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Reset Your Hips to Reset Your Posture!

in YogaDork Ed

Open Hips 1by Jill Miller

Poor Posture – I know – it sounds trite but I really get bent out of shape when I see people who are literally bent out of shape. Fortunately, it’s so simple to improve your posture, it’s totally free and requires no gym membership. Below are a few “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to remain conscious of as well as a great sequence that will help your hips stay in balance.

The Don’ts:

  • Don’t lean into one hip and cock it off to one side.
  • Don’t slump your spine like a willow tree.
  • Don’t emulate the posture of Paris Hilton.

The Do’s:

  • Stand up straight.
  • Point your toes forward.
  • Have some respect for your own structure.

Okay, good, glad I got that off my chest.

Why is bad posture bad for you?

The reason your posture hurts my feelings, and yours, is because poor posture creates significant changes over time in the soft tissues of the body – its muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia – as well as the hard tissues like bone, cartilage and discs.

The short form equation is this: Bad Posture + Time = Degeneration and Pain

The new normal?

Before this blog becomes too full of scolding, I also want to acknowledge that, for many people, their bodies have become so used to poor postural habits that walking the “straight and narrow” can actually be very uncomfortable and challenging to maintain as a “new normal” in their bodies. This is where corrective exercises like Yoga Tune Up play a role on helping the body to lengthen the tissues that have become locked into an unhelpful holding pattern, or to strengthen tissues that are weak and unsupportive.

There are about a zillion different exercises that you can do to retrofit your body from inside out, but improving your posture can be dramatically affected by going after the largest joints in your body: the hips.

Help your hips in 6-12 minutes

The tissues of the hips and pelvis are a postural roundabout between the legs and feet below them and the spine above them. Improving the hips’ mobility and stability will directly impact the whole body, and your basic upright posture will be a bit more uplifted and balanced. And it can be done in just a few minutes per day!

Do this Leg Stretch Series on a block 3-4 times weekly (up to six times per week if you are extra active) and you will see a significant difference.

  1. You will need a yoga block, a strap and a wall.
  2. It is also helpful to have a timer so that you can time your holds. Hold each pose for the exact amount of time. Time your poses anywhere between 45 seconds and 2 minutes.
  3. Breathe deeply and consistently throughout.

Open Hips 2Leg Stretch #1

  • Prop your pelvis on a yoga block and firmly place right foot on wall with toes pointing skyward.
  • Wrap the fingers around the left big toe, or wrap a strap around the left foot’s instep while straightening the back of the left knee.
  • Feel stretching in two places at once: the back of the left thigh (hamstrings) and the front of the right thigh (hip flexors).
  • Breathe deeply for 45 seconds up to 2 minutes, and then switch sides.

Open Hips 3Leg Stretch #2

  • Prop your pelvis on a yoga block and firmly place right foot on wall with toes pointing skyward.
  • Hold onto the back of the left heel with the left hand, or wrap a strap around the left foot’s instep while straightening the back of the left knee without letting the pelvis lean off of the brick.
  • Feel stretching in three places at once: the back of the left thigh (hamstrings), the left leg’s inner thigh (adductors) and the front of the right thigh (hip flexors)
  • Breathe deeply for 45 seconds up to 2 minutes, and then switch sides.

Open Hips 4Leg Stretch #3

  • Turn the right foot and leg to the right 90º so that side of the right foot is on the floor while the sole of the foot is on the wall with toes pointing towards the right. Adjust the brick so that it fully supports the side of the right hip.
  • Hold onto the side of the left foot with the right hand, or wrap a strap around the left foot’s instep while straightening the back of the left knee.
  • Guide the left leg across the body until the left foot touches the floor.
  • Feel stretching in any of the following places at once: the back of the left thigh (hamstrings), the left buttocks, the lower back.
  • Breathe deeply for 45 seconds up to 2 minutes, and then switch sides.

Video: Leg Stretch #3

Let me know how it goes!

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20 comments… add one

  • This is great, but the extreme flexibility of your model makes this inaccessible to the people that need it the most.

  • This is a great sequence with a strap. The block is optional.

  • How about

    My p.t. Would hate this. She feels that the blocks are not stable nor large enough to safely use this way. Also I agree with Rose regarding the super flexibility of the model.

  • Lee

    Agree with both commenters. I was seriously going to try this until I saw picture #2. If you used a more realistic image to show what the stretch would look like for the rest of us, then I could follow it. I’m not even sure what #2 is supposed to look like, since my body doesn’t bend that way.

  • Lee, don’t the block and use a strap to wrap around the arch of the foot or heel if you cannot reach your foot or ankle. I’ve done this with my students.

