In the post Hip Hip Hurray! Part I I discussed hip impingement, which is a condition where the labrum (lining inside the joint) tears. The tear is caused by friction between the bone and the inner lining. Optimum alignment within the joint is not necessarily what appears to be optimum alignment of a yoga pose.
Lets look at some examples; We’ll stay with the example of the two different pelvises.
What does this mean when we examine postures such as Baddha Konasana (butterfly pose) and Padmasasana?
If you are a yoga teacher, you know from watching your students that there are some body types that come into your yoga class that are able to sit very comfortably without any practice in baddha konasana, while other people sit in the pose with their knees almost at their ears. What factors are at play?
- The shape of the bone – Some joints are designed for greater mobility, some joints are designed for greater stability. Even a joint designed for stability (i.e. the hip joint) can be shaped very differently, allowing for more mobility in certain directions depending on angles and relationships of proportions (i.e. longer femur, deeper socket, angle of socket, etc.).
- Muscular tightness in the inner legs (adductor group), top of the legs (quads) internal rotators (gluteus medius, tensor fasciae latae).
- Tightness in the connective tissues that surround the joint, including the bursa, ligaments and tendons.
- Under use of muscles will cause shortening.
- Overuse could cause fraying of the connective tissues.
- Hypermobility in a particular joint will allow for greater range of motion.
Lets look at two examples of different body types, both these people go to yoga classes regularly:
Christine has been training as a dancer since she was 8 years old. She says she was always flexible. There were other girls training just as hard as her at such young ages who (no matter how much they stretched) could not get their knees to the ground in baddha konasana, or their legs into the splits. They probably did not go on to be professional dancers like Christine.
Earl played hockey as young lad. As a young adult he was into rock climbing and in the past 4 years has taken up a regular yoga practice. Earl says that even though he has been stretching with yoga almost everyday for 4 years, his flexibility in this particular pose has not changed. He has become more flexible overall but this hip opener has not changed.
My guess would be that Earl has hip sockets that face forward and Christine has hip sockets that face out to the sides making poses like baddha konasana easier. So no matter how hard he tries nothing is going to change the shape of his bones and the ability to get his knees to the ground.
Christine needs to be reminded to do mula bandha, to engage the pelvic floor muscles and draw the bones of the pelvis towards one another. She does NOT need an adjustment, but interestingly enough she will often be the person the teacher adjusts (more on that in another post).
Earl could benefit from stretching all the main muscles groups on a regular basis and accepting that his knees will never get to the ground like Christine’s.
Seems obvious, but I’ve known people who wanted to be ‘good’ at yoga and have created injuries that will plague them for the rest of their lives.
The obsession with hip openers should be questioned. Having open hips could lead to hypermobility in the hip joint and sacroiliac joint. If you are doing lots of strength work, doing a hip opener a few times a week is a good idea. If all you do is yoga stretching, you need to monitor your range of motion and once you’re reached a normal range for your body type, pushing into extreme range will only serve to weaken the joint structures that provide stability.
Back to our two examples:
Christine could probably go into baddha konsana cold first thing in the morning. Does she need to work on that pose in her yoga practice? Obviously not, but will she stop doing the pose? Probably not, it feels easy and she’s good at it. But what does Christine need to cultivate in her practice? You guessed it, more strength. She needs to be more like Earl who has a naturally strong body. And Earl of course would like to be more like Christine. He would be ‘better’ at yoga if he had hypermobility like Christine, but he would be putting himself at greater risk for injury.
In next week’s post I’ll be talking about hypermobility. I plan on teaching a workshop on hypermobility in the near future. Thanks for reading, feel free to write me anytime. firstname.lastname@example.org