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Let’s talk about extension and flexion. In the previous posts, I’ve mentioned that sitting for a really long-ass time can affect the way that your whole body operates. Before this whole corporate life of sitting at our desk for hours to work on deadlines and projects to put food on the table and nourish our dreams, we weren’t really designed to sit for that long. We still aren’t!
We were designed to move. Many moons ago, you’d have to hunt and gather. You’d have to walk for miles just to get a meal. You’d have to wash the clothes by hand. You’d have to squat down to pick up things to build your shelter. You really had to survive.
Now, there are things in place where we don’t have to have many of these survival skills. We have a chair so we can sit all the time. We have cars and public transportation so we don’t have to walk as far. There are dozens of smartphone apps to have food, gifts, home improvement equipment and yoga mats delivered to our door. There’s all these things that make it so much more easier for us.
The ease and comfort of having these tasks handled by technology comes at a price. Sitting for a long-ass time can get your butt pretty numb. It can shorten your hip flexors and it can lengthen your glutes. This is not the optimal situation because it affects the angle of your pelvis tilt. This, in turn, affects how your lower back operates (it begins to take over the work of your glutes that have fallen asleep). The act of sitting for awhile changes your whole posture.
In yoga there’s quite an emphasis on stretching hip flexors because they feel uncomfortable from sitting so much. But, that’s the opposite of what we should be doing to ease their discomfort.
I should back-track here because we need to examine the terms “flexion” and “extension”. We can take this time to understand what hip “flexors” do. What are these yoga poses doing to stretch them? What does that look like and how can you recognize the movements?
Let’s direct your attention to the thigh. Notice how it connects up to the hips. The group of muscles here are called “hip flexors”. They literally bring your hips into Flexion. If you look at your own body and draw a line on your head horizontally from ear to ear. Everything parallel to that line is your “Coronal Plane”.
According to Wikipedia, “Flexion describes a bending movement that decreases the angle between a segment and its proximal segment. For example, bending the elbow, or clenching a hand into a fist, are examples of flexion. When sitting down, the knees are flexed. When a joint can move forward and backward, such as the neck and trunk, flexion refers to movement in the anterior direction. Flexion of the shoulder or hip refers to movement of the arm or leg forward.
Extension is the opposite of flexion, describing a straightening movement that increases the angle between body parts. When a joint can move forward and backward, such as the neck and trunk, extension refers to movement in the posterior direction. For example, when standing up, the knees are extended. Extension of the hip or shoulder moves the arm or leg backward. When the chin is against the chest, the head is flexed, and the trunk is flexed when a person leans forward. ”
Looking at your hips and legs, imagine your right leg is moving towards towards you. That’s Flexion. Then, imagine it’s moving behind you. That’s Extension. So, when you are sitting you are keeping your hip in Flexion. You’re keeping your hip flexor muscles shortened and contracted.
You might start thinking about some yoga poses that emphasize these two types of bodily motion. There’s poses like low lunges and high lunges that place your front leg in flexion (and your rear leg in extension). Some teachers might encourage you to lunge deeper to feel the stretch in extension. This is especially the case if you feel like your hip flexors are tight and you want to alleviate the sensation.
Sidenote: If you’re feeling some kind of aches and pains, stretching may alleviate this temporarily, but it usually doesn’t help in the long run. This is kind of a difficult topic to talk about, because there’s quite a bit of hyper flexible and non-flexible people who feel good from doing the stretches. This thinking is kind of counterintuitive. You really have to strengthen your hip flexors instead. This is the way to respect the signals that your body is giving you. Signals that tell you that your nervous system doesn’t like this motion. So, it’s protecting you from trying to go deeper by being tight.
There’s quite a bit of exercises I can recommend. I’ll write that in a blog another time. In the meantime, it’s really key to know these anatomical movements you’re doing and what your muscles are doing as well.
Let me show some other body parts that do flexion and extension. Take a look at your knees. When you raise your left knee in front of you, it is in flexion. When you lower your left foot down or bring it back and up, your knee is also behind you in extension.
So, I explained to you what yoga butt is or “dead butt syndrome” and how sitting for a long-ass time, how many “traditional” yoga pose cues contribute to glute weakening and butts falling There are a couple more ways that your body moves. Your forearms and feet can supinate and
pronate. Your legs and arms can abduct and adduct. It’s essentially bringing your arms and legs out and away from your side body.
These all are relative to “planes” which is describing the relationship of movement to the surface area of your body, what part of your body is moving and what part it’s moving away. There’s geeky angles involved, so I’ll save that for another chat!
Julie (Your Head Rogue Yogi)