertebrae of the spine. Transverse abdominals cause the vacuum effect in the abdomen and typically make it easier to lengthen the solar plexus away from the pubic bone which is indicated with the smaller arrow. The larger arrow is to call your attention to the evenness of the curve. Most people place their backbend in just the mobile parts of their spine and doing so will simply exacerbate your patterns. Try to put less effort into the mobile areas, and more in the stiff areas.

Step 2: extension at the Hip

When doing postures like bridge and full wheel, this action is crucial in that it is what creates the pose. Without activating the buttocks you will be relying on your back muscles alone to lift your hips up and as a result, you will likely cause too much compression in the spine. This doesn’t mean that activating the buttock will be a magic pill but it will help to disperse the pressure. In addition, the buttock muscles are super important to our posture when walking, standing, and even sitting. Maintaining strength and awareness of what they do in the body is crucial to health and longevity. To make step three easier, it is helpful to think of pressing down through the inner heels however, if that feels too challenging, simply press the outer heels down first and then work step 3 second.

Step 3: Balancing Action

Internally rotating the thigh bones will balance out the external rotation that happens when pressing down into the heels. When pressing down you are activating the hip extensors, and since the extensors of the hip are also external rotators, the thighs will tend to externally rotate. There is nothing inherently wrong with this however, it could cause over-activation of some of the deep external rotators causing unnecessary tension in the hips or sacrum. Some people will also experience sacral pressure as a result of the force placed on the S.I (sacral-iliac) joint from extension and external rotation. By activating the internal rotators you can balance out the hip extension and maintain neutral rotation and likely find more ease in the S.I joint.

Releasing the Buttocks

One of the issues people experience after activating their buttocks is gripping sensation. This often happens when the muscles are weak and trying to find any way to engage. This goes away as the muscles get stronger but the easiest way to release this is a posture like pigeon pose to stretch these muscles after backbends. Pigeon pose is also wonderful in that it doesn’t overly round the spine after backbending which could otherwise be dangerous on the intervertebral discs.

Read Pigeon Without Knee Pain

Gravity: Not All Backbends Are the Same

The action of activating the buttock muscles here is most important in bridge and wheel pose because of the relationship to gravity. If we were doing something like bow pose it may still be beneficial to activate the buttocks, but chances are it won’t have the same effect and might even cause more compression on the spine. In that pose, the quads are typically more important because your hands are connected to your feet. When grabbing your feet for this posture, you will have activated the hamstrings and buttock already and the work in this posture will be lengthening the arch and finding an even disbursement of extension in the spinal column. This doesn’t mean you should not engage the buttocks, but in this case, your hands holding your feet are the cause for hip extension. For now use the tips in this blog for postures like full wheel and bridge, as well as the one leg up variations.

Hips: Rock & Unlock 'Em

Get 2 full hours with Matt Giordano focusing on the techniques that increase the range of motion in your hips and provide long-lasting freedom. You will have immediate, unlimited access, and can enjoy the benefits today!

Continue Learning

full side plank and modifications

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Full Side Plank With Modifications STEP BY STEP VASHISTHASANA BREAKDOWNFULL SIDE PLANK FULL SIDE PLANK & MODIFICATIONS: VASHISTHASANA USING THE WALL AS A PROP Full Side Plank (Vashisthasana) has many modifications and variations to help make it more accessible or...

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