In my experience the hip flexors and particularly the psoas in the body is an abused and misunderstood area, an area that drastically dictates our level of comfort and discomfort anything from sitting, standing, or running to infamous core work and worse yet, pain here can keep us up at night with a dull ache that just wont stop!
For most people stretching is either loved or something we just race through because we see it as not a good workout or too painful to withstand even for just a few breaths. But the truth is keeping our hips limber, stable and happy will not only help with pain in the entire body from foot to head, but improve our running, biking, sitting and sleeping.
When the body has not be taught properly how to work it will just grab onto any willing muscle, tendon or ligament and pull and grab until the job or task we are asking our bodies to do is completed. So all those boot camps and core cruncher classes you have been taking, heck even yoga will just make matters worse, if you let it. For many when we get injured or have pain we rarely want to admit it was our workout that caused it, but sadly this is the case for many.
So how does it work properly? Well many of you have probably heard me say this a number of times and I’ll say it again “the body is built in layers”, layers of wonderful tissue, and in the area of the hip flexors (the fold of the hip) it is an intersection of lower body muscles, core muscles and upper body strings all crossing and attaching in various points.
Our quadriceps feed up from the knee and into the hip flexor, the ilicaus and psoas come from interior-superior part of the femur bone (thigh bone) and run up through the inner hip and the psoas continues through the abdomen to T12 and the bottom rib and every vertebra below (T12-L5). Within our core neighboring muscles like the obliques, rectus abdominus and transversus attach near by making this a tricky area for who came first, the chicken or the egg.
For many stretching consists of a few touch our toes and maybe a yank of the leg, pulling our heel to our buttocks. And it’s not that these stretches are wrong but depending on what we are trying to achieve our approach, posture, position and length of time have a lot to do with the outcome.
- Lying on the floor take a yoga block (or mini exercise ball) and place the prop under the sacrum, take a moment and make sure that the block is not under the spine but under the flat plate feeling bone (which is the sacrum, and actually three separate bone meeting to feel like one).
- Take a moment and check your pelvis and spine, gently allow the pelvis to move into a neutral position (ASIS and pubis bone gently parallel to the ceiling) and relax your rib cage.
- Guide your left knee into your chest, but do not yank on the leg and pull in tight just yet.
- Slowly now, extend the right leg out to a lengthened position, flex the extended foot and reach through the heel.
- With the right leg extended take a moment and notice the initial stretch in the extended legs hip, do not let yourself be tempted to pull the bent leg in until the sensation you are feeling currently has passed.
- Now close your eyes and breathe, really focusing on the hip flexor of the extended leg. Imagine that the lower leg is literally being pulled out of its hip socket. Continue to focus on the socket.
- Depending on how your body is currently grabbing, you may need to rotate the lower leg internally or externally slightly to feel where it is you need the release.
- Continuing to keep the lower leg strong, reaching out and anchoring down, keep the hip socket soft and stretching. Check in after several breaths and if your body gives you permission to draw in the bent knee a bit more.
- Work here for 3 to 10 minutes on each side. This pose holds the most benefit when held for an extended period of time. Remember to use your breath, especially focusing on the exhale to release all tension.
- After your first side take 1-2 minutes and rest the body in a fully extended position, do not move to get rid of the sensation, but take some time to feel what your body is offering you. If needed, during this time remove the block and then reinsert on the second side.
- Explore the 2:1 ratio and go back to the restricted side a second time and repeat, allowing your body to seek even greater balance and harmony.
- Once you have completed the exercise on both sides rest on the floor with your body completely open and willing to receive all that you have opened it up to.
- NOTE: The block or ball may be too much for some, practicing this exercise on the flat floor is a great place to start.
Our hips hold on to the things we consciously and unconsciously hold on to. Fear, regret and the need to be grounded in our own personal being. Take time as you breathe to consider offering up the things that bind you down.
For those with constant back pain or aching hips during core work our cardio, release the hip flexors is a very important aspect of healthy living. For every Yang there must be a Yin, balance is key!