Housekeeping! Subbing this Wednesday June 8th for Derek Beres, Equinox Soho: Basics, 6:30-7:30pm, Level 2/3 7:30-8:45. I can have one non-member guest:)
Holy hot! Its getting very warm outside here in NYC, and that can mean several things. You, like myself, may have just run out to get an assortment of cooling technology, in an effort to secure a good nights sleep in the wake of oppressive humidity. You, like myself, may have also run out to upgrade your wardrobe to “what will work for both ridiculously hot, humid, sticky outside as well as freezing cold air conditioned inside” clothes…and you may also, like myself, find that your schedule has opened up a bit and there are more opportunities than ever to maximize the fun days of summer that lie ahead.
One thing that I have always really enjoyed about the summer time is how deep I can get into some of the more challenging yoga poses I stumble across in my practice. This is because muscles, joints and connective tissue respond very well to heat. With heat there tends to be an increase in the elasticity of these structures in the body. There are two forms of heat we can refer to. One is external heat, not generated by us, but heat all the same. This is akin to standing on the train platform waiting forever...and all of a sudden you are sweating. Did you exert yourself? Not necessarily, just your body is cooling itself off with sweat. Then there is internal heat we create as a result of moving the body against gravity. This is the kind of heat we create after a few rounds of sun salutations and perhaps some breath of fire. This kind of heat is very useful to us in yoga practice. This is also why it is recommended that one both inhale and exhale through the nose during asana practice: this keeps the air warm, and limits the amount of hot air we can let escape.
Most people have a significant amount of tightness in their hips. I know this through years of observation as both a personal trainer and yoga teacher. I also speak for myself: I am fairly flexible and my hips always feel like they could use a stretch. We use our hips for so much: walking, standing, sitting, biking, running, bending down, getting up, you name it and there is probably a degree of hip flexion or extension involved. This is a good thing, as the hips were designed to be used in a variety of functions. The hips become problematic when we use them more than we stretch them, or when we don’t stretch them at all (yikes!).
Lets look at a low lunge:
Here we see that the left hip flexor is being stretched while the right one is flexed. This is fine, knowing that we always do both sides in yoga practice. But imagine that either both hips are always flexed, as in sitting at a desk, on a plane, in a car, or otherwise, or that you run, bike or recreate with some sort of discrepancy in strength between your right and left side. All sorts of compensatory movements and adjustments would take place in order for the body to regain balance as a whole. I digress a bit here but the point is that low lunge is a great hip flexor stretch and should always be done bi-laterally, or on both sides.
When stretching the hips, it can be helpful to understand where your “neutral” is for your pelvis. This is why at the beginning of most Vinyasa classes there are plenty of chances to discover this. Often times we stand in Tadasana, or Mountain pose, to get a sense of balance and neutrality in the major joints and muscles. In order for your pelvis to be neutral, stand with your hands on your waist and reach down towards your hips to feel for the highest and most bony prominence. This is called your ASIS – (anterior superior illiac spine – sounds fancy but really just your hip bone in the front). If your ASIS had light bulbs coming out of them ( which for MOST of us is not the case, hee hee…) those light bulbs would be facing straight ahead. In other words, if your pelvis is out of alignment, the ASIS will in most cases point down, and less often will be pointing up or be tilted higher on one side than another. As we create heat for the body and engage in a mindful practice of sun salutations, Warrior I and II, Lizard and Hanumanasana (split) pose, we can increase the range of our ASIS, by lengthening our psoas (hip flexor) and imagining our ASIS is pointing straight ahead as well as being level right to left.
Often we cannot get as deep as we need to, because the hips are not only highly used in our daily life, but they are a veritable warehouse of emotional buildup, so to speak. Now I am really drifting off to an entirely different topic, that of the phenomena of storing emotions in various places in the body…Next week! Suffice to say if you are one to loathe sharing emotions, or have a tendency to accommodate so that others may be happy at your expense, you just might have some tight hips, and releasing them may be a matter of going deep on both a physical and deeply rooted emotional level. This requires bravery, compassion, empathy for yourself and for others, and patience. Patience most of all, because we resist change, we fear change, we fear the unknown and the unseen. But liberation is not something to take lightly. Embrace the heat and go deep into your practice. There is something amazing waiting for you on the other side of that journey.
“It is the truth we ourselves speak rather than the treatment we receive that heals us.” O. Hobart Mowrer, 1966
“Things do not change. We change.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden