We all take sides, favoring one option over another. That includes the sides of the body. How often do you think you shift your weight from one leg to the other while waiting for the bus or spending long hours standing and chatting at a cocktail party? Just for the heck of it, do you ever try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand? Apart from those who are ambidextrous, being right-handed or left-handed can translate into progressive states of asymmetry in other regions of the body. I speak from anatomical experience, with years of playing the inherently one-sided sport of tennis, which can leave a noticeable imprint of upper body strength imbalance. I also endure a perennially hamstrung hamstring, a mid-body soap opera that started in January 2007. I call it the Rice Krispies Effect, when, in the midst of a seated wide-legged forward bend, I heard and felt a quick snap, crackle and pop in the upper posterior side of my right leg. Over the course of the approximate three months of right hamstring and gluteal discomfort that followed, I adopted a “suck-it-up” attitude in my yoga practice, having learned that muscle undergoing repair can form even more tightly than the previously undamaged tissue. Crude as my approach was, it worked for me. But to my chagrin, I came to realize my left hamstring was charged with taking up the considerable slack, and the ridiculously tight sensation has endured nearly four years.
I often describe yoga as “nature’s drug,” providing relief, but without – generally speaking – the disagreeable side effects. In some ways, I consider my hamstring situation a blessing to my yoga teachings. With my right leg in front, I’m able to demonstrate a split at will. With my left leg in front, I sympathize with my students who need to modify. A few key dynamic Yoga Tune Up® poses have given me – and students in similar predicaments – hope of eventually finding hip harmony.
The Half Happy Baby Minivini (video demonstration below) stretches your whole hip region dynamically. It primes the hips for yogic standing poses or for just feeling better as you move throughout your day. The movements unquestionably make anyone look goofy and appear to be having a fit. However crazy it looks, you’ll go mad for this pose.
My own take on the Psoas Spiral exercise (posted earlier this week, with a blanket held between the big and index toes) strengthens your six-pack muscles as they work hard to keep your body relatively still. It loosens and tones your hip flexors, which lack freedom in those with a history of physical trauma. The working muscle that’s the namesake of this pose attaches to the inside edge of the upper leg bone and to each lumbar vertebra, creating the potential for lower-back relief as well. You also get to reinforce the prehensile abilities of the feet. The blanket burdens the muscles with a little extra weight, building strength.
As with any effort to release chronic and deeply held tension, have patience. Know that the efforts you make now will only build toward bigger gains.
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