More and more, I believe that no movement is inherently bad, but we run into trouble when we overuse movements. Especially when we do so unconsciously. One such habit that a lot of people have is overusing the sacroiliac joints and lower back to give the appearance of more movement in the hip joint that we actually have.
Yoga teachers stand a lot. Like, a LOT. On a busy day we might teach between four and six hours of yoga, and walk in between classes - so add an hour or two of walking to all that standing, and you have a recipe for very tired legs!
Some nights, my feet feel so tender that I find myself hobbling, my ankles are puffy, my calves are in spasm. Sound vaguely familiar to any of you who are teachers/ librarians/ retail workers/ hospitality workers/ physiotherapists/ massage therapists? And all the myriad other people who stand in the course of your work? Then there are those of you who are transitioning to sit/stand desks. Them pins gonna be tired in the beginning!
So I thought I would share my 'magic two' poses for tired legs. (I'm quite a fan of magic-seeming solutions to pain)
Magic Pose 1: Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose)
Oh, the joys of sitting on your heels. This just relieves so much tension in my ankles and feet, de-puffs them, and stretches my quadriceps out a bit too.
I sometimes practice Virasana (Hero Pose) instead, sitting between my heels on a flattish foam block. When my knees allow it, of course.
What, you ask, about those of us who can't kneel like this because it hurts our ankles/knees? Aha, I have an option for you, too:
Which refers to the sequence below: inhaling to all fours, and exhaling to release your buttocks towards your heels. It gives a similar kind of relief but without the sustained pressure on your joints that holding a pose would exert.
And then there is Magic Pose 2: Legs up the Wall
Is there any ailment this pose can't help? I doubt it.
This is the ultimate langhana (releasing, soothing) pose. I find it helps the muscles and tissues around my damaged SI joints relax, it allows blood and lymph to drain from my tired and puffy legs, and, with my arms out as pictured, also stretches my chest to relieve the hunch-asana that develops over a day of reaching forward to adjust students, working on the computer, etc. Sometimes I even meditate in this postion, when sitting is too uncomfortable.
Also check out: Alignment, Anatomy, Geekery.
Kinetic Chains are groups of muscles that work together as a team. There are chains like this running all though our bodies.
If one link of the chain is tighter or shorter or weaker and you get disharmony in how they move your skeleton. Not pretty. Not comfortable, either.
Folks, I had to share this.
You know how we tend to believe it's inevitable to get more hunched with age?
It's not true.
The only reason we hunch more as we age is that we've had more years to practice bad habits. I was very motivated, back in 2009, to change my habits because I was in a lot of pain. Like, could barely walk pain. In fact, it seems blindingly obvious now, looking at the picture below, that thrusting my ribs forward and not using my posterior muscles at ALL was exacerbating, if not causing, the problem.
Yes, I am not ashamed to admit that the ass in the 2009 picture was a droopy one. No muscle use there, and it jiggled when I walked. It doesn't now. Those muscles are too busy propelling me forward.
Now, in a perfect situation, all my joints would be lined up vertically. I am still not there - my ribs and pelvis are still thrust, among other things , but oh my, the progress.
You can see in the 2009 picture that I had clearly subscribed to the idea that pushing my ribs forward & lifting my chest was good posture. It's a myth.
In fact, there are loads of unuseful myths about posture out there.
I'll be teaching a workshop early next year on how I made (and continue to make) these changes but here are the basics:
- I made time every day to rest. Not in bed, but on the yoga mat. Like this, and this.
- I began to use my posterior muscles in a functional way. Yes, squats, done right.
- I started to relax my psoas muscles. It is, in my opinion, the muscle that needs to be changed first when working on posture.
- I worked on my shoulder and upper back mobility. A locked upper back and tight shoulders make it almost impossible to stand upright & use the muscles in the back of your body properly.
If you have pain, or think your posture could do with some work (hint, everyone's could) I encourage you to try some of these for yourself. Regular practice will create small changes quickly, and over time, big changes like the ones you see above.
My friend Kate and I were talking about our dodgy sacroiliac joints the other day. The topic came up because hers is hurting right now, following a popping noise in an early morning yoga class. Popping noises, when related to SI Joints, are alarming things. Popping noises, when related to ANY joints, are alarming things. Now, for the scientific lowdown on SI Joint dysfunction, please read this excellent wikipedia article.
I will add that in yogis, SIJ dysfunction is almost always a result of acquired hyper mobility in those joints. This hyper mobility generally develops over time, by repeated insult to the ligaments that hold the joint stable.
Extreme adduction (crossing the legs over your midline) and abdcution (taking your legs out to the sides), especially with bent knees, as in some of the poses below, is fine for many people. But not all. As a result of how our bones are shaped, and the loads and forces we subject them to (think tightening your psoas muscles and other external hip rotators with years and years of sitting), not all of us can move our legs in such a big range of motion in our hip sockets, and so, when we are trying to get into poses that we don't have the mobility for, we inevitably recruit flexibility from other joints - knees and SIJ's usually.
Over time, the ligaments that stabilise these joints get stretched and damaged, and the joints get destabilised. Not pretty. Very painful. Not necessary, but once it's happened, you live with the consequences for, probably, ever. Ligaments are generally accepted as being avascular - that is, they don't have their own blood supply, and since their job is to staibilise your joints, they are not very elastic either. Once they are overstretched, they don't go back to their original length.
(Side note: I found prolotherapy (a simple injection into the ligaments which causes them to form scar tissue & therefore tighten) useful, but the ligaments in my pelvis are still less stable than those of other people.)
My early yoga teachers didn't know this stuff, or if they did, they ignored it. I didn't question their teaching: I was too green back then to know that I don't bend right for yoga.
I got stood on in Baddha Konasana to get my knees to the ground (they still don't go to the ground, but now I have an unstable pelvis. Thanks, teacher, for standing on my knees).
I got taught to yank myself into twists, even the bound ones like Marichyasana D, below. The injury to my pelvis didn't show up until years later.
Things not to do with a shonky SIJ #1. With thanks to Ursula, whose SIJ seems to be fine.
I got taught (and, full confession, I WANTED) to reach for extreme ranges of motion, and then use my arms and legs as levers, to get into Supta Kurmasana, as below. My poor lower back!
Ursula again, with her (hopefully) well-functioning SIJ and bendy body...
Now, you can tell from the photos - some people can do this stuff. Not everyone. Certainly not me. Also, I have no idea if the woman in the photos has pain. She might - I haven't asked because I found her photos by way of Google, as you do.
Kate was asking whether I still manage my SIJ every day.
Yes. Every day, I work on strengthening the muscles that stabilise my pelvis and core. Every day, I work on improving the rhythm between my pelvis, low back and legs. Every day, I work on relaxing my psoas muscles.
And some days, I work on pain management, when my SIJ's are inflamed from too much sitting (on the back of a motorbike, for example).
Kate was also asking whether hip openers help with the pain or make it worse.
Mostly? They make it worse. Especially the kind where each leg is doing a different thing. I will republish the post about the things I do for happy SIJ's, soon, but for now, if you have SIJ pain, try practicing the constructive rest position:
Or Supta Baddha Konasana, possibly with a sacro-wedgy (or a rolled up towel, which is what I use). Hang out there for a long time, at least a few minutes, and you are looking for pain-free, or at least no increase in pain! THe picture below is old, so please excuse the terrible alignment. It's better now, I promise. Also, a lot of people with SIJ issues need to place cushions or bolsters under their thighs to have any chance of doing this without having pain afterwards.
Also, my all-time favourite psoas release, which helps immensely with the sacro-lumar rhythm, is this one from Katy Says: