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Understanding Your Own Body, Starting With Your Hips

By Sara Villamil

SAT MAY 01, 2021

One of the most empowering benefits of a yoga asana practice is learning how your own body moves. Understanding the difference side-to-side, limb-to-limb and, of course, day-to-day. Within the practice we learn how our body moves, what feels good, what feels bad, where we feel safe, and the no-go zones. With the breath as our constant, we seek to keep it full, soft, smooth and accessible, regardless of the posture or sequence.

One of the benefits of virtual classes is really being in your own body, feeling and observing your own movements, without the distraction of other practitioners. By honouring our capabilities, ranges of motion, and pain-free movement, we are much more likely to unlock confidence and effectiveness in our physical practice.

We have all likely seen or been asked to do certain yoga postures that make us think yoga isn’t possible for us. Flashy yoga marketing has been guilty for shying people away from even trying a physical practice. Postures like headstand, pigeon pose, deep squats, and even downward facing dog can make us feel like our body isn’t designed for the mat. I believe there is a way to access almost all postures. The shape may need to be altered and supported, sometimes beyond recognition, but it is possible for the essence of the posture to still be present.

Letting go of these images in our minds of what a yoga practitioner and yoga postures have to look like is an important first step. Developing an understanding of how our own bodies move and what kind of support we need to practice is the next. Using props like a chair to raise the level of the floor is a great example. Placing your hands on the chair to prevent dizziness, or help support limitations in mobility, is one of the most effective ways to bring yoga postures to someone who may have thought yoga wasn’t for them.

Playing with modifications and props to create a pain-free practice is of utmost importance for the nervous system to feel safe enough to absorb the benefits of a physical yoga practice. There should be plenty of options for all bodies at all times. Learning what these options are and what feels best in your body is up to you, your teacher, and some experimentation.

For example, when it comes to postures that involve the hips specifically, we need so many different options. Great variance exists in the hips due to:

  • gender
  • genetics
  • age
  • sport and activity history
  • trauma

The hip is a ball-and-socket joint. Unlike the knee, that moves in only two directions - flexion and extension, the hip has the ability to move in seven separate directions, often at the same time. For example, when you cross your legs you flex, abduct and externally rotate at the hip joint. Can you imagine what the hips have to do to jump over a hurdle? What a fascinating and multi-tasking joint.

The hip is much like the shoulder - we need so much muscular stability to keep it safe. The seven directions of the hip are:

  • flexion
  • extension
  • abduction
  • adduction
  • external rotation
  • internal rotation
  • circumduction

“It’s so important for a person to have a grasp on how their own body moves,” says Julie Rabnett, Physiotherapist at Lifemark, Repsol Centre, here in Calgary. “It is easy to feel intimidated when we don’t understand how our own body fits into a standard yoga practice or other movement modalities.”

Julie, a dear friend of mine, is passionate and inspired by all bodies and all human movement. She is my go-to help whenever I have movement, pain, or anatomy questions. We take many a deep dive into yoga postures, the way we move, and how we are all so different.

“We might think our body needs to fit into the narrow squat, a deep twist, or pigeon pose, but there are often real restrictions as to why our hips don’t and won’t go that way,” says Julie. “We need to adapt postures and bring our awareness into what it is that our hips can do and can't do.”

Julie and I discussed a couple of simple ways to start understanding this complicated, unique-to-you joint?

Lying on your back, is the best and safest position to explore the hips. Start by drawing one knee into your chest. Does your knee make it past 90 degrees? Do you feel any pinching in the hip joint? What does it feel like if you bring your knee over toward your armpit? Does it make a difference? Try this with your right leg and your left leg and note any differences side-to-side.

Now draw both knees in toward your armpits without using your hands. Flex your feet and notice their position, the placement of your legs, the angle at your hips, knees and ankles, and any other differences side-to-side. Take a mental picture - this is a supine squat. Flip yourself up to a standing position with this exact placement and angles of your hips, knees and feet. Did you find a comfortable squat variation?

What did you discover? Send me a note! This is an often under-explored area and a great start to learning how to move your body well.
Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash