How do Hips Get Jammed in the First Place?
Time, age & gravity pull us down. The stiffness and discomfort we feel from tightened hips can help add to that weighted feeling. Blood and lymphatic fluid (which supports our immune system and helps us fight off infection) can only flow well through muscles which are at their optimal, supple length. A tight muscle will resist the circulation of these vital fluids and prevent the oxygenation of muscles and connective tissues surrounding the joints which are short on synovial fluid due to the restriction in movement. We live in a furniture bound culture where loafing about on squishy couches is the norm. Do you think the people in the picture below will be having hip replacements any time soon?
What are benefits of Yoga Hip Opening Somatic Flows?
“Opening our hips” can offer a sense of lightness and youth and helps us develop an optimistic viewpoint. We can look for ways to strengthen body parts where we find weakness and blockages. Over this term we have been observing how, when certain muscles are tight, other ones take over in a jiffy. Unfortunately, the alternative body part that is all too often over-used when our hips are tight is our vulnerable spine resulting in spinal joint degeneration, herniated discs, impinged nerves, and back pain in general! The other typically tight take over merchant are the hamstrings and we found in our class about bones and joints that if we sat in a chair and bent forward we could go an awful long way but the minute we sat on the floor and involved our legs, we were jammed upright and of course we figured together that it was the hamstring involvement that was to blame here.
Its not just physical toxins that build up in this area but emotional “waste” is often not dealt with and it is said that anger is held in the hips. As a ex- Psychology lecturer, with a passion for social psychology, it is obvious to me that our current obsessions with enforced politeness, social control and the over-management of one’s social media image will necessarily mean that anger and social unacceptable emotions have to be ignored and its no wonder we stuff it down into the hips since there is no socially acceptable way to release it in a healthy way (unless you come to Yoga of course)! The butt muscles are often said also to be a storage place for anger.
What are we loosening?
The hip joint = the head of the femur bone in articulation with the acetabulum. A traditional ball and socket joint. Acetabulum means “little vinegar cup” in Latin.
There are a total of 22 muscles that cross the hip on all sides and at varying angles.
So what do we expect the joint to do when we talk about “opening” it? It is perhaps more accurate to talk about loosening in the fascia and muscles around the joint, not in the joint itself (unless you have arthritis). These often becomes tight and stiff and restrict one or more of it’s ranges of movement and sometimes control the position of the pelvis to be stuck in a posterior tilt (you’ve lost your natural curve at the base of the spine) or anterior tilt (back of the waist has an exaggerated curve).
Why are the Muscles Tight?
Movements of the hip are Abduction and Adduction (the leg coming away from the body and toward the midline); Flexion and Extension (the leg kicking forward and backward) and Internal and External Rotation (twisting the leg in the socket to turn inward and outward). Any of these can get tight but the most obvious cause is by our fave activity in the West – sitting on a chair – which shortens the hip flexors and hammy’s and turns off the botty muscles making them weak! All of a sudden you find yourself groaning when you get off the couch and clinging on to various parts of you because of the ache that hauling yourself out of the chair or the car seat has caused.
What poses stretch the muscles around the hips?
A “hip-opener” is technically any stretch that lengthens any of the 22 muscles that cross the hip and facilitate these movements in the hip… In truth, most Yoga poses are Hip Openers if we take advantage of aligning the body correctly. For instance, all these stretches release tightens of those vital muscles and connective tissues around the hips:
* hamstring stretches
* inner thigh stretches
* standing poses (warriors, lunges, etc.)
However, if we don’t understand how to position our joints into the correct alignment we may not be stretching our hips, and we end up leaving our mat without much change in our tight hips at all and instead have compressed the vertebrae or compromised parts of our precious anatomy.
If you are already flexible should you stretch more?
For our hyper-mobile peeps, over stretch can actually cause weakness… So, instead of pushing deeper into flexible areas, notice spots where you are tight or weak. Then, look instead for poses to challenge the strength of the hips, thus shifting your focus from hip opening to hip stability. You don’t need to over-analyze this; the only thing required is mindfulness to honor what you feel. Gluteus medius and minimus are critical for hip stability any time you are standing upright. These muscles help to position the femoral head in the hip socket, to keep you from sinking into and wearing down the labrum, cartilage, and ligaments. Traditional standing poses like Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Three) is a challenging opportunity to practice using gluteus medius and minimus to stabilize the hip of the standing leg, and strengthen those muscles so that they support you in all of your standing poses. There are Glutei strengthener videos you can follow in this post and your knees will thank you!