How to Have Happy Hips

Hip tightness or pain is a frequent complaint of many. Sometimes this arises from lifestyle patterns, and other times from a previous injury that needs a little TLC. There are indeed many causes of hip pain. If you suffer from any pain that causes you to abstain from activities you previously engaged in, a trip to the doctor is warranted. For many people yoga and physical therapy can help.

The hip joint is an amazing structure. It is made up of the femur (thigh) bone, and the pelvis. The top of the femur has a knobby protrusion on it that fits snugly into a concave area in the pelvis. Muscles, ligaments and tendons all give stability to this joint. The design of the hip joint allows for lots of motion. Additionally, it is able to handle the load of the upper body, even as we carry heavy objects, walk up stairs, or engage in sports. It’s designed to do all this with efficiency and grace as we propel forward through our days on our two legs.

However, as with any fine machine, we need to take good care of the hip joints for them to be at their best. Today’s lifestyle of relative immobility can cause tension and tightness in the hips. Since we sit with our hips bent for hours on end, the hip flexors at the front of the thigh get tight. These muscles shorten which can cause pain in the low back, hips and knees. If you have tension in any of these areas, or feel pain while walking, then you may be able to find relief from movement, stretching, and strengthening. Ideally, you should try to stretch and strengthen all the muscles that attach at the hip….those on the front, back and sides of the thigh.

Yoga can really help create more openness in tight muscles. If you want to try a yoga class to help all your body parts feel better, try one of my weekly offerings. I teach Healing through Yoga (Wednesdays at 5:30 MT) and Unwind the Spine (Fridays at 4:30 MT). To try some postures on your own, some good choices to keep your hips happy and healthy are:

  • Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)
  • Paraghasana (Gate Pose)
  • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
  • Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
  • Figure 4 Stretch
  • Vasisthasana (Side Plank)
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) (Also one-legged bridge for strengthening)
  • Gomukhasana (Cow-face pose)
  • Eka Pada Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose)
  • Bird Dog Pose

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

No Pain…No Strains

“Degenerative Disc Disease”…..those words uttered from your doctor’s mouth can make you feel downright ancient. The simple truth is that as we get older, some wear and tear is going to happen. But seriously….do they have to tell us we’re “degenerating?” Are we degenerating? What does this term “Degenerative Disc Disease” (DDD, for short) mean?

First, let’s take a look at the spine. It’s made up of a bunch of vertebrae stacked on top of each other. Between each vertebrae are the intervertebral discs. The discs are squishy structures that are made up mainly of water and collagen. Their job is to help stabilize. cushion, absorb pressure, increase flexibility, and protect the nerves. That’s a lot of work these little squishy wonders do! Unfortunately, over time, the discs show signs of wear and tear. They lose moisture and squishiness and are less effective. Often an individual can have this degeneration without any pain or other symptoms. DDD happens when this normal process of degeneration causes pain or disfunction. For some, the pain can be constant and unrelenting. For others, it is intermittent. DDD most often occurs in the low back or in the neck. In this post, we’ll focus on the low back.

One of the best ways to help alleviate low back pain from DDD (and other conditions) is to strengthen the deep abdominal muscles. Many yoga and fitness classes focus on strengthening these core muscles. Doing so increases support for the low back. Other great activities to practice are walking, swimming, and stretching. Stretching and movement increase blood flow to the disc, and thus facilitates the healing process. Physical therapy, regular yoga practice, and Functional Yoga Coaching can help as well. A sampling of yoga postures that work well to decrease the pain and discomfort associated with DDD are:

  • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1 Pose)
  • Apanasana (Knees to Chest Pose)
  • Parsva Balasana (Bird dog pose)
  • Jathara Parivatanasana (Supine Twist Pose)
  • Phalakasana (Plank Pose)
  • Setu Banha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
  • Cat/Cow
  • All stretches for the legs and hips

For more information on how to alleviate pain from DDD, check out my website or sign up for Functional Yoga Coaching, or my new Healing through Yoga Class. You can also get some great yoga and physical therapy tips by subscribing to my newsletter.

What a Pain in the Neck!

Neck pain and stiffness are common in our society. Sadly, not even old yogis like me are exempt from this persistent malady. The neck is really an amazing body part. This short structure connects the torso to the head and holds the weight of the world. Ok, really it just holds up our world, aka the head, which weighs roughly the same as a bowling ball. It also houses nerves that control the neck, eyes, diaphragm, arms, and hands. This means that tension in the neck can lead to headaches, sinus problems, vision problems, fatigue, and numbness in arms, hands, and fingers. Yes, the neck has really got our backs, and yet we fail to attend to its needs.

