Body blind spots are areas in the body that are overused, underused, misused, abused or confused. We all have them, but we usually need help from someone else in order to become aware of their existence. As a Yoga Tune Up® teacher it’s my job to help create an awareness of body blind spots and to increase the understanding about how to best attend to them. A very common body blind spot among my students is the lateral portion of the body, which manifest as a lack of strength, limited range of motion, poor balance or pain in the lumbar spine or in the knees.
There are several causes to why the so called outer seam can be a troublesome area. One of the most common, is the fact that we tend to move primarily in the sagittal plane (walking, running, biking, skiing etc.). Another common cause, particularly for women, is carrying or holding babies on one hip while doing something else with the dominant arm. Something than can accumulate during the early years and result in an uneven wear and tear of the body.
Anyone that’s looked at an anatomy chart or in an anatomy book is familiar with the idea of anterior and posterior muscle groups. In real life however, several of these muscles as well as the fascial web, wrap around the sides of the body. Serratus anterior, the transverse abdominals, the internal and external obliques, as well as gluteus medius and minimus are examples of muscles that wrap around from front to back or back to front. Any one of them, or maybe all of them can be underused or misused, which can lead to some surprising or rude awakening moments in a yoga class. Often it also results in disliking or avoiding poses like vasisthasana (side plank), ardha chandrasana (half moon) or similar movements that require lateral strength, stability and mobility.
Since most of our daily activities depend on movement in a sagittal plane it’s tempting to think that flexion and extension is what we need to focus on in order to keep our back, shoulders and hips happy. The truth however, is that you need lateral strength in order to keep these areas healthy and to avoid unnecessary deterioration. Serratus anterior, which originates on the external surfaces of the upper eight or nine ribs and inserts on the anterior surface of the medial border of the scapulae is an important muscle to stabilize around the shoulder, especially when weight bearing. The transverse abdominals and the internal and external obliques originate on the lower ribs or the thoracolumbar fascia and the iliac crest and insert on the abdominal aponeurosis, making them important lateral stabilizers for the lumbar spine. Another important stabilizer for the lumbar spine is the quadratus lumborum, which originates on the posterior iliac crest and inserts on the last rib and on the transverse processes of the 1st-4th lumbar vertebrae.
The final, but equally important group of lateral stabilizers are the gluteus medius and minimus. They originate on the ilium below the iliac crest and insert on the lateral and anterior aspects of the greater trochanter. Their actions in the anatomy books are hip abduction, external rotation and hip flexion but in everyday life we use them primarily as hip stabilizers when walking or running. This means that a strong gluteus medius and minimus can help us “keep a pep in our step” and avoid shuffling like a penguin.
If you are interested in trying some of my favorite moves for strengthening and lengthening the side of the body stay tuned for part two!