Friday, September 20, 2013

Facing Fear and Firing the Glutes

The changes that inevitably come with the natural ups and downs of life can either generate a perspective of personal growth or create fear.  A big change has cropped up in my life recently. Yesterday I got a call from my midwife saying because of my previous ultra sound and my placenta placement I am no longer eligible to give birth at the birth center and will need to have a cesarean section at a hospital. This is a radical change going from my plan which was a natural unmediated birth at a birth center (not even associated with a hospital) to giving birth in a hospital, with drugs and as much medical intervention as possible. I could feel the fear creep over my whole body as I began to close down and cry for hours.

 I then realized I had a choice. I could continue to pout about the fact that things are not going to go the way I had plan and continue to think about how this isn’t what I wanted and how afraid I am, interesting note, when you think about your fear your fear GROWS. Or I could accept the new set of circumstances. I could educate myself and make a new plan. In order to do this I had to dig so deep to find the strength to carry on. But the strength is always there for us we just have to trust it’s there and act like it is there. So today I have called hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, and friends who have had C-sections. As a result I feel like a stronger. I feel like I am protecting my baby (the transfer is a result of high risk danger of baby and mama bleeding out). I feel like I learned a lesson in mother hood : that things won’t always go my way. And ultimately I feel stronger for being able to integrate myself from total mess + complete weakness, to a place where I am stable and able to move forward with the new plan.

Tomorrow in class we are going to be focusing on firing the glutes. I had heard for a long time not to squeeze my bum and let it be relaxed. However when I started practicing Anusara yoga my teacher stressed how important it is to be able to use the glute muscles. Like the situation above I could be in a pose for example: standing splits or side angle pose feeling total fatigued and in fear that I couldn’t possibly hold the pose any longer. However if I dug deep and fired my glutes I found a new sense of strength and was able to get more stable in the pose, go deeper and have a better attitude about being in the posture.

Before you start working with these principles in practice, take some time to get to know your butt muscles:

·         Gluteus maximus is the largest butt muscle (in fact, it’s the biggest muscle in your body), spanning from the side of the sacrum and ilium to the femur. It’s primary function is to act as an extensor of the hip, but it also laterally rotates (turns out) the hip in extension. This is one reason the back leg in most poses tends to have too much outer spiral. If your leg is fixed, gluteus maximus serves to scoop the pelvis under (retroversion). To feel its engagement, standing in tadasana holding your buttocks and stretch one leg back behind you, extending the hip. You’ll feel the gluteus maximus fire on that leg. Now try standing in tadasana and scooping your pelvis under. You’ll feel both buttocks engage.

·         Gluteus medius is located on the outer hip, running from the outer upper hip down to the greater trochanter of the thigh bone. It’s primary role is in abduction of the hip, moving the leg away from the midline by drawing the greater trochanter toward the top of the hip. It also serves to stabilize the pelvis when you’re balancing on one leg (including when walking). To feel it, try standing in tadasana with both hands on your outer hips. Lift one leg straight out to the side to feel gluteus medius do the lifting. Interestingly, gluteus medius will also fire on the standing leg, to steady the balance by rooting downward into the earth.

·         Piriformis and those other lateral rotators: There’s a group of six deep hip muscles that all contribute to lateral/external rotation the hip. The main one to note among these is the piriformis, will contract (and spasm) in an attempt to stabilize the hip when the inner thigh/outer hip team is not doing its job. Piriformis happens to sit right on top of the sciatic nerve, and so when it’s tight it can cause a shooting nerve pain down the leg (also known as piriformis syndrome), and due to its connection to the sacrum, it can also pull on the sacrum to jam the sacro-iliac joint. I have a hard time actually feeling these muscles engage; rather, I feel them best when they’re being stretched in hip openers, like pigeon pose. However, you will only feel them stretch if you get the inner thighs back and wide first, and maintain that while adding Outer Spiral.

Principles of Emphasis

  • Muscular Energy For finding optimal alignment in the hips you need to tone the upper inner thighs (adductors) and the outer hips.
  • Inner Spiral turns the inner thighs in, back and apart (this is achieved by the strength of the adductors) and sets the head of the femur bone into the acetabulum (hip socket). The sitting bones widen, and the buttocks muscles soften their grip in order for these smaller muscles to create the inner spiral rotation. In asymmetrical poses the back leg needs more inner spiral.
  • Outer Spiral initiates from the action of the tailbone scooping under, and also wraps the outer hip back and toward the midline of the body. This involves the strong lateral hip rotators (piriformis, gluteus maximus, and other smaller rotators). When you engage Outer Spiral, make sure that the action of the butt muscles doesn’t override the alignment action of inner spiral. In fact, you’ll probably feel that the inner thighs have to work even more to keep the energetic flow back as you add the action of Outer Spiral. In asymmetrical poses the front leg needs more outer spiral
  • Organic Energy creates space in the joints by powerfully extending from the focal point toward the periphery. When the pelvis is the focal point the pelvic bones and tailbone move downward towards the earth, and the lower back and low belly lift up toward the sky. Gluteus medius is one of the key muscles involved in the rooting action of Organic Energy, and it creates enormous space and stability in the hip, especially when you’re balancing on one leg.

The Sequence:

1.      Tadasana: In tadasana have students feel glutes maximus and medius fire in there stabilizing and their moving actions.

