Deep Hip Opening, Happy Knees And Healthy Relationships (Yes, They’re Related!)
Finding balance in life requires us to bring strength to weak areas and relaxation to those that are overly tight. This is true for emotional life, for instance, if you’re tightly clenched in fear of being hurt. Softening that tightness, while strengthening the tendency of “losing yourself” may bring the ability to find balance in relationship.
This is also true for the physical body. Some muscles are chronically tight or short, while others are too long or weak.
In the legs, this imbalance is inherent in the anatomy; the muscles of the outer hips are big and strong. The muscles around the knees, though, are smaller and often not very strong in comparison.When tightness in hip muscles reduces mobility, the more flexible areas of the knees and feet tend to compensate. Not surprisingly, this excess of movement can cause knee pain.
Deep hip opening and happy, healthy knees —as well as healthy relationships— comes from creating balance between tight/strong and loose/flexible. This is how we ease what’s tight, stuck and painful while strengthening what’s small, weak or neglected.
Engage To Build Strength
The lower legs, being smaller and more flexible than the hips, need strengthening in order to build protection for the knees.
In yoga, we accomplish this by activating the muscular strength of the legs. In particular, we need to engage the lower legs, which are usually smaller and weaker.
Start by spreading your toes to get the lower legs firm and strong. Try this:
- Stand in Tadasana with your feet hip width apart and parallel.
- Press into the balls of your feet at the big toe edge, then lift and spread all of your toes.
- Pay special attention to getting the fourth and fifth toes to stretch.
- Notice when you do this, the outer edges of your ankles and up into your calves are toned and strong, and you may feel a sense of your ankles drawing in towards each other.
- Memorize this feeling, as it’s the stability needed to support your knees when you practice hip opening, especially poses like Pigeon or Baby Cradle.
In relationships, you can apply the same logic. Are you saying yes when you really mean no? What small, tender part within has been overlooked and is crying out to be heard? Acknowledging that part of yourself moves it from too weak (i.e ignored) to strong and supported.Open Where Tight
Opening the outer hips invariably involves external rotation in the femur (thigh bone); it’s how we stretch all those deep muscles that work when we stand, walk, run, hike or climb stairs.
When the hip is tight, rotation is limited and the flimsier areas of the leg, namely the knee and foot, try to take the rotation instead, again, causing pain or imbalance.
If we lose the leg strength created above and/or just yank on the foot when we enter a yoga pose, the knee is at risk for injury and the hips never get any more free.
To save our joints and get at those hip muscles, we need to keep the engaged action from above and create a “true” alignment in the ankles and knees while we bend, rotate and move our legs around.
- Sit on the ground with your legs outstretched in Dandasana, with feet hip width and parallel.
- Now, spread your toes and engage your legs, as above.
- Looking at just your right leg, imagine a line running through the center of your ankle, knee and hip.
- Keep those three points in line with each other, then bend and straighten your knee a few times, dragging your heel along the ground.
- Now, with your knee bent, heel on the ground, rotate in the hip socket to turn your leg out.
- Make sure the imaginary line connected by three dots (ankle, knee, hip) is intact, as this is what supports your knees and asks the hips to open.
- It should feel like you’re moving your entire leg as one piece, rotating in the hip socket.
Once you’ve got this action, pick the foot up and move on to Baby Cradle pose, or Agni Stambhasana. Just make sure you keep your foot and lower leg active and rotate the whole leg as one (three dots in line), rather than “breaking” at the knee.
Once you master this relationship between strength and flexibility in yoga practice, start to experiment with weight bearing poses, such as Flying Pigeon.
In your relationships, do you tend to try to control situations, or micromanage how the other person does things? (I’m guilty of the latter in the kitchen!) This is too much tightness or strength and not enough flexibility. What do you fear will happen if you let go of that “protection” and allow things to be as they are? In relationships, softness is related to receiving. Too soft means you expect everyone to accommodate you. Not soft enough means difficulty with receiving. How can you get better at receiving —complements, gifts, income, opportunities, etc?