When we’re thinking about doing asana, or yoga poses, we are often inclined to think about the shapes our bodies are making, or maybe what muscles are contracting or stretching.
If we want to move and feel better, however, it might be helpful to think instead of the bones.
In today’s post, we’ll be taking a look at another one of the key hip movements: extension. This is the movement where you take the thigh bone back behind the pelvis, as Bertha (my pelvic model) is demonstrating below.
This is a movement where Bertha is unusually proficient – because her thigh bones are attached with elastics, she can spin her leg all the way around in a circle. Real human hips have a wide range of available movement, but you probably can expect to see anywhere between 5 and 40 degrees of extension in the hip joint, more commonly between about 15- 25 degrees. This means that any time you think the leg is coming way back behind you, that movement might be coming from somewhere else in addition to the hip joint.
As a person who has pretty limited hip extension, I notice that quite often my habitual inclination is to use my spine – sometimes to augment the movement of the leg, and sometimes I don’t bother moving the leg at all and use the spine exclusively because it’s easier. Sometimes this is OK, and lately it seems to correlate increasingly with some discomfort in my low back and left hip.
If you’re having some discomfort during or even outside of your asana practice, or if you’d just like to have more movement options, it might be helpful to work on differentiating hip extension from spinal extension. Read on for more!
Hip Extension in Asana Practice
Hip extension occurs frequently in our asana, or postural yoga practice. Here are just a few examples of poses where you’re potentially taking the hip into extension:
- The back leg in poses such as Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1) or lunges, Virabhadrasana 3 (Warrior 3), Natarajasana (Dancer Pose), Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-legged King Pigeon Pose)
- Backbends such as Ustrasana (Camel Pose), Salabhasana (Locust Pose), Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow/ Wheel Pose)
Note that I said potentially above because these poses are sometimes performed with little to no hip extension and a lot more spinal movement (twisting and/or backbending).
Differentiating Hip Extension
When you’re stepping a leg back behind you, coming into a backbend, or otherwise bringing a hip into extension, see if you can slow down and get curious about how you’re achieving the movement.
- Are you driving that movement with the foot? With the hip? With the spine?
- If you’re also doing spinal movement (nothing wrong with that if it feels good!), can you unhook the movements from each other so that you can move in just the hip and just the spine if you want to?
- Are you gripping or bracing anywhere? (Check the belly, pelvic floor, shoulders, face, hands, toes, and breath.)
- Does anything hurt? Does the movement feel sticky or jerky, or smooth and controlled?
As you practice, make the movement as small as you need to in order to do it well, and then build from there. You can play around with the position in the video as a starting point (grab a yoga block or similarly sized item – see here for home substitutes). I can’t remember who I got this block trick from, but it’s my favorite!
Are you finding this work useful? Learn more about how these movements fit into a sequence of poses by taking an online group class, or get a personalized movement assessment and sequence by taking a private workshop with me online. See you on the mat.
The information, instruction, and advice contained in this video and post are in no way intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content is for general informational purposes only. Not all exercises are suitable for everyone. Consult your doctor before beginning this or any exercise program.