Tag Archives: hips

How the World Cup improved my yoga

Photo: forward fold at Thrive Yoga
Forward fold

I went to Thrive Yoga for the third day in a row, a vinyasa flow with Jessica Apo. Whenever the stars align and neither whims or circumstances prevent me from taking class, I notice that my practice tends to be better, more flowing, building on the continuity of practice, and even with surprises that make me pay attention to how I am responding to each cue. It always helps when I’ve taken one of Susan Bowen’s 2-3 vinyasa flow classes that pushes me hard, followed by a Hatha yoga class with Marylou McNamara that makes me focus on the fundamentals

But this time, there was something special. When I went into Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana), I noticed that I was getting in much deeper than previously. I could place my hands flat on the floor while keeping my knees straight, and that made the jump back to plank or chatarunga much more controlled. I also felt the difference in Intense Side Stretch Pose (Parsvottanasana).

One of my obstacles in yoga could be simplisticaly called “tight hips,” which most men would recognize as a combination of tight hamstrings, hip flexors misaligned by years sitting in chairs, relatively disengaged quads, and a stiff spine. The end result is that when I am seated on the floor and want to move into Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana), I would ended up in a fairly upright, L-shaped position. I simply did not seem to have the means to get passed a limited range of flexibility. I would take hip-opener workshops and they did not seem to have any lasting effect.

What happened to allow me to make this breakthrough? The World Cup soccer (football to the rest of the world) matches over the past six weeks, but most notably in the past two weeks. For the games that I watched at home, I sat on the floor and held yoga poses for as long as I could tolerate: Seated Forward Bend, Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana), Head-to-Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana), and especially Bound Angle (Baddha Konasana), sometimes with my feet up on blocks so that I was not cranking my neck to watch the game.

It took me ages to gradually break through the barriers of these poses. Looking back, I can see that most yoga classes don’t have that much time time to spend in one sequence of poses. They are excruciatingly boring when held for that long — unless you’re watching a soccer match on TV or a movie or whatever entertains you. Even from one sitting to the next, I did not notice any substantial change, just subtle shifts that kept up my nerve to keep going. But this past weekend, I pushed past an edge. The full realization of how far I had come appeared in tonight’s class. In a vigorous vinyasa class in which I was juiced up and sweating, I could feel that something was different in my practice.

I should note that it was not just the soccer-cum-yoga sessions. At bed time, I do a yin yoga sequence, initially spinal twists, but now with forward bends, and that routine helps me release muscular tension. It is a daily reminder to my body of the new edge that I had been creating.

Everything Yoga gives some advice on avoiding injuries

Everything Yoga: “As a yoga therapist in training, it pains me to see people getting injured by what’s supposed to be a healing practice. The goal of yoga is not to force your body, but to get in touch with your body and honor it.” Diane Cesa’s Everything Yoga has been nice enough to link to this blog despite the limited amount of blogging that I’ve been doing lately, so I am returning the favor. But the quote is actually relevant to my practice.

In yesterday’s yoga session at Thrive, I tweaked something in my lower back. I did not notice it until I had cooled off and gone home so I cannot identify which asana or movement might have overtaxed my muscles. I think that the session was not particularly difficult or strenuous, and I’ve been focusing on body awareness during my session, both in terms of breath and alignment. Kim Dellaroca, the instructor, had just been at a hip opener workshop so she emphasized that in the class so my ache might be simple muscle fatigue.

I had a far more serious problem with lower back pain about two years ago so I am concerned about how serious this might be.

In the Sunday class with Kim Groak, I mentioned my problem to Kim. She did a class that was strong on hip openers as well. I felt much better after the class than before so she must have done something right. I was able to do Half Moon pose with my arms spread wide. It had always been hard for me because my hips tended to be unstable, throwing me out of alignment, not to mention my general balance deficiency.

Hip openers and lower back pain

Over the weekend, I took a Hip Opener workshop at TranquilSpace. It was a two-hour workout, double what I normally take. The instructor was Kevin Waldorf-Cruz, and we had a nice chat before class, when I told him of my history of lower back pain and what I had been doing to treat it. I was fearful that I might overload my lower back because of the intensive nature of the session, but it was the opposite. I came out really tired, pushed to my extreme, but my back felt fine. I don’t think I “cured” my lower back pain, but I did come to release into it and accept it as a given in my practice. I learned I had to listen to it attentively and patiently — and apply that lesson to the rest of my body.

Getting hip — and showing my age

I am not a flexible yogi. If I had to make a list of areas I need to work on, I would end up with all the major joints in the body — from ankles to shoulders. But hips are up at the top of the list. I chanced across Hips Too Tight? If you’re having difficulty with forward bends, don’t assume it’s your hamstrings. Inflexible rotator muscles may be to blame. by Judith Hanson Lasiter. The article originally appeared in the January/February 2000 isssue of Yoga Journal, but this version also includes the photographs.