Back pain and/or hip stiffness (or vice versa) seems to be the new normal, but what is suddenly “normal” isn’t always “natural”. Obviously there are many ingredients, not least the humble chair… If your body feels stiff and your spine sore and niggly at the end of the work day when you are in your 30s and have a desk job, imagine what this will feel like 30 years later….
Here are some things to consider:
Image 1 – One of the main issues is that sitting in a chair means our bodies are constantly in hip flexion (hips forward of the trunk) and our thighs chronically internally rotated. Apart from the fact that tension and tightness in the inner thighs will eventually affect the knees (and more..), it means that most of us have pretty much zero hip extension. In the first image you can see that when I try to take my leg out the back, I can barely get anywhere… Oh, sure, I could do it if I arched my back, but that’s part of the problem; it stops being about my hip in that case and becomes spinal extension (like a back bend). Can you see the issue? If your lower back already feels squishy and tense around L4,L5 and you take your leg back while you are standing up relatively straight, chances are, you could end up squishing your lower back some more..
Image 2 – Ideally, we want to stretch the front of the hips (hip flexors) because this is the essence of the squishy lower back. Here, I am leaning back as if I am about to back arch, but I am pushing the front of my hips forward and visualising lifting my pubic bone. My arms are forward rather than up and back so that my ribs don’t flare (this makes it hard to breathe and relax) and my lower my back is not overly-arched. In other words, I’m lengthening my hip flexors without squishing my lower back.
Image 3 – in this version of half-frog pose, it’s habitual to arch the back because the quad and hip-flexors are usually so tight. To relax and prep the muscles for a deeper movement, try to get your heel to your bum (with your tailbone) down WITHOUT grabbing your foot. It’s hard, but it will help soften and release those super-tight muscles before you add on and means the pose is less about forcing. When holding on to the foot, try and create resistance by bringing the tailbone down towards the floor and visualising trying to lift the pubic bone. You can do the same pose lying on your tummy on the floor if it’s easier. Notice that if you are lying on the floor and check in after doing one side how this pose/exercise really releases the hip and lengthens the leg. This makes me curious as to whether some people using orthordics in their shoes actually need them and the possibility that stuff like this- that affects the gait – could contribute towards even more physical and alignment issues/pain in the long term.
Image 4 – Warrior 3 – this can only be done without squishing if you bring your chest and spine closer to the floor. Try not to let your chest dip. Round out your back and if need be, pop a toe of the extended leg on the floor.
Image 5 – When low lunging, press the top of the extended foot into the mat and feel as if you are trying to bring it forward, keep your ribs in rather than flared. Visualise the pubic bone pushing forward. If you are twisting, move from the navel area rather than the head. Resist sinking your body-weight into your complete range of movement because it’s resistance that makes us strong and releases muscles quickly without feelings of over-stretch. These little activations create “bandha” – powerful “energy-locks”- which are at the essence of yoga physiology.
Image 6 – When high lunging, bend the back leg, take your weight into your back foot and looking forward, feel as if you are pushing your front sitting (bum) bone and pubic bone towards the front foot and lifting the back ribs to the ceiling. You should feel your belly lift away from the thighs. This action will organically activate your core muscles so no need to squeeze the tummy. Try to relax the pelvic floor and breathe into the lower belly. It can be quite useful to gently engage the glute (buttock muscle) of the extended leg (which is sometimes soft in this position), but this is hard to do without squeezing the pelvic floor – it may take practise. Try not to arch your back as you come up. Keep the ribs in rather than allowing them to “puff” forward, and either stay here or come up as if you are doing a spinal roll; vertebra by vertebra.
TIPS: CHANGING MOVEMENT HABITS
Tip: Keep your arms slightly forward when you bring them up towards the ceiling as it stops your chest puffing forward and your niggly back arching too much. Many yoga classes suggest bringing the shoulders down and away from the ears. This is appropriate in some postures but certainly not all as it can feel like it is crushing the lower vertebra. Always bend the knees if your back is very stiff and drop the tailbone down. Try to gently push your sitting bones forward and then towards the sides of your heels and then move the front hip bones (illiac crests) backwards. Press your feet firmly into the ground when standing and imagine you are trying to resist gravity/sinking without over-tensing. Relax the pelvic floor – another ingredient in chronic back and hip pain. Visualise all of your movements during the day emanating from the “core” (navel/pubic bone area) and start to note how you habitually move from the chin/head or chest and/or the hips.