Focus on Hip Flexors

Stretching hip flexors.

It’s well known that the typically sedentary lifestyle of the west is a contributing factor to an epidemic of lower back problems. Too much sitting – whether it is at a desk, in a car or in front of the TV – can result in poor posture, the knock-on effect of which I can testify can be completely debilitating. I too have suffered the odd twinge and ignored it only to find myself immobilised on the floor, taking painkillers and wondering whether I will ever be able to walk, let along practice yoga, again.

So if more than two hours a day of sitting is classed by health professionals as “excessive”, can we do anything to counteract this? The answer, thanks to yoga, is an emphatic yes – but don’t think that just because you practise yoga you are automatically given a get out of jail free card.   

Hip flexors

The key here is the hip flexors, which are a group of muscles in the front of the hip that act to lift the knee and bring the thigh towards the abdomen. The most important muscles making up the hip flexors are the iliacus and the psoas (or iliopsoas).

Most problems with the hip flexors don’t originate in a lack of strength but in a lack of flexibility. If the hips are constantly kept in a fixed position (such as sitting for hours day-in, day-out, punctuated only by a short trip to the water cooler and back) your hip flexors will shorten, limiting your ability to fully extend the hip. Subsequently, if they are short they are tight and pull down on the pelvis, tilting it forward and compressing the lower back.

We yogis often work hard to improve their hamstring flexibility (it feels so good to touch those toes!) but spend less time stretching our hip flexors thus exacerbating the issue. The hamstrings lengthen significantly while the hip flexors improve only slightly. This unequal pull tilts the pelvis further and can cause compression in the lower back. Which is why it’s so important to include hip flexor stretches in your practice, especially if you have a desk-bound job.

This really short sequence can be squeezed into that ten minute window between brushing your teeth and waiting for your other half to finally come to bed (or is that just me?). It will enable you to enjoy a new sense of space in your pelvis and help protect you from compression and pain in your lower back. Stop when you feel the stretch in all of these poses and hold for a few breaths on each side. Don’t force things; you don’t want to overstretch.

Hip Flexor Sequence

  1. Start by lying down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hug your right leg into your chest and stretch your left out along the floor. Swap.
  2. Bring your feet close to your body and come into bridge for a few breaths (see illustration).
  3. Roll over onto your front and stretch your quads by bending first your right knee towards your buttocks and taking your right ankle with your right hand. Swap to your left.
  4. Come up onto all fours and do a few rounds of cat pose, inhaling as you gently arch your back towards the ceiling and exhaling as you arch your back the other way, moving your belly towards the floor.
  5. Put your right leg in between your hands and come up into a low lunge (Anjaneyansana), being careful your front knee does not overshoot the foot. Lifting your right arm towards the ceiling will increase the stretch on your hip flexors. Repeat on the other side.
  6. Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, place your right ankle on the left leg above the knee. Interlace both hands behind your left leg and draw towards your chest until you feel the stretch. Repeat on the other side.

Sometimes a little of what you need is better than a lot of what you don’t.

 

With thanks to the lovely Tara Fraser for demonstrating Bridge Pose, taken from The Easy Yoga Workbook.

Signed by: Monika.

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  1. Moumita De Sarkar on 27 December 2017 at 12:00 pm

    I am not into yoga. But yes I intend to walk at least an hour daily as most of the day, I am sitting with a laptop. You pointed out a serious issue. Women gradually develop a lot of health problems when they age. It’s important that we look after ourselves.

    • Monika Maurer on 28 December 2017 at 5:56 pm

      I couldn’t agree more Moumita. Women often put others’ needs first but it’s so important to take the time to look after ourselves, especially as we age. And walking is so beneficial, whatever your age or fitness level – it’s something anyone can do. Let me know how you get on with your daily hour.

  2. Doreen Pendgracs on 27 December 2017 at 10:22 pm

    Yikes, Monika! With my weak knees, I would hesitate to try those Hip Flexors. But I do try and get up from my chair often, to give my joints the exercise they need. the only exception is in the evenings, when the cat inhabits my lap, making it rather difficult to get up at will. Cheers, and Happy New Year to you.

    • Monika Maurer on 28 December 2017 at 6:01 pm

      Yes, Doreen, we have to be so careful with our knees. I too have dodgy knees, but exercises my physio gave me to strengthen them have worked wonders (as long as I do them regularly). And you’re right, you don’t need to do a series of set exercises to get similar benefits – just standing up regularly and mobilising your joints as you do can do the trick. And as long as it’s only the cat that’s preventing you from getting our of your chair in the evenings and not a creaky back you’re doing ok!

  3. Phoenicia on 28 December 2017 at 1:07 pm

    I have noticed little twinges in my back when I have sat too long in a chair without allowing the chair back to support me. I have to remind myself to sit up straight as I have a tendency to lean forward.

    I walk daily and do cardio every other day to keep myself fit and agile.

    • Monika Maurer on 28 December 2017 at 6:07 pm

      Sounds as if you really are an organised lady Phoenicia – walking daily and cardio every other day is very impressive! I walk most days but don’t do cardio as often I should or other forms of exercise as often as I’d like. It’s hard to find the time!

  4. RoseMary Griffith on 28 December 2017 at 6:53 pm

    Because I work at home–writing–sitting became an issue a few years ago. My husband built me a platform for on top of my desk, so now I stand at least 6 hours of every work day. Yeah to feeling better. I start the mornings with cardio and weights. Now that it’s winter it will be Pilates–I like the similarities to Yoga and have piles of videos–in the evenings to try to get that stretching in that you talk about.

    • Monika Maurer on 28 December 2017 at 7:44 pm

      Yay RoseMary! A standing workstation goes a long way to help the periods of physical inactivity a writing job often entails (buzzing brain and twitching fingers aside!). Your routine – cardio and weights in the morning followed by stretching in the evenings – sounds a great combination to me.

  5. William Rusho on 29 December 2017 at 6:51 pm

    I do hip flexors, and I must say, they do help me with my back. Being a pro wrestler, my poor back gets slammed on hit upon constantly. This exercise has levitated much pain I have had. Thanks for sharing

    • Monika Maurer on 29 December 2017 at 7:22 pm

      Hi William. Yes, yoga is not just for yogis! So pleased it works for you.

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