hip stability

Shift your focus from hip openness to hip stability.

In yoga, there is a tendency to assume that we can stretch our way through perceived problems. Consider the ever-elusive “hip opening.” We aspire to use our hip-opening practice as a panacea for all our aches and 
woes. We imagine that open hips will allow 
us to wrap our legs into fancy postures like Padmasana (Lotus Pose). But it’s possible that at a certain point, the coveted range of motion begins to work against us.

Hypermobility of the Hip Joint

Enter hypermobility, a general term that refers to an excessive range of motion in a joint, with a lack of stability to support that mobility. It can be something we are born with or something we develop through regular stretching. In the hip joint, it can also stem from weak hip stabilizers—the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and other muscles—from prolonged sitting or decreased activity. Hip hypermobility is something anyone can develop, especially in the yoga world where we focus so much on long, deep stretches to get that feel-good release.

hip anatomy stabilizers gluteus medius

Consider a classic hip opener like Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose). It can seem more like a resting pose for some people, so they continue to seek a deeper stretch in variations or harder modifications. Yet stretching those areas that are already flexible makes the hypermobility more pronounced. This might not seem like a problem initially—deeper stretching feels good, and you get the release you crave—but the surrounding cartilage and ligaments also take on the impact of your movements, which can overtax and reduce their strength and 
stability, diminishing the support that is so key to the integrity of the hip joint.

So, instead of pushing deeper into flexible areas, notice spots where you are tight or weak. Then, look instead for poses to challenge the strength of the hips, thus shifting your focus from hip opening to hip stability. You don’t need to over-analyze this; the only thing required is mindfulness to honor what you feel.

hip joint anatomy

The Five Layers of the Hip Joint

To comprehend the effects of hypermobility on the hip joint, we need a basic understanding of its five main layers, moving from deep to superficial. First, the boney structure of the joint is found where the ball-shaped head of the femur fits into the socket, called the pelvic 
acetabulum. It is surrounded by articular cartilage and a labrum, or lip, made of fibrocartilage and dense connective tissue, to help hold the ball in the socket. The joint capsule is a thin, fluid-filled sac surrounding the joint, held by ligaments, those tough but flexible fibers that connect bone to bone. Finally, atop these structures are the many tendons and muscles that effect movements.

Each of the deeper structures of the hip plays an important role in stability. The labrum deepens the socket and makes it more difficult for the head of the femur to slip out. It also plays a vital role in decreasing contact stress on the joint, 
and in ensuring lubrication between the femoral head and its socket.

The joint capsule adds another layer 
of stability, plus secretes a lubricating substance that reduces friction. Meanwhile, the ligaments that surround the hip limit how much the joint can move, preventing dislocation and wear to the deeper layers 
of cartilage—the ligaments hold the bones together. However, ligaments aren’t elastic, so once they have been overstretched, they remain that way, and their ability to support the joint is compromised.

Finally, closest to the surface, the many tendons and muscles create all the motions of the hip and stabilize the joint when they are balanced in terms of strength and flexibility.

These five layers work together. When any one layer is not functioning, the rest have to work harder to pick up the slack. 
If your ligaments are overly stretched, the muscles must labor to stabilize the joint. 
And if your muscles are weak or not firing properly, the deeper layers of the ligaments or the labrum must compensate by absorbing the impact of your movements.

The trouble is, you can’t always tell when one layer is falling down on the job. The cartilage and ligaments have less sensation and deteriorate over longer periods, meaning you may not feel pain or notice any problems until the damage has already happened. As you get more flexible or “open” in the hips, it becomes even more important to create strength in the hip muscles to help stabilize that mobility.

A good way to practice is by focusing 
on your standing leg in balancing poses. Gluteus medius and minimus are critical 
for hip stability any time you are standing upright. These muscles help to position the femoral head in the hip socket, to keep you from sinking into and wearing down the labrum, cartilage, and ligaments. A pose like Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III) is a challenging opportunity to practice using gluteus medius and minimus to stabilize 
the hip of the standing leg, and strengthen those muscles so that they support you in 
all of your standing poses.

How to Activate the Hip Stabilizers

Here are three easy steps to activate the hip-stabilizing muscles—the gluteus medius and minimus—to prepare for a balancing pose like Warrior III. The key to each step is to keep the movement subtle rather than aim for large contractions. When we stabilize the joint, we simply need a gentle engagement rather than a huge action that can create tension.

1. Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). First, imagine hugging your outer hips into the sockets by drawing them toward the midline of your body. Though the movement is subtle, you will feel the outer-hip muscles gently turn on to support the joint.

