In my work, I spend a large part of my time educating or re-educating people about feeling and holding a neutral pelvis. Whether it’s in asana, bodyweight movements in the gym or Olympic or power lifting movements, the neutral pelvis is a fundamental structural position for healthy movement and a strong stable core. Although the cue to “tuck your tailbone” makes my hackles go up – it’s a blunt explanation that gets most of you there – one of my BFFs, Amber Karnes from Body Positive Yoga did this blog post awhile back and I loved it for it’s simplicity. Enjoy! And, as most of my clients will hear me say before they squat, “Brace!”
Here’s a quickie on alignment! We had a question on the Body Positive Yoga Facebook page today about what “keeping the pelvis in a neutral position” means. You probably will hear that in a yoga class and … yeah – what the heck does it mean?! I found this picture online which shows positions for someone riding a horse, but I love the depiction of a “pelvic bucket of water” as it’s a visualization I use myself.
To find a neutral pelvic position, think about your pelvis like a bowl of water. Instead of having sassy, Beyoncé-butt, booty-tootch butt where you stick your butt out and arch your low back (spilling the water forward onto your lap), bring the front hip points (hip bones) up and make space in the low back. You can even place your hands like handles on each of your hips (wrap the fingers toward the hip bones and the thumbs toward the sacrum), and move the pelvis around. Try both positions – tucking and tilting until you find neutral.
To find neutral, tuck the tailbone slightly and lift the pubic bone. Don’t tuck your tailbone so much that “water” spills out the back – just let the tailbone be heavy and move toward the heels.
Level the pelvis so your “bowl of water” doesn’t spill. This retains the natural curves in your spine. Make sense?
So, I had surgery. It was unexpected, unplanned, and unwanted, but necessary if I hope to conceive. Anne-Marie and I have been trying since January only to find out that I was full of fibroids and one especially large one that matched the size of my uterus itself. These past 9 months have tested me and my will while also bringing some pretty amazing and selfless people into my life. Yes, I’ve had physical pain, but I never contributed it to anything with my lady parts since my periods were fine and never painful. Anyway, I was a candidate for a robotic myomectomy because of the size and number of fibroids. I ended up with four holes instead of the three which left my insides rattled and shredded from my ribs down and my recovery way more painful than I expected based on a previous laproscopic procedure I had had years ago. This much longer than expected forced time off and alone, still and quiet, has given me time to rest and truly reflect. That sounds so hokey and weird, but after the first 4 days or so of lying in bed drugged and unable to do much more than sleep and watch TV, I was then faced with forced time at home – not sick per say, so still able to think and feel and functional basically which over the next 7 days has really been something I realized that I truly needed.
This is my “the drugs are working” face pre-surgery. I need this much relaxation more often! LOL!
For those of you that don’t know, I work for myself as a massage therapist taking clients for bodywork and I am a Crossfit coach (but currently on a hiatus from coaching to refocus my energies on things that are more financially lucrative. it pains me to admit it, but i do need to put food in my fridge and coaching although fed my passion for fitness and helping people, it was causing me to suffer in other ways.) I’ve switched over to working privately with athletes and the general public on how to move more efficiently for their life or their sport. I also own a yoga studio and teach several asana classes.
Owning a yoga studio is a bittersweet reality – it is a business that I give most of my attention to and receive no salary from – for 7 years. It fills my heart to provide the space to the community and at the same time it strips away at my ability to provide for myself and my family. All of this leaves me hanging on the razor’s edge of a cliff of anxiety at all times hustling to fill my book, keep my classes full, and keep the doors open at the studio. That low tremor of anxiety has been so bad that yoga couldn’t even bring ease and I had to be medicated for awhile – ironic for a yogi of almost 20 years. The hum of the worry and the tension is always there and only from this forced house arrest have I been able to step away from it and really feel how bad it was and how much better it is. Even at about day 4 or 5 of this when I was starting to get my wits about me, I could feel the tension, anxiety and sick-to-my-stomach feelings rise up a bit as I thought about what was needing to be done and what wasn’t getting tended to. Thank Ganesha I have the most amazing studio manager, mother, and wife who were all there and all in in easing my mind! I would have to say to myself, out freaking loud, that it is all taken care of and I didn’t even have to think twice about it or rush into Norfolk or drive all over town to meet the needs of my clients. I had no choice but to stay put and trust my support system – and they were rock stars! Now, the sensation is tangible of that ever-present knot slowly unraveled.
So, here I am with almost 2 weeks at home, relearning new movement patterns, retraining my brain to be present, reminding myself to move slower. In relearning how to move again, I had to go back to square one on how to get out of bed, stand up, sit down (oh, the toilet), go up and down the stairs. Every single breathe I took for almost 7 days felt calculated to be sure that I didn’t cough or laugh since my diaphragm just couldn’t fully expand – even talking was a mindful and sometimes labored process. In retraining my brain, I chose to reform thought patterns and create practices that gave me some headspace. I rekindled my meditation practice and made a promise to myself to write more often. I’ve had to slow way down and take my time which may mean I work less and make less when I’m back which terrifies me, but I really have to find the balance.