2.      Parsvottanasana- vira 3 prep On the back leg side, the thigh and outer hip will tend to rotate outward, while the front naturally turns more inward with the hip jutting out to the side. (This is the common collapse in all asymmetrical poses so the back leg will need more Inner Spiral to find balance, and the front leg will need more Outer Spiral and Organic Energy.) Inner spiral the legs especially the back leg then add strong outer spiral by wrapping the front hip around and under WITHOUT losing the action of the inner thighs. Then press from your pelvic bones down through your legs into the floor. You’ll feel gluteus medius fire, especially on the front leg- press up into vira three prep finger tips on the floor back leg parallel to the floor. Squeeze back leg to midline to fire adductors and lift inner thigh up (this will turn on glute max and stretch deep 6 hip rotators) and wrap front hip down an under (turning on front hip glute medius) then extend out from hips down through standing leg, through back leg and through torso.

3.      Mod. Utthita hasta padangustasana holding knee: Start with an easy variation, just bringing one leg up with the knee bent and holding the front of the knee with both hands. With the legs strong and the inner thighs pressing back, now use your butt muscles to anchor the pelvis more. Especially work the gluteus medius on that standing leg, extending from the outer hip all the way down into the heel, and you’ll get a simultaneous lift up out of the pelvis. Hold this pose on each side until you feel that outer hip muscle start to tire.

4.      Vrksasana

5.      Standing pigeon- option (galavasana)- elbows in front of shin. Kick shin into the resistance of the elbows pulling back to fire glute.

6.      Modified Parsvakonasana- parsvakonasana

7.      Trikonasana: Like most asymmetrical poses, the front hip in trikonasana tends to get bound up. Once you set up the legs with good Muscle Energy and Inner Spiral, activate your butt muscles to draw the front hip under more. This will clear space in the hip joint. Then extend organically from the pelvis through the legs into the earth, using gluteus medius in particular to root more down into the front leg. Just for fun lift up bottom hand, you will only be able to do this if you are fiercely firing gluteus medius.

8.      Ardha chandrasana: As a standing balance, this is a great pose to work on both gluteus maximus and medius. Gluteus maximus (and the other lateral rotators) will provide a wrapping energy from the outer front hip toward the midline and under, while gluteus medius gives you the extension downward out of the hip that you need to avoid collapsing the pelvis onto the thigh bone.

9.      Partner Ardha Chandrasana: to help feel this have a friend press downward on your outer (top hip), so that you get more rooted into the floor, and as you get more rooted, lift back up into their hand.

10.  Spastic Pose: Start in uttanasana holding the big toes in yogic toe lock (first two fingers around the toe, thumb pressing into the floor). Engage the legs, especially by hugging the midline, and then widen the inner thighs back and apart. Shift your weight onto one foot as you lift the other leg straight out to the side. Gluteus medius, as an abductor, gets a workout on the lifted leg, while, as a stabilizer, gets a workout on the standing leg. If it’s weak, you’ll see why this one was nicknamed “spastic pose.”

11.  Tadasana- Virabhadrasana 3- Urdhva prasarita ekapadasana (aka standing splits): These poses are fun, as they are great ways to build the gluteus maximus (back leg) while strengthening gluteus medius (standing leg). Start in tadasana with hands on your hips, and with both feet on the floor just shift your weight over to your right foot. You’ll feel the butt muscles on the right side fire in order to bear weight (kind of like when you’re riding the subway and have nothing to hold on to). Even before lifting the left foot off the floor, extend organically downward from the pelvis into the standing foot (that’s your outer hip, gluteus medius, again), to make space in that hip. Then start to kick the left leg back toward Vira 3; gluteus maximus, as a hip extensor, will come into play here. The inner thigh on that back leg will have to work strongly to balance the lateral rotation that comes along with the firing of gluteus maximus. Hold Vira 3 for a few breaths and then tip all the way forward to standing splits. Again, balance the action between the inner thigh lifting and the butt muscles working on the back leg, while extending fully downward out of the hip in the front leg.

12.  Pinch Manyurasna [partner] just like gluteus medius fires when you root down through the feet there are muscles in the shoulder joint that prevent you from collapsing in the shoulders to root down. Partners will first check to make sure the shoulders are over the elbows and not past the elbows (a misalignments I have been seeing lately) then take fingers to yogi’s doles of feet to give them something extend up into, after rooting from back of heart toward floor.

13.  L.L quad stretch twist- The twisted poses require a lot of strength in the butt muscles to keep the hips squared to the front. Lift of the inner back thigh taking the butt toward heel. On the front leg use glute max scooping sit bone under and then fire glute medius by rooting down through heal so you don’t collapse in front hip as you extend the spine twisting from the back leg side toward the front leg side.

14.  Eka pada rajakapotasana 1 (pigeon prep): good inner spiral needs to be set up in order to stretch the front outer hip muscles to the fullest. Start with a smaller angle in the front leg with the foot pointed this set up will be easier to access the inner spiral of the back leg. After finding that move deeper into the pose bringing the knee in line with the foot. In this variation the front foot will be flexed.

15.  Ardha matsyendrasana (and other seated twists): the front hip (the side to which you are twisting) will tend to lift off the floor if the gluteus medius and the other butt muscles aren’t working. Really tack that hip down to lengthen up and out of the pelvis and take a twist.

16.  Setubandha with [block]: with backbends, the legs naturally tend to rotate outward, jamming the thighs forward and, ultimately, compressing the lower back. So instead, get your inner thighs toned and flowing back (using a [block] between your upper inner thighs will help create that awareness), and then activate those butt muscles, extending them out toward your knees without over-riding the power of the inner thighs. This will create tremendous freedom in the lower back.

17.  Root thigh bones back symmetrically- since one of the misalignments that can come from firing the glutes is the glutes out powering the alignment action of inner spiral which pushes the thigh bones forward and flattening the low back. Rooting the thigh bones back will help the thigh bones set back and re-establish the lumbar curve in lower back in case the thigh bones did come forward from your strong glute work.




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Testimonials & My Intention

My Intention It is my intention as a yoga teacher to help you bring more health and vibrancy to your body, ease and alertness to your mind...