2. Next, visualize riding higher in the hip socket rather than sinking in the joint. This creates the integrity of those muscles that support the joint, to help protect the deeper structures.

3. Finally, gently engage the lower abdominals, to help support the hip joint with your core.

Once you achieve all three steps, slowly lean forward at the hip crease of the standing leg to come into Warrior III without losing that support, as you raise the lifted leg straight behind you. The arms can extend forward, come to your heart, or reach backward. 
If you get tired, come out by returning to Mountain Pose.


Excerpts from Yoga Journal article Anatomy 101: Understand Your Hips to Build Stability byTiffany Cruikshank. For more info, go to yogamedicine.com.

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arm balances with briohny smyth


sthira sukham asanam

sthira sukham asanam

Yoga Sutra 2.46 The posture (asana) for Yoga meditation should be steady, stable, and motionless, as well as comfortable, and this is the third of the eight rungs of Yoga.
(sthira sukham asanam)

  • sthira = steady, stable, motionless
  • sukham = comfortable, ease filled
  • asanam = meditation posture (from the root ~as, which means “to sit”)

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali offers us the opportunity to look at all symptoms, all physical pain, as areas of weakness that need attention and one-pointed perseverance to understand and ultimately overcome.  Here, he is reminding us to go into our pain or discomfort and to use it as an access point to better know the self. Patanjali invites us to meet all that arises, not as an obstacle, but as a messenger that alerts us to a new discovery about ourselves and names persistent practice as the means to getting there.

Patanjali describes asana as “steady, comfortable, and relaxed” and states that the yogi should be able to hold the body in posture for a long period of time without feeling instability.  This is the ultimate goal of asana practice but it doesn’t happen overnight and few of us get there without meeting some challenges along the way.  We inevitably will run into those parts of ourselves, physical, mental, or emotional, that are weak, compromised, or asleep.  Finding stability, comfort, and ease in posture takes time, commitment, and perseverance.  It requires us to accept exactly where we are before we slowly, through consistent and persistent practice, open to a deeper potential. If we push through injury or painful sensation we are acting violently towards ourselves, causing further damage to the physical structure and further disturbance to the mind.  This is not Yoga.

When we are willing to listen to the body’s signals physical pain and injury can help teach us how to most intelligently approach our bodies, our practice, and our lives.

If Yoga is, in its essence, the awakening to the inner reality of our being, than everything we encounter along our path is a messenger that brings us back to a deeper understanding of who we are. So stay interested and curious.   Be willing to face all you encounter.  Modify as necessary but never stop practicing.

As Gurujii (Pattabhi Jois) always said:. “ Slowly, slowly…Do your practice…and all is coming.”

Excerpts from Sthira Sukha Asanam by Devorah Sacks

Yoga Sutra quotation from http://www.swamij.com/yoga-sutras-24648.htm


chakra tune-up


eka pada bakasana with kino


joy-permeated mother

Sri_Anandamoyi_Ma

“ As you love your own body, so regard everyone as equal to your own body. When the Supreme Experience supervenes, everyone’s service is revealed as one’s own service. Call it a bird, an insect, an animal or a man, call it by any name you please, one serves one’s own Self in every one of them. ”
—Anandamayi Maa, Ananda Varta Quarterly

Sri Anandamayi Maa (Bengali: শ্রী আনন্দময়ী মা) (30 April 1896 – 27 August 1982) was an Indian saint from Bengal. Swami Sivananda (Divine Life Society) described her as “the most perfect flower the Indian soil has produced.” Precognition, healing and other miracles were attributed to her by her followers. Paramhansa Yogananda translates Anandamayi as “joy-permeated”. This name was given to her by her devotees in the 1920s to describe what they saw as her habitual state of divine joy and bliss.

Anandamayi Maa never prepared discourses, wrote down, or revised what she had said. People had difficulty transcribing her often informal talks because of their conversational speed, further the Bengali manner of alliterative wordplay was often lost in translation. A devotee, Brahmachari Kamal Bhattacharjee, however made attempts to transcribe her speech before audio recording equipment became widely available in India.

A central theme of her teaching is “the supreme calling of every human being is to aspire to self realization. All other obligations are secondary” and “only actions that kindle man’s divine nature are worthy of the name of actions”. However she did not ask everyone to become a renunciate. “Everyone is right from his own standpoint,” she would say. She did not give formal initiations and refused to be called a guru, as she maintained that “all paths are my paths” and kept saying “I have no particular path”.

From Wikipedia


faith connections – documentary

A spectacular exploration of varied paths of devotion that converge at one of the world’s most extraordinary religious events — the Kumbh Mela — Pan Nalin’s thoughtful documentary is a genuinely spiritual journey.