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

Snow…My Aching Back!

Denver got a big dump of snow this past weekend……2 feet at my house! As a life-long Coloradoan I know that if I want to eventually get out of my driveway, I have to shovel several times before the snowfall ends. NOW I’m even careful and conscientious about HOW I shovel. Shoveling snow always reminds me of my last semester of PTA school. PT and PTA students hear over and over about body mechanics and how NOT to hurt yourself while working with patients. We’re even graded on it! On winter break before my last semester of PTA school I managed to strain a muscle in my back. Mostly I did this by transferring my Dad (who was sick and deconditioned from a long hospital stay) by myself. Then a week later I shoveled the snow in my driveway at breakneck speed ( and bad body mechanics). This sealed the deal….the back pain was excruciating! The PTA Department Head clucked at me when I told her why I had to postpone updating my CPR certification, because after all……I should have known better. P.S. Physical Therapy folks ALWAYS want to know how you injured yourself. It’s so tempting to make up a zany story to tell them.

This experience has brought me a few pearls of wisdom. First, don’t beat yourself up for doing something that you could have done better or differently. In the moment, you did the best you could. Second, shovel snow with mindfulness. Some things to remember are: Don’t rush through it. Be conscious of your movements. Don’t twist your spine as you toss snow to the side. Bend at the knees (don’t hunch the back). As you bend the knees and get snow on the shovel, brace the shovel against your leg and use it as a lever to lift. Take breaks. A great snow shoveling break is to look up at the tree branches covered in snow. After all, why not enjoy the beauty of the snow? Ask for help if it’s available. Rest after you shovel, then do a few stretches. I teach two weekly classes that are well suited to back pain; Healing through Yoga (Wednesdays at 5:30) and Unwind the Spine (Fridays at 4:30). If you want a quick practice to do on your own, a great yoga sequence for your back is:

  1. Supta Padangusthasana (Supine Hamstring Stretch)
  2. Figure 4 (Piriformis) Stretch
  3. Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
  4. Apanasana (Knees to Chest Pose)
  5. Cat/Cow
  6. Balasana (Child Pose)
  7. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pidgeon)
  8. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog)
  9. Malasana (Squat) or Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby)

Try to hold each of these postures (except Cat/Cow) for at least 6 breaths. This gives the muscles time to release. If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also sign up for a class or private session by clicking here.

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.

Yoga for the Sacroiliac Joint

In the last post, I talked about Piriformis Syndrome (click here if you missed it) which causes pain in the buttock and often down the leg via the route of the sciatic nerve. There’s another condition called Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction, SIJD for short, that can cause terrible pain. SIJD is sometimes confused with Piriformis Syndrome or Sciatica. They are all, quite literally, a pain in the butt.

The sacroiliac joint (SIJ) is the area where two bones, the sacrum and ilium, meet. The sacrum is the triangular bony area located just below the lumbar vertebrae, and in between the hip bones. The ilium are the two flat hip bones that, when looking at them from the front, are shaped like ears. The union between these two bones fit together much like a jig-saw puzzle. There are many depressions, bumps and ridges that join perfectly together. The SIJ is not bonded together, so some movement happens. However, there really is only a tiny amount of motion available at this joint. The SIJ depends on the surrounding ligaments to hold it in perfect alignment.

Unfortunately, sometimes the joint does become misaligned, and the ligaments, which are used to holding the joint IN alignment, now hold the joint OUT of alignment. Common causes are trauma, pregnancy and arthritis. SIJD pain is located in the area of the joint, and can switch from one side to the other. Those who suffer from SIJD may experience increased pain when rising up from a chair or bending forward. Sadly, since the joint surfaces fit together in an exact pattern, like a puzzle, it can be hard to resolve this pain.

If you believe that you may be suffering from SIJD, go to your doctor, PT or chiropractor. They may be able to adjust the joint to help relieve the pain. There are also some yoga postures that can help bring relief, and in some cases help work the joint back into alignment. These postures work by easing the the tightness of the ligaments and creating some space for the joint to move back where it needs to be. They also improve body awareness and posture. Try the following yoga postures to help with SIJD:

Janu sirsasana (Single leg forward fold)
Marichyasana (Sage Twist)
Anantasana (Side Reclining Lift)
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
Garudhasna (Eagle Pose)

Note that many of the above asanas are twists. To avoid injury in these postures, it’s important ease into the twist. Move your pelvis slowly as you twist. Take care to not use your arms for more torque to crank yourself into a deeper twist. For a sequence that can help with SIJD, sign up for my next newsletter here. In the next issue, I am including a yoga sequence that features some of these postures. For more individualized instruction, try a Functional Yoga Coaching Session, or enjoy my relaxing “Unwind the Spine” class on Friday evenings at 4:30 Mountain Time. Also, don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter for tips on how to keep your spine healthy and your spirits lifted!

How to Heal your Heinie

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A very common problem is excruciating pain in the backside that shoots down the leg. Most of us have heard the term “Sciatica” to describe severe pain in the buttocks, back of leg, and feet. But what is it, and what can be done to help those who suffer from sciatic pain?

Sciatica happens when the sciatic nerve gets compressed. The sciatic nerve is a bundle of nerves that pass through the space between the Ischial Tuberosities (referred to in yoga as the “sits’ bones) and a knobby bump at the top of the Femur (thigh bone). It is roughly the thickness of an index finger, so that’s quite a large bundle of nerves! The piriformis muscle (see my newsletter for a more on this muscle) also passes through this area.