  • Paula

    Ditto what everyone else said. I’m very flexible and can probably emulate what the model is doing but the first thing I thought when I saw the second picture was that most people will be intimidated by it.

  • K dub

    I was really excited to see the recommendations cause I know I could use the help in that area. As someone who sprained their hip in October, I can honestly say that the 2nd suggestion would not be a safe option for me. It would’ve been nice to see modifications for those of us not able to do the full pose.

  • Desiree

    Hi – just curious. I practice these variations without a block and they do make my hips feel great. I tried out the block in my home yoga lab, which (to the point of some other commenters) felt awkward because of the size and height of a standard block. I did notice, however, that when I came down from the block, my lower spine felt longer.

    Is the point of the block to prevent tweaking the low back? I’m thinking that playing with elevating the hips with a couple of blankets might provide the benefit of the hip elevation but give the yogi more stability, particularly for number 3.

  • This series is WONDERFUL for anybody…but for less flexible people should be done with a strap. Draw the leg toward your body using a strap, stopping when you feel strong resistance. Then draw the leg out to the side; don’t worry if it doesn’t come all the way to the floor, as your arms will hold the weight with the aid of your strap. Finally, cross the leg over your body for a reclined twist, again not worrying whether or not your leg comes all the way to the floor. The beauty of a strap is that it allows you to move into the optimal positions without overstretching your muscles or forcing yourself to places that aren’t appropriate for your body to go. That said, this is a fantastic series to do before bed. It really helps the system wind down in preparation for full relaxation. Please don’t be intimidated by the model’s extreme flexibility!

  • Debbie Duncan

    Would have loved to see what it looks like for people not super bendy.

  • This is a similar sequence to one I teach in my classes, except that we do not use a block underneath, and we always employ a strap over the foot in all three postures to give students control over the depth to which they take the pose.

    In the first position, I encourage them to rest the foot in the strap, keep a straight leg, and gently coax the foot toward the head only to the point where the stretch feels good for them.

    In the second posture, the strap again comes in handy for simply lowering the leg toward the floor at a 90 degree angle from the body. Many people will get nowhere near the floor and still get a good stretch.

    Same goes for the twist at the end. Not everyone will drop the leg to the floor, but they’ll safely get the benefit of the pose.

  • Rebecca

    Whenever I use a block for more than a resting place for the head in a fairly static pose (ex sleeping pigeon/90-90/ baby swan, whatever you personally call it) i find it very unstable. With these postures/stretches, would a bolster not have the same effect for the low spine?

  • Good stretches – I’ve noticed that my front thigh muscles can get chronically contracted from too much sitting at the computer (!) and I’m always on the lookout for stretch variations. But I have to agree with the comments above, about the pics being a bit hard to imitate!
    I tried doing stretch #1 with 2 miracle balls under my pelvis (since I don’t have a yoga block) – miracle balls are soft balls about 4-5 inches in diameter, and seemed to work quite well for me, giving just that little bit extra stretch. Thanks to Bonita Kay Summers for her suggestions for those of us not quite as flexible – I’ll try those another time!

  • what would be helpful in this article is how this works, and I’m going to take a crack at explaining how this helps the helps/pelvis/posture.

    what i think this does is two things:

    1. stretch the psoas/iliacus

    if you just put the block (or two blocks) under your hips and then “mountain pose” your feet into the side wall (as if mountain pose on your back), then you are getting a nice stretch of the lower psoas/illiacus which allows greater mobility to bring the pelvis into a neutral position (with full activation of glutes). this lengthens the lower back, taking pressure off the sacrum and lower lumbar vertebrae, while also lengthening the front part of the thigh, psoas, and illiacus.

    2. make the hips level –

    most of us stand with one hip forward of the other — based on where we hold our weight when standing. most right handed people put their weight into the left heel, rather than balanced across both feet, so their left hip tends to be behind their right hip.

    this is the case with me, even though I’m quite aware of my body — it’s very subtle.

    this means that when pressing into my feet in the “mountain pose” while on the block (or just on the floor), i need to draw my left hip “upwards” toward the ceiling, with more lengthening in that leg/psoas/illiacus, and draw the right hip into the floor. it takes a lot of concentration just to do this, btw.

    In terms of variations on this stretch to do the same work, i have i have two suggestions:

    1. remove the block

    if you have particularly tight psoas/illiacus and you are just starting on this journey, you need to work on general release of the psoas, first, which is hard enough for most of us. many women — including myself — “pop” the rib cage up and “send” the hips out behind us (dumping our bellies forward).

    just working this at the most basic “mountain pose on the floor” stage can be very difficult and has four components:

    A. press your feet into the wall firmly so that you feel balanced and grounded in both feet;

    B. place a block between your feet so that you can squeeze it (more later);

    C. draw your tailbone toward your heels — so lift up and pull it down underneath you;

    D. shimmy yourself into a half-crunch and draw your floating ribs away from your hips and down into the ground to release the upper part of the psoas.

