From the yoga mat to the massage table and back

I found myself in a curious position over the weekend in yoga class. I was unable to sustain myself in a pose modified for novices or people not used to sustaining their body weight. It should have been easier for me.

Modified side plank

The pose was side plank (Vasisthasana) — most vinyasa 1 practitioners grind their teeth when they have to get into this pose from plank. In this case, the teacher decide to use me as a demo for the pose and its modification, which required me to place the lower knee on the ground to support my core (as illustrated in the photo to the right). I found that I could not keep my leg directly under me and aligned in the same plane as  my body because I could not fully open up my hip. It seemed to reach a limit at about 45 degrees. It was more difficult resting on the right knee, but I also had issues with the left variant. When I tried to muscle my way into a more open expression, it was as if I butted up against bone, with no give. It actually hurt.

I had noticed that I had similar problems with in tree pose (Vrksasana) when placing the lifted foot on the thigh. I find it hard to hold my foot in place, and the knee is always jutting out at 45 degrees rather than being in the same plain as the rest of the body. There are other variations on this pose with the leg extended. I have limited ability to rotate my hip bone in the socket.

This morning I mentioned this problem to my body worker, Howard Rontal, and we spent a session trying to discover what was the cause. We narrowed the focus to the tightness of my hips, but it was more than just that.  It’s not just a case of men being tighter than women. As has been documented here copiously, I’ve had many issues with the hip abductors, flexors, iliopsoas and other components. After 90 minutes of work, we were able to get the supporting knee in modified side plank to align with the plane of the body. I believe a complicating factor is that I don’t have the muscular control to rotate my hip this way because it had always been in a lock-down position.

When I was climbing the stairs from Howard’s basement office, I noticed that my legs moved with more freedom, without a feeling of moving through molasses. By the time that I got home, I also noticed that the symptoms of my peripheral neuropathy (numbness in the feet and lower legs, tightening ligaments in the ankles and calves) had lessened. When I meditated briefly in the afternoon, my breathing seemed to have a deeper floor.

My issue going forward is how to maintain or deepen this hip opening, or prevent it from regressing, because I am only able to enlist a bodyworker on a limited basis, at least not one with Howard’s experience and expertise. But this instance is a clear example of why just doing the asanas, vinyasas and sweat is not enough to break through. It was not just one muscle, ligament or joint, but a knot of tissues that had hardened into the myofascial equivalent of concrete, and only a different kind of intervention could pry open the structure.