There are a few ways that the sciatic nerve might become compressed, thus leading to pain. First, the piriformis muscle may become tight and start to spasm. This is known as Piriformis Syndrome. Although there are a few causes for Piriformis Syndrome, it is quite common for it to evolve from long periods of sitting. Another cause of sciatic pain is a herniated (bulging) disc in the low back. Herniated discs often cause back pain, but if the sciatic nerve is being compressed, the pain can be felt in the buttocks, and also shoot down the legs, instead of in the low back where the disc is.

So, what can be done to help relieve sciatic pain? First, the extreme pain that comes with sciatic conditions, definitely merits a trip to your doctor to find out the cause of the pain. Treatment depends on whether the cause is Piriformis Syndrome, a herniated disc, or some other cause. Gentle stretching of the piriformis muscle is effective in helping with pain due to tightness and spasm of the piriformis muscle. Stretches should be held for 15 seconds to start, then progress to a 60 second hold. Examples of piriformis stretches are the “Figure 4” stretch or Pigeon Pose. Additionally, twisting postures may help with Piriformis Syndrome by realigning any imbalances in the hips. Examples are Prvta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose) and Ardha Matsyendrasana (Seated Spinal Twist).

For a herniation, it’s helpful to practice gentle back bends. This can assist in easing the disc matter back into the disc, thus relieving pressure on the nerves. Examples include Salabasana (Locust Pose) and Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1 Pose). If you’re unsure of the cause of your sciatic pain, you should practice extreme caution with twists, as they can exacerbate a herniation.

For more information on spinal health through yoga and physical therapy, check out my newsletter, join me for a class, or contact me for a private online Functional Yoga session.

Unwind or Unravel?

Getting the most from your twists

I teach a class every Friday called “Unwind the Spine.” It’s designed to allow people to let go of their week, de-stress and help their spine feel more supple. I often include twisting postures in this class. Twists have a lot of benefits. When approached correctly, they allow us to release tension, increase range of motion, and relieve pain. However, twisting without proper support of the spine, can lead to unwanted effects. So how do you get the most out of your twist and avoid discomfort or injury? You can do this by considering the following factors: Range of Motion, Spinal Alignment, Base of Support.

  • First, consider your range of motion. Range of motion is increased with movement and stretching before your twists. Try doing a little stretching of spine and hip muscles every day. Hold the stretches for 5-6 breaths to allow the muscles to lengthen and release. Also, keep in mind that “motion is lotion” so go for a daily walk, swim or bike ride to get those joints moving.
  • Next, align the spine. In seated or standing postures you should feel as if each vertebrae is stacked on top of the other. Extend the spine on an inhale. Exhale and allow the hips to relax. Ears should be over shoulders and shoulder blades rest down the back. This can help to avoid over-arching the low back or creating neck tension as the shoulders hunch up towards the ears.
  • Now, check to see if you feel grounded and stable. Feel the parts of your body that are in contact with the earth. This is your base of support. If you’re standing, try to bring equal weight into each foot. You may need to adjust your stance once in the yoga pose to achieve this. If you’re seated, allow both sitting bones to be in contact with the earth. If one lifting up as you twist away from that side, try twisting a little less and see if you can re-establish that base.

In addition to these three factors try to avoid over-twisting or cranking your torso around to twist more. Often less is more, and more is just too much. For more tips on spinal health, subscribe to my newsletter or contact me for a class or therapeutic exercise coaching session.

Lessons Learned from Monkey Pose

What’s life without a little challenge? Of course I realize that life is throwing challenges at us left and right lately, but instead of just playing defense and fighting life’s challenges as they come up, I decided to challenge myself by working towards the goal of achieving the posture Hanumanasana, aka “the splits.” This posture is steeped in symbolism since it’s named after Hanuman who epitomizes strength, courage, perseverance, and release of ego. Hanuman is a fascinating character and I encourage you to read more about him.

As I start my journey to this goal, the PTA/yoga teacher in me considers the anatomical breakdown of this posture. Instagram and the web are full of beautiful people looking serene in this pose. But there is much complexity to this pose in an anatomical sense. I could easily teach a total yoga class just on Hanumanasana alone. It is not just about stretching the hamstrings and “being flexible”. The muscles are a balance between stretching and contracting/activating.

Much of this pose is about balance. The torso is balanced over the pelvis, and there’s also a balance between stretching and activating the muscles. Many of the muscles of the legs come into a stretch, but then they continue actively contracting (eccentrically) for stabilization.

The front leg is flexed at the hip while the back of the thigh (Hamstring Muscles) stretch. After those muscles elongate, they contract at that elongated position. This is called an eccentric contraction. To help stabilize the posture, the calf muscles are also contracting.

The back leg is extended from the hip. Here, the front of the thigh (Psoas Major and Rectus Femoris muscles) experience a deep stretch. Before sending the leg all the way backwards, I recommend regular stretching of these muscles. They are usually pretty tight from all the sitting we do in day to day life. If theses muscles are too tight it’s difficult to balance the torso over the pelvis. Additionally, if you have tight hamstring muscles it is often due to the hamstrings compensating for tight hip flexors. So stretching the front hip and thigh muscles would serve you well. See my latest newsletter for some tips on how to do this.

In addition to the legs, the spine is a large part of this posture as well. The spinal extensors are at work here to lift and hold the spine over the pelvis, especially with the arms extended. All the muscles on the front of the torso elongate, then eccentrically contract as we lift the arms skyward.

Yes indeed, there’s a lot going on in Hanumanasana. I have my work cut out for for me as I attempt to embrace this posture in a safe, supportive way. I invite you to follow my progress (and help inspire me to persevere) as I post I post on Instagram and Facebook. @yogalorie.com #yogalorie

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.