Build hip sta­bil­ity for a sus­tain­able prac­tice

Shift your fo­cus from open­ness to sta­bil­ity.

Yoga Journal - - CONTENTS - By Tif­fany Cruik­shank

IN YOGA, THERE IS A ten­dency to as­sume that we can stretch our way through per­ceived prob­lems. Con­sider the ever-elu­sive “hip open­ing.” We as­pire to use this prac­tice as a panacea for all our aches and woes. We imag­ine that open hips will al­low us to wrap our legs into fancy pos­tures like Padmasana (Lo­tus Pose). But it’s pos­si­ble that at a cer­tain point, the cov­eted range of mo­tion be­gins to work against us.

En­ter “hy­per­mo­bil­ity,” a gen­eral term that refers to an ex­ces­sive range of mo­tion in a joint—with a lack of sta­bil­ity

to sup­port that mo­bil­ity. It may be some­thing you are born with or some­thing you de­velop through reg­u­lar stretch­ing. Hy­per­mo­bil­ity in the hip joint can also stem from weak hip sta­bi­liz­ers—the glu­teus medius, glu­teus min­imus, and other mus­cles—from pro­longed sit­ting or de­creased ac­tiv­ity. This can hap­pen to any­one, es­pe­cially in the yoga world where we fo­cus so much on long, deep stretches to get that feel-good re­lease.

Con­sider a clas­sic hip opener like Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pi­geon Pose). Some peo­ple con­sider it a rest­ing pose, so they con­tinue to seek a deeper stretch in vari­a­tions or harder mod­i­fi­ca­tions. Yet stretch­ing those ar­eas that are al­ready flex­i­ble makes hy­per­mo­bil­ity more pro­nounced. This may not ini­tially seem like a prob­lem—deeper stretch­ing feels good, and you get the re­lease you crave—but the sur­round­ing car­ti­lage and lig­a­ments also take on the im­pact of your move­ments, which can over­tax and re­duce their strength and sta­bil­ity, di­min­ish­ing the sup­port that is so key to the in­tegrity of the hip joint.

In­stead of push­ing deeper into flex­i­ble ar­eas, no­tice spots where you are

tight or weak. Then, look in­stead for poses to chal­lenge the strength of your hips, thus shift­ing your fo­cus from hip open­ing to hip sta­bil­ity. You don’t need to over-an­a­lyze this; the only thing re­quired is mind­ful­ness to honor what you feel.

To com­pre­hend the ef­fects of hy­per­mo­bil­ity on the hip joint, we need a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of its five main lay­ers, mov­ing from deep to su­per­fi­cial. First, the bony struc­ture of the joint is found where the ball-shaped femoral head fits into its socket, called the pelvic ac­etab­u­lum. It is sur­rounded by ar­tic­u­lar car­ti­lage and a labrum, or lip, made of fi­bro­car­ti­lage and dense con­nec­tive tis­sue to help hold the ball in the socket. The joint cap­sule is a thin, fluid-filled sac sur­round­ing the joint, held by lig­a­ments—those tough but flex­i­ble fibers that con­nect bone to bone. Fi­nally, atop these struc­tures are the many ten­dons and mus­cles that af­fect move­ments.

Each of the deeper struc­tures of the hip plays an im­por­tant role in sta­bil­ity. The labrum deep­ens the socket and makes it more dif­fi­cult for the femoral head to slip out. It also plays a vi­tal role in de­creas­ing con­tact stress on the joint and in en­sur­ing lu­bri­ca­tion be­tween the femoral head and its socket.

The joint cap­sule adds another layer of sta­bil­ity, and it se­cretes a lu­bri­cat­ing sub­stance that re­duces fric­tion. Mean­while, the lig­a­ments that sur­round the hip limit how much the joint can move, pre­vent­ing dis­lo­ca­tion and wear to the deeper lay­ers of car­ti­lage: The lig­a­ments also hold the bones to­gether. How­ever, lig­a­ments aren’t elas­tic, so once they have been over­stretched, they re­main that way, and their abil­ity to sup­port the joint is com­pro­mised.

Fi­nally, clos­est to the sur­face, the many ten­dons and mus­cles con­trol the hips’ mo­tions and sta­bi­lize them when they are bal­anced (in terms of strength and flex­i­bil­ity).

These five lay­ers work to­gether. When any one layer is not func­tion­ing, the rest have to work harder to pick up the slack. If your lig­a­ments are overly stretched, your mus­cles must la­bor to sta­bi­lize the joints. And if your mus­cles are weak or not fir­ing prop­erly, the deeper lay­ers of your lig­a­ments or labrum must com­pen­sate by ab­sorb­ing the im­pact of your move­ments.

The trou­ble is, you can’t al­ways tell when one layer is fall­ing down on the job. The car­ti­lage and lig­a­ments have less sen­sa­tion and de­te­ri­o­rate over long pe­ri­ods, mean­ing you may not feel pain or no­tice any prob­lems un­til the dam­age is done. As you get more flex­i­ble or “open” in your hips, it be­comes even more im­por­tant to cre­ate strength in your hip mus­cles to help sta­bi­lize that mo­bil­ity.

A good way to prac­tice is by fo­cus­ing on your stand­ing leg in bal­anc­ing poses. Glu­teus medius and min­imus are crit­i­cal for hip sta­bil­ity any time you stand up­right. These mus­cles help to po­si­tion the femoral head in the hip socket—to keep you from sink­ing into, and wear­ing down, the labrum, car­ti­lage, and lig­a­ments. A pose like Virab­hadrasana III (War­rior Pose III) is a chal­leng­ing op­por­tu­nity to prac­tice us­ing the glu­teus medius and glu­teus min­imus in or­der to sta­bi­lize the hip of your stand­ing leg and strengthen those mus­cles so that they sup­port you in all of your stand­ing poses.

Story orig­i­nally pub­lished in Au­gust 2015.

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