So how do things go so terribly, terribly wrong with the neck? Much of the tension we feel is due to our lifestyles. Our body is designed for the parts of the spine to stack in perfect alignment. Our ideal alignment features the ears over the shoulders, shoulders over the hips, and hips over ankles. When we sit in front of our computers or watch TV this is not happening. Often, we lean forward towards the computer, then maybe tilt our heads upward and/or forward to see the monitor. Of course, our posture does not improve when we relax on the couch to binge watch our favorite shows. Then we might slump in our seats, or lay out on the couch with our necks in an uncomfortable and unnatural position. Sometimes even “a good night’s sleep” is not so good for our necks.

If you’re experiencing problems that may stem from neck tension, it’s time to take action. A trip to the doctor may rule out any serious problems. If that’s the case, you can try the following ideas to help reduce any pain, tension, headaches, etc. For more tips on spinal health, subscribe to my newsletter here.

First, try changing your pillow. If you start the day with a headache or neck pain, the solution may be as simple as buying a new pillow. Look for one that offers support, but has enough give to avoid placing the neck at an angle. If a pillow is too firm , it puts the neck in misalignment…..too soft and it does not offer support.

Next, consider your posture as you go about your day. Ask yourself, “Where are my ears?” If the answer is, “My ears are in front of my shoulders,” then it’s time to realign. See my post Don’t Wear Your Shoulders As Earrings for more tips on posture. Now incorporate movement and neck stretches into your day. Try the following:

  • Start with your gaze forward, then move your head to the right. Pause briefly, then come back to center. Do this 10 times on the right, then repeat on the left.
  • Next, look to the right again, and as you exhale allow the chin to come down in a half circle to the chest. Inhale, as you continue this half circle bringing head to gaze to the left. Exhale and repeat towards the right. Do this 10 times. You can also do full neck circles if you do not feel discomfort or pain with them. Many yoga classes are helpful for releasing tension as well. To sign up for my “Unwind the Spine” class on Fridays at 4:30 MT, click here.
  • Now work on scapular movement. With your arms by your sides (elbows bent), or in your lap, squeeze the shoulder blades together. Hold for a breath and release. Repeat 10 times.
  • To stretch your neck, sit up tall on a chair and place your right hand behind your low back, near the sacrum. Let the left ear drop towards the left shoulder. Hold and breathe for 5-6 breaths. Repeat 2-3 times, then switch sides.
  • To strengthen the deep muscles in the neck, lie on your back and gently press the back of your neck down to the surface beneath you. Your chin will slightly tuck. Hold for a breath, release and repeat 10-20 times.

Being mindful about taking care of your neck can go a long way towards releasing tension and alleviating pain. For more ideas on neck stretches or for Functional Yoga Coaching or classes feel free to contact me.

Is Sitting the “New Smoking”?

Skeleton at Desk

Perhaps you’ve heard this phrase designed to demonstrate the problems that sitting for long periods of time can cause to our bodies. Is this an exaggeration? Can sitting compete with smoking as far as causing permanent harm to your body? There’s no doubt that the more you sit, the less you move, and even moderate levels of movement contributes to good cardiovascular health. But what about the spine? Why are we so achy after a long day of work at a desk? More importantly….what can we do about it?

First lets talk ergonomics and body mechanics. Generally, when sitting at a desk the spine is misaligned. Often the pelvis tilts under and more pressure is put on the vertebral discs and the deep muscles of the back. These muscles then need to work against gravity to keep the spine erect all day long. No wonder they get tired and achy! Additionally, the shoulders and head may hunch forward. The muscles of the neck already do a lot to hold up our heads, so when we bring our heads forward to look at a computer screen for example, they have to work even harder and get tight. As if that’s not enough, sitting can also lead to tight hip muscles and weaken the gluteus muscles The glutes help support the low back and knees, and help us with balance.

So what do we do about this? Obviously if work involves a desk, sitting is just a part of life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Use a small, folded towel (think hand towel) under the sitting bones at the back of the chair to elevate your hips slightly. This can help you sit without rounding your spine and tucking your tailbone. Thus, taking a little pressure off the low back.
  • Take breaks during the day to move. Get up every now and then and do 10-20 heel raises. Going up and down on your tippy toes will increase blood flow and strengthen the calf muscles.
  • Stretch your outer hips with the Figure Four Stretch. Sit toward the edge of the chair and cross your ankle over the opposite thigh the lean forward (hinge at the hips) with a flat back.
  • Throughout the day squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times. This will help reverse when you hunch your shoulders forward.
  • Find a good Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, or Stretching class to help relieve pressure and strengthen muscles.

For more tips, subscribe to my newsletter or join me for a class or private lesson.