What do I mean by this? For many of us, we think about the movement and therefore lead with our head, seeing the movement. Instead of inquiring about what we should be feeling, we simply try to mimic the movement like a dog nudging a bone, rather than a baby pulling up to standing using their trunk. A race to get the exercise or movement done, we have totally disjointed our bodies, causing a great deal of instability due to the fact that we lead in movements from the top down (with our heads) rather than from our hips and core (the most central, solid part of our body resulting in core fitness).
Let me help paint you a picture. As a yoga teacher I see this all too often: the part of our body farthest from the floor leading us, ironically, blindly through movements from one asana to the next. How so? From the floor you come up from runners lunge to a high lunge, and, as you do so, what comes up first for most yogis? The head and probably swinging arms.
Take standing forward bend as another example. With wide arms and a flat back (yikes, please don’t) the head pops up like a turtle coming out of its shell as you rise to standing. Can you visualize this happening? I can, and it scares me. It scares me because these are sure fire ways to strain your back, abuse your weak core and stay stuck and stiff in your immobile pelvis and hips.
For most of us, yogis included, due to our lack of continuous movement and overwhelming amounts of sitting, our pelvis and hips have become frozen, lacking a healthy range of motion (ROM). Because of this we jump to the next closest body part that appears mobile, and this, for many, happens to be the unstable spine.
Why do I say unstable? Because I see all too often a lack of true understanding of how to properly use the pelvic-core (pelvic floor muscles + deep core muscles). This includes the back muscles. As a result, in combination with a restricted pelvis, we now move even more disjointed and segmented, leaving our spine at risk for injury.
How do we fix it?
Well for starters, if at all possible, limit the amount of time you spend sitting. Think about it, you go to work, maybe a desk job (if not, you are one of the lucky ones) sit for 8 hours, not to mention the drive time to and from work. Then you’re sitting at lunch break, then to go home, eat dinner (sitting), work on the computer or watch T.V., sitting, and on and on it goes. See my point?
Our bodies, when restricted in an area that needs mobility and ROM in order to function, will simply find the next closest body part to use and abuse even if it’s not that body part’s job to initiate that action.
The problem with this is those body parts are not designed to perform those functions, and over time will wear out, or give out and eventually we will feel pain. But I never felt pain before, you will say, and I will respond by saying, yes, the body does a good job of masking dysfunction for as long as it can, but eventually those body parts that shouldn’t head up that movement will give out and we as a result feel pain.
So how can we change this dysfunction?
Well for starters, you can begin by taking initiative to more deeply understand how every movement starts from your core.
Cultivate a deeper understanding and awareness about how your hips not moving are most likely a culprit of many issues like foot pain, knee pain, spinal issues, even teeth grinding and shoulder discomfort.
By unlocking our pelvis, we move more fluidly and pain free, and who doesn’t like pain free? The only catch for most of us is we have to be willing to begin to cultivate new habits, move in new ways and retrain our bodies and mechanics from the ground up.
No more leading with the head and swooping arms in yoga. No more crunching your lower vertebrae in a back bend. Rather, learn to lead with your deep core muscles on a lunge to standing transition. Consider leading with your pelvis (or hip sockets) in an extension (I prefer extension over backbend) to honor the integrity of your spine, save your lower back and release your tight hip flexors. This is just the beginning.
When you move in any form of exercise or just move during your daily grind, work to be more mindful of what you are doing and how you are doing it. Work to cultivate awareness, and all things will happen from there.
Take inventory in your movements both on and off the mat, rather than focusing on going deeper (whatever that really means). Focus on where you are limited, what doesn’t move, and where you aren’t stable, rather than focusing on what moves “all too well” and abusing that area of the body.
Now the real work beings! So go out and get moving… your head doesn’t have to take you everywhere.
Learn to lead with your core, because your body depends on it.