Last weekend I spoke about the importance of understanding our bodies at a clinic for the Vancouver Sun Run. Most people in the room admitted that they do not take much time to stretch before or after their run. It's baffling for someone like me to hear that! How can we not think about the choices we make now affecting our future. (I know, you've heard this before right?!) I spoke about the ability yoga has to change conditions (not only in our body but in our minds) is incredible, matched with the true acceptance of the moment it cultivates and the draw it has to keep exploring. How it's a practice that's not achievement based but more linear and expansive in its foundations. The following in an excerpt from the talk. If you are a runner/cyclist/someone who sits all day long and who doesn't take a ton of time to stretch and make space in your body, this is for you.
"I’d like to talk about building awareness in your body and how to best use the time you give yourself to stretch before and after your run, and really dive into into how we understand our bodies - more specifically our pelvis. Let’s have everyone stand up and landmark a few areas as we move around a bit (lumbar spine, front hip bones, sit bones, pubic bone) and let’s do a simple runners lunge, fingertips on the floor for balance and if you feel like it start to come up and interlace your hands on top of your thigh. Now what do we feel in our bodies here? (perhaps take the same arm as your back leg up to ceiling) upper hip?quads? lower back? front knee? where is the weight in your front foot? what is your back foot doing? Why is it hard to balance here?
Now, let’s take a look at our pelvis in this position. Can we all visualize what our pelvis looks like? A bowl, yes? When the pelvis is neutral the 2 frontal hip bones line up with the pubic bone. When we are moving into something like a lunge the pelvis will give as much as it can to accommodate the tightness another part of our bodies (i.e. hamstrings and hip flexors) in this new position. But, in return another part of the body will suffer (i.e. lower back). Perhaps not for the first few times but repetitive movements get stronger and we expect more from these same movements over time that we push ourselves a bit more and soon begin to cause pain.
Now, let's take this into a forward fold. Watch what happens (back rounds and tailbone tucks through legs) to the spine when the lack of mobility in the hamstrings causes the pelvis to come into a posterior tilt and pull the natural lumbar curve out of the spine. This is how we get bulged or herniated discs.
This is not effective nor safe!
Too often we think about how something is supposed to look and without a second thought we try to replicate it. Everyone has tight hip flexors and hamstrings and runners even more so unless they are diligent about how to lengthen their muscles, because it take consistency and the understanding that any stretch goes not in one direction but two. Think about a giant elastic just sitting on a table and you decided you wanted to make them longer. You want to create length. Would you just pull one end? No, you would pull both.
So let’s come back to the pelvis and actively use it as an anchor (pulling the elastic the other way) while still paying attention to our feet and knees. The more we bend our knees in a forward bend or our back knee in a lunge, the more mobility and ability we have to anchor our pelvis in it's neutral position - which takes the lower lumbar spine out of the equation. From there then we can begin to take the stretch a bit deeper by exploring how much can we begin to straighten or bend our knees without shifting the pelvis. Because whether we are trying to stretch our hamstrings in a forward bend or our hip flexors and quads in a lunge, what the pelvis is doing in those positions can tell us a ton. "
Let's put this into practice:
1. Lunge facing wall - hands out, straight arms pushing into the wall. Front foot out so legs are scissored. Back heel is up and foot is perpendicular to the floor. Pull up through the core to prevent your bowl (pelvis) from tipping forward. Begin to bend front knee little by little while keeping pelvis anchored in it's neutral position.
2. Standing balance pulling heel to bum - Standing on both feet, find frontal hip bones in line with pubic bone. Stand on left foot, with right hand begin to pull right foot to right sit bone without letting the bowl (pelvis) tip forward.
3. Scissored forward fold on or off back knee. Start in lunge (back knee lifted) and feel the pressure of your front body against your front thigh. As if you're trying to reach your tail bone above your back heel, keep that effort while at the same time begin to straighten your front knee any amount until you feel a deep hamstring stretch.