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.
The Modern World Makes it Easier For Us
Now, there are things in place where we don’t have to have many of these survival skills. For example, we have a chair so we can sit all of the time. We also 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. In short, there’s all these things that make life 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 gluteal muscles. As a result, this may not be great 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 can change your whole posture.
As a result, there’s quite an emphasis on stretching hip flexors in yoga because these muscles feel uncomfortable (i.e. tight) from sitting so much. However, the passive stretching can alleviate the discomfort for only a period of time before the pain usually returns. Stretching is the opposite of what we could be doing to ease their discomfort for the long run.
For a moment, I will back-track a bit because we should examine the terms “flexion” and “extension”. So, we will 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?
Get to Know Your Thigh and Hip Flexors
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. ”
Let’s Put the Yoga Anatomy in Motion
Looking at your hips and legs, imagine your right leg is moving towards towards you. That’s Flexion. Next, imagine it’s moving behind you. That’s Extension. So, thinking back to the act of sitting, you can see that you’re keeping your hip in Flexion. You’re keeping your hip flexors shortened.
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. Additionally, other teachers push you to lunge deeper due to a perceived idea that going deeper in your end range of motion is equivalent to attaining a deeper level of yogic enlightenment.
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. While this is kind of a difficult topic to talk about because there’s hyper flexible and non-flexible people who feel good from doing the stretches, it’s important to point out that this approach can be counter intuitive. Instead, you really have to strengthen your hip flexors. 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. As your protector and guardian, it’s trying to prevent you from going deeper by tightening up.
There’s quite a bit of exercises I can recommend. However, I’ll write about them in another blog post. In the meantime, let’s see these anatomical movements of flexion and extension in more action.
Yoga Anatomy: More Flexion and Extension
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. Then, when you lower your left foot down or bring it back and up, your knee is also behind you in extension.
To wrap it all up, I’ve explained to you what “yoga butt” is or “dead butt syndrome” and how sitting for a long-ass time can be less helpful to your everyday life. As you read this, think of how many “traditional” yoga pose cues there are that can contribute to glute weakening and butts falling asleep if you don’t balance out the flexibility with mobility and stability.
In “short”: Sitting encourages your body to remain in a fixed position for a period of time. Once you begin to recognize these directions that your limbs are held in, you can consider balancing it out by supplementing movements that go the other way, supplementing strengthening exercises and using the passive stretch as more of a “cherry on top” or a way to decompress from the sitting before adding in the aforementioned.
As a side note: there are more ways that your body parts move. Your forearms and feet can “supinate” and “pronate”. Your legs and arms can “abduct” and “adduct”. These all are relative to “planes” which are 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. I’ll go “deeper” into these topics during another blog.
Julie (Your Head Rogue Yogi)
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