All of this being said, Anne-Marie and I are also going to make a concerted effort to get back to posting on Brute Yogi WOD for you all. If you don’t have a blog of your own, let me tell you that this rodeo of writing and editing and organizing and re-reading and re-writing and then finding images, is no friggin’ joke! There are many in my life that make it look effortless and they are my heroes.
Stay tuned and Namaste Strong (see what we did there!?)
Lisa and Tina are taking their hip mobility seriously!
Some friends called me directly on the brute yogi hotline with some very specific questions about my first ever video on releasing the hips to help soothe back pain. After I finally went live with this website (and almost threw up several times in the process) and (with anxiety that I thought would swallow me up) posted my first blog post, they scoured my site like any beloved friends would, to peek at what little information I’ve put out there so far, and found the video. They both started doing the simple mobility movements right away with high hopes of relieving their back pain and they were sold! They even wrote the sequence on their white board in their kitchen!
What really made me struck me was how they improvised props with what they had around the house – they had one yoga block, the tie for a robe, and couch cushions. I was so proud of them! They wouldn’t let anything stop them from moving in a new way to feel better!
Only got one block and two pillows
You can use anything as a yoga strap!
Their excitement was contagious! It literally makes my day to know that I’ve helped someone, especially when they get so pumped about the idea of being empowered to take care of themselves! Their one burning question though was about the “killer penguin” (my yoga buddy, Amber , gets the credit for this pet name.)
In the interest of full disclosure, this is not technically a yogasana – it is a mobility exercise and it goes by many names – the frog, the penguin, the baby maker, groin sprawl, or just simply a groin stretch. My friends decided to call it the sex pose (LOL?!) Here is a picture of another lovely friend and fellow yoga teacher, Gayle, demonstrating the killer penguin for us.
Gayle in killler penguin – dead or resting?
Get those hips down, Gayle! No-ass up poses!
Let me take a moment to describe *why* this can be such an effective hip opener for back pain relief. The adductor muscles on the inner thighs play a major role in the position and the stability of your pelvis. If there is extra tension and gripping in the groin muscles, the pelvis can tilt too far forward and put unhealthy strain on the lumbar spine, especially if you are lacking in core stability.
**Be sure you have some padding under your knees before you get going on this groin opener**
~ Start on your hands and knees.
~ Turn the feet out 90 degrees and flex them to protect the inner knee.
~ Gradually spread your knees apart keeping the knees and thighs line with the pelvis. In this first variation, the feet are apart and the ankles are in line with the knees – so that there is a 90 degree angle behind the knee.
~ While sliding your hips back to line up with the knees, keep the spine long (this isn’t Penthouse, asses down people) by either propping under the torso with blocks, pillows, a bolster, blankets, or just simply hold yourself up on your forearms.
~Now, WAIT…hold…pause…be still…be like a killer ninja penguin…breathe and await the opening…
Moving dynamically here can also be effective. In Yoga for Athletes, we like to laugh at ourselves as we awkwardly “saw the groin open” or “hump the penguin.” Basically, just carefully shift your body back and forth to change the angle and depth of the stretch in your hip socket and in the groin. As you do this, and your adductor muscles loosen up, be sure to spread your knees wider…and wider…and wider…
Now, Tina and Lisa were wondering more specifically if there were other ways to get the same release in the adductors without so much weight on the inner knees. There sure are!
Praying to the Frogs
Just simply bring the feet towards each other – then it is technically more of a yogasana (adho mukha baddha konasana) and in the movement and exercise world, this is usually called, “frog.”
Seated Butterfly – Baddha Konasana
* pressing down gently on inner thighs or using weights on the inner things* Siamese cat not required.
These versions of this groin opener aren’t quite as effective at getting to the inner groin and adductors. There is more torque placed on the femurs in the hip socket when there is a right angle at the pelvis and knee (like in the killer penguin) which creates more lengthening and stretch in the tendon attachments around the inner bowl of the pelvis. And, as a bonus, gives the femur a rotation that it rarely gets deep in the hip socket and at its gluteal attachments. But these will do if they don’t “kill” your knees as much!
Here are some versions that create that more effective torque that penguin gives (for some reason, I love that word, “torque!)
Reclined Butterfly with or without weight on the inner thighs- whoah
Supta Malasana – Squat on the wall – Dead Penguin – Baby maker?
Seated with legs in penguin position. Seated with legs in same position as “killer penguin.”
Half-Kneeling Groin Stretch – so good!
One leg up on edge of couch or chair or box in same position/angle
Flex that foot! Protect the knee and you open and torque that hip/femur!
In conclusion…not sure how to end this whirlwind of hip opening ideas being tossed your way…
There is always a way – to make changes – to ease discomfort – to open the hips. Excuses cannot be excused. A few years ago, I had a rare opportunity to work with nationally recognized yoga teacher, author, public speaker, and paraplegic (yes, a paraplegic yoga teacher!) Matthew Sanford who said, “You cannot overcome your life.” I imagine that what he meant is that there are circumstances of our lives and our physical makeup that we cannot ever change, but we have the creative will, the fortitude, and the CHOICE to work with what we were given. He cannot “overcome” his disability and he doesn’t make excuses – he finds a way to work with his physical karma, he has the courage to go for what he knows is possible for him and his physical vehicle.
So, go forth and take care of your vehicle – post any questions below and epiphanies below!