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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Chaturanga Alignment Part 1

Chaturanga Alignment PART 1

3 Actions To Get Stronger

CHATURANGA ALIGNMENT FOR STRENGTH

Chaturanga is one of the most repeated poses in the modern yoga practice, and it happens to be one of the most challenging on the shoulders. It is highly beneficial to take a look at the mechanics of the posture. I have been studying this posture for over a decade and I have to say chaturanga seems to be one of the most mysterious postures out there. So many teachers are offering “correct alignment” and throwing around “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” without taking a deep look at what is really happening. Part of why there are so many contrasting opinions is the simple misunderstanding that bones and muscles are not the same – or better put, alignment and muscle engagement don’t necessarily go hand in hand. When we say that the elbows are bent in chaturanga we are referring specifically to the structure or alignment of the pose, NOT the action of the muscles. If we are to pause in chaturanga and hold it as a posture, what are the muscles that stop the elbows from bending? You may have figured it out – the triceps. What do the triceps do? They straighten the elbows. So we can say pretty confidently that in chaturanga the elbows are bent, but we are trying to straighten them in order to stop or slow down movement. The same is true in the shoulder blades, but because the shoulder blades aren’t as straight forward as bend and straighten, most people have a cloudy understanding of what is happening there.

THE SHOULDER BLADES

What is happening at the shoulder blades in chaturanga? As for the structure, I would argue that they are retracted (closer together) and most likely in what is called upward tilt (Video Time Mark – 3:30) – shoulder blades climb up and over the top of the rib cage. These joint relationships are quite normal when you do a “seated row” with your elbows close in. If the hands are wider in chaturanga the shoulder blades are less likely to be in upward tilt and more likely to just be retracted. If you don’t follow this, don’t worry. Just know that the shoulder blades tend to move in specific ways when the arms move, and the video above will give you the visual of these actions. Let’s keep it simple – the shoulder blades are retracted when in the bent elbow position. In order to slow down the movement, you would have to try to protract your shoulder blades – move them apart – as if you were trying to push back up to plank pose. In the video above there is a great visual of my shoulder blades moving from retraction to protraction at the 4 minute mark. Just like the elbow joint, we can look at the shoulder blades and say the structural alignment is retraction, but the muscle action is the opposite – we are trying to protract the shoulder blades – this is what slows down or stops the movement at the scapula. In the video I use a term that I created for my Mentorship Mastery students, and have now integrated into my new yoga system called Chromatic Yoga. This term is called a Balancing Action – an engagement of the muscular system that opposes the structural alignment. When we engage the triceps while the elbow is bent, this is a “Balancing Action.” The primary muscles that create protraction are the Seratus Anterior. If the shoulder blades are retracted and we activate these muscles, then again this would be called a Balancing Action.

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Recommended due to the heavy emphasis on Chaturanga Alignment throughout this immersion.

Step 1 - External Rotation of Arms

To stabilize the arms in chaturanga, external rotation is highly effective. The arms will tend to internally rotate due to the activation of the pectoral major muscles. If we keep the pectoral major activated and oppose it with the external rotators of our rotator cuff group, then we create oppositional stability. Engaging two opposing muscle groups at the same time is not easy. It takes effort and coordination, however it is absolutely possible. In the above picture you see my biceps are facing out and hands are out as a result of that rotation. When the hands are on the ground they can’t move, so when you externally rotate, the elbows will come inward. My suggestion is elbows vertical over the wrists, not touching your rib cage. Bonus- this often takes pressure off of the outer wrist

Step 2: Depression of the Scapula

One way to stabilize the shoulder blades is to depress them down the back. In addition to stability, this provides the added benefit of potentially relaxing the pectoral minor muscle which tends to get over used and abused from repetitive chaturangas. Depression of the scapula can be quite challenging if you are not a climber or actively work your lower trapezius and latissimus muscles. Our shoulder blades are often resting downward, but that is due to gravity, not strength. When depressing the shoulder blades be sure to think from the back muscles, because it is easy to press the front of your shoulder down the front of your chest resulting in upward tilt of the scapula as mentioned in the above video. Depression of the scapula can prevent upward tilt if done properly.

Step 3: Protraction

Separating the shoulder blades away from one another and around the rib cage creates stability and resistance against gravity. While you will likely still be in retraction of your scapula in chaturanga, I am suggesting to actively resist in order to hold the posture or slow down the descent. This takes a tremendous amount of body awareness, so it is highly beneficial to practice this in postures like plank and forearm plank. These two postures have a fixed elbow joint making it easier to feel just the action of protraction. Also see Chaturanga Part 2 in order to learn how develop the body awareness necessary for this action. One tip I will offer is that it helps to think of puffing up the upper back. You may wind up activating the abdominals which can inadvertently support protraction.

What is Next?

The best thing you can do for yourself when attaining new knowledge is to find ways to integrate it. Through the integration process you can develop proficiency of the techniques which allows you to access them on demand and in more postures. How do you integrate them? This was a common question that came up after this video was released. I created a free follow up blog to support you in this adventure! Part 2 of this blog gives you 3 exercises to practice in order to become familiar with the actions so you can apply them to your practice of chaturanga. Thanks for stopping by, and please share this blog with others who you feel would benefit!

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