Posted on December 19th, 2010
Each time I step into a lunge yoga pose, I appreciate just how much my hip flexors play on my postural health. I clearly feel how these large bands of muscles become tight by over-sitting. I often question, then, just how practical yoga is when addressing most people’s issues with hip flexor imbalance?
Yoga expert, David Keil, presents our hip flexors as an important muscle group that can assist us in many of our forward bends. The main group of hip flexors attach at the upper thigh and cross the hip to attach partially at the inner hip crest and further up on the lower vertebrae. When we forward bend, we can improve the fold at our hips by visualizing our hip flexors engaging. This ultimately reduces rounding and hence compression from going into the lumbar spine. The hip flexors contract and draw the hip points into the thighs, from which, the spine can follow the fold with space and integrity. We can most readily practice this in seated folding postures like Wide Forward Bend. If the hip flexors are integrated as such, we likely feel, immediately after these folding poses, a need to expand the front of the hips with a back arching asana.
Therefore, in forward bends, our hip flexors appear to be a resourceful friend to maintaining quality and safety. But looking at a complete yoga practice, I sometimes question other transitions and yoga exercises that may be unnecessarily involving the hip flexors. Take example lying leg lift flows that are used as a means to develop core conditioning. The motion of moving one or both legs up and then down towards the earth against gravity is countered with core and abdominal contractions. The ultimate goal is to feel the abdominal area strengthen. But what is happening with the hip flexors? The hip flexors simply add a force load on the pelvis, which, without a countering core contraction, would cause the spine to lift off the ground. In a theoretical sense, this sounds all good. But in practical application, not only are we strengthening the core, but also the hip flexors.
So what’s the big deal with strengthening the hip flexors? Strengthening of muscles involves repeated loading and shortening of muscle fibers. From a functionality perspective, the majority of people already have chronically shortened hip flexors due to prolonged sitting and/or poor postural habits. This is well presented by Dr. Carla Cupido as part of lower cross syndrome – a chronic energetic imbalance that leads to lower back pain and poor postural health.
Understanding that most of us sit far too much and likely are dealing with lower cross syndrome issues, does it make sense to develop even more imbalance in the pelvis and hips by adding yoga exercises that specifically condition our hip flexors further? As yoga teachers, we should be aware of the functionality of our practices. Do they service our students’ needs appropriately and support the therapeutic benefits that a yoga practice should generate? Are we compromising the gain of core strength with worsening musculoskeletal imbalances? Every time the hip bends, how are the hip flexors being engaged and does this engagement serve a greater purpose?
As students and teachers, I encourage you to first look at your lifestyle patterns. Our practice and the intentions of yoga postures should first address the needs of our lifestyle. Does our practice work to restore conditions and issues that have evolved from daily activities? Our practice becomes more intelligent and with more profound purpose when we apply practicality and functionality.
Article by Kreg Weiss, My Yoga Online teacher and co-founder.
Tags: Yoga Tips, Yoga, Hip Anatomy, hip flexor muscles, yoga anatomy