    Once you have these components in place, press firmly into the wall with your feet, and then squeeze the block with your heels which will activate your inner thighs and glutes. you should also feel the front part of your hip lengthen — that’s the psoas and illiacus.

    if it’s’ tough on the floor without a block, practice it there for several days or a week, and then add the block — though I would go in stages using a blanket folded in different thicknesses over several days, then the block.

    2. work with a bent knee

    keeping the hips level is the real “trick” and difficulty when you move into the extended leg versions of this posture.

    it’s difficult to hold the pelvis steady — using the abdominals and glutes properly, while both on your back (possibly on a block), and with your leg extended. And, if you move the leg out to the side, the opposite hip just LOVES to pop up, and most of us “hitch up” the hip in the extended leg as well.

    by working with a bent knee, you can actually feel what’s happening in the pelvis wihtout focusing on what’s happening in the leg. I know that i — and many of my students — get distracted by the awesome hamstring stretch here, as well as great back release that happens. feels so good! but, in this instance, the relevant component is the *hips*, so the position of the leg isn’t “that” relevant.

    the relevance is really the femur — or thigh bone — being 90 degrees out of the hip socket/joint — or straight out of it toward the ceiling.

    when moving to the twist, you want to be certain that the hips are stacked and level (maybe get a friend to watch/help), and that the knee isn’t moving toward the floor, but rather still coming straight out of the hip (you’ll feel inner and outer thighs when holding that knee up!).

    working with a bent knee allows you to develop the feeling in the hip that lets you maintain control across the movement — making sure that BOTH hips remain level as you do the movement — and using the block to make sure that it’s happening.

    this work can actually be *very* subtle, and by paring it back to the most essential elements of the movement and trying to reach those spaces, you’ll discover new areas of work and capacity of awareness.

  • Great article, great idea to use a block – I do this series often in my therapeutic yoga classes but I have never used the block. The block might be a bit much for some of my students but could be good to substitute a blanket folded beneath the sacrum.

    Jenifer – loved your response!

  • Love the details and the explanation given. Namaste.

  • I have done this series fairly regularly for pelvic flexibility, stability & strength after herniating my S-1 disk. Never tried it with a block before now & it was a great variation; thank you.

    And as I am not as flexible as the demo dame (who cares how flexible she is?!), I used a strap: just as effective. No problem with block stability.

  • Well I have to admit I have shied away from floor exercises – my problem, because they are obviously great for improving and maintaining flexibility. I think the reason I got into the bad habit of not doing them was they seemed too passive and I lacked patience.

    One of the things I do is rebound with weights – that’s my excuse for not doing floor stretches etc. I guess I feel like I am doing several things at once when rebounding – working muscles and joints for flexibility; heart and lungs for efficient respiration, and helping my lymph at the same time. Also, rebounding is non-percussive.

    I guess it is after all horses for courses.

  • Breath and Stretch: both are free. You get a better life when you have better posture.

  • While I agree that the bad posture epidemic is causing many of our health problems, I feel that the use of the block is flattening the natural nutation of the sacral platform and over-stretching important ligament forces need to keep the hip joint stabilized. SI joint pain and even hip replacements are becoming common place with yoga practitioners and it could be that since the human body is global, we need to engage it doing poses that simulate how it is designed to move. Stretching the ‘parts’ is not going to solve the issues of posture misalignment because many parts like hamstrings that feel tight are actually strained and too loose from the shortness of the flexors. The pose is also so difficult to perform that many people are left out as well. The human body is a continuum and all movements affect the whole body via our fascia pulley systems that string our body together. When flexing the ankle , this also engages the flexors in the trunk in a shortened way which causes the back lumbar sacral area to flatten as well. The flexors in the front are over-engaged and shortened which is the basic reason people have poor posture. Many people who slouch have a reversed curve of the lumbar and sacral region which makes the whole spine get misaligned and pulls the head forward. Simply making the hamstrings or hip flexor loose does not necessarily deal with the underlying issue which is a lack of power in our postural forces because sitting in chairs undermines how our body works. In particular the back of the chair does the work of the postural muscles that extend our spine. I invented yogalign as a way to use self guided bodywork in combination with yoga poses that honor that natural curves of the human spine and simulate how we use our body in real life.

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