BY: TRISHA CURLING
The more we learn about and get to know our own bodies, the better off we are. Also, understanding that the body is not made of compartments that work independently from one another is also very important. Practicing yoga and learning more about what muscles may be tight and/or weak helps us to know how to create more support and stability where necessary. Knowing these things helps us to take pressure away from areas that may be tight/overused and helps us to “fire” the ones that may be weak/underused.
It is much more than just moving muscles though. If we consider the hip and its’ structure, for example, we must look at the deeper levels and create “passive stability” first. If we are contracting muscles in this area, without creating integrity into the joint by connecting with some of other structures and tissues in the body, we are potentially creating future problems. The hip can be an extremely vulnerable place, as it is a ball & socket joint. It has a joint capsule that secretes a synovial fluid which is crucial in slowing down wear and tear in the joint. It is one of the more mobile joints in the body allowing for a great deal of movement. We must begin by making a “brain” connection to these areas of the body. This is why it is important to begin to pay attention to our breathing at the beginning and throughout our yoga practice. This helps us to slow down and be more focused (allowing us to make those “brain” connections to these areas.
Let’s start with the bone, in particular, the head of the femur. “Hugging the hip” or head of the femur (upper thigh bone) into the socket helps to create this structural stability. This places the hip into a more optimal position for movement, which also allows the next level of passive stability (the cartilage) in that area to do its’ job. Generally speaking, the cartilage will help to “deepen” the joint by trapping the fluid in order to absorb shock from impact and of course minimize degeneration. The capsule (an outer fibrous layer), being the next level of passive stability simply helps to attach bone to bone and is also responsible for secreting the synovial fluid. When we look at the last level of passive stability we must look at the ligaments and their role. The ligaments help to reinforce the capsule and stabilize the joint. Some of the areas we may be inclined to think about first in regards to stability are tendons and muscles. These areas of “active stability” will indirectly affect the more “passive” layers if they are not doing their job. The tendons are fibrous connective tissues which anchor muscle to bone. The muscles comprise of deep, intermediate, and superficial systems that directly affect the integrity and protection of the joint. Making connections from deeper to more superficial is crucial.
This does not mean that we need to be overwhelmed with 100% knowledge of our anatomy in order to have a safe yoga practice. It may mean connecting with a yoga teacher and taking some private lessons to gain an understanding of proper alignment before we attend a group class. This information is to help us to know that when we approach our practice, it is more than moving muscles, it is about always beginning with the breath, it is about making the “brain connection”, it is a consideration of the general understanding of our deeper structures paired with the more superficial structures and their role to help with longevity and integrity as long as we can maintain it.