January 31, 2012

The Most Common Yoga Injury & What to do About It.

Compared to the average human, I am fairly bendy. I do lots of yoga. My body should be pain free, right?

But it wasn’t.

Most people would have probably just described it as low back pain but, being a fancified yoga-teacher-type, I could inform you that my right Sacroiliac Joint was stuck. The durned thing hadn’t budged in almost 2 years, and it hurt. Sometimes it hurt a lot.

No matter how many yoga poses I did, I couldn’t free up that pesky joint. In fact, I started to suspect that the more yoga I did, the more jammed it became. Secretly, I began to despair the injury would ever clear, and fear that I would have to live with it forever. Secretly, I started to hate my damned S.I.

I’d been applying Anusara’s™ powerhouse Universal Principles of Alignment–or so I thought!–dutifully sticking out my derriere in every pose, and spiraling my thighs back up the wazoo. It should have worked. But it didn’t. Nothing worked.

Finally, attending a yoga festival over the summer, unable to do poses I once practiced easily, I dissolved into tears of pain and frustration. Not only was I sick of hurting–I felt like a failure. Much as I intellectually knew in my head that nobody is 100% exempt from injury–not even certified Anusara yoga teachers–in my heart, I was ashamed. If I were a better teacher worth my salt, I wouldn’t be suffering from this pain. At least, that’s what a secret belief whispered in my ear.

My pal, therapeutic genius Zhenja La Rosa, happened to be at that very festival. I want to give her a shout out here for observing that my inner thigh muscles were not adequately hugging onto my thigh bones. That pointed me in the right direction. Since then, I have conducted further experimentation on my own mat, and in my classroom–where some students were also suffering from jammed S.I. joints.

In the Anusara tradition, optimal freedom, stability, and self-recognition are created in yoga poses by systematically applying a series of alignment principles in a sequential order. Those principles are constant, and applicable to every human body in every yoga pose. There is artistry in their application to individual bodies.

To summarize those principles in a nutshell:  the first instruction is to breathe, and consciously soften areas of unconscious gripping. Next, muscles are engaged in a more conscious way to create optimal stability. Bones are aligned by spiraling the inner thighs in, back and wide apart. Keeping the thighs back, a scoop of the tailbone creates length for the back body, and tone of the low belly. Those first 4 principles line up a pose. The 5th, and final, principle opens the pose up through active expansion–also known as stretch.

Lining up a human skeleton always entails moving the thigh bones to the back plane of the body. To make a long story really short, my S.I. Joint was stuck because the ligaments are lax, and the muscles of my outer hip too open–particularly on the side that was stuck. (It was the more flexible hip that was all jammed up. It usually is).

In spite of a huge curve in my low back, my thigh bones were popped way forward. Not only did that cause physical pain, it also signaled my nervous system that it should be prepared to run away from dinosaurs any second. Talk about enormous amounts of adrenaline pumping through my system!

The more I futilely stuck out my rear without first toning the upper inner thigh muscles onto the thigh bones, the less stability I had, and the less ability to move my thigh bones back. The ligaments got looser, which made the S.I. bones more likely to slip out of place and get stuck. That made my thighs more likely to move forward. Holy vicious cycle!

Nothing changed–until I realized I’d been confusing using toned inner thigh muscles to press my inner thighs back and apart with sticking my arse out! Once I stopped seesawing my heart forward and my rear back, and began using the muscles of my upper inner thighs to do the movement, the pain vanished almost immediately.

Indulge me while I type that sentence again for dramatic effect:  the pain vanished almost immediately! Wheeee!

Since I’ve been teaching toning the inner thigh muscles to take the thighs back, students whose S.I. joints were previously jammed have given equally dramatic reports of pain relief.  Also, since freeing up my own SI, I’ve unwittingly re-jammed it a couple of times while practicing deep backbends. Practicing the pose below from the upper inner thighs  has cleared the pain every single time. Total lifesaver!

Which is why I offer it to you. Mwuah.

Also, talk to me: has your S.I. ever been stuck?  Do you have magic tools for clearing it? Have you ever been ashamed about having a yoga injury? Leave a comment below.

Super-Duper Sacroiliac Unsticking Pose

The Magic S.I. Unsticker is a variation on what’s sometimes called Lizard Pose.  Normally, the hips settle low to the ground and shift way forward toward the front of the mat, like this:

This variation below is deliberately different. Start by shifting your hips way back toward your back knee. Let’s say that 12 o’clock is directly in front of you. Keep your front foot, and your front knee, facing directly forward to 12 o’clock. Breathe deeply. Steady both legs. Maintaining that steadiness, press both shins in toward an imaginary line running down the center of your yoga mat. As you do this, your front knee will be prone to knock in toward the middle of your mat, toward 11 o’clock. Don’t let it.

Keeping your front foot and knee steadily forward, walk your hands and torso inside your front foot, and diagonally over to the left, to 11o’clock. Use the steadiness of your shins to access the muscles of your upper inner thighs. Hug them to the bones, and then use them to dramatically widen your inner thighs diagonally-back-behind-you, and apart from one another.

For Stage 2:  maintain all of the above as you lower to your forearms.

Scoop your tailbone and feel your belly get strong. From the core of your pelvis, grow your leg bones longer inside your legs, while simultaneously stretching out through the crown of your head to experience a deep and unbridled freedom.

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