Here is a re-post of an article I wrote on May 6, 2016. Can you create juicy joints?
After a yoga class do you feel less stiff, more fluid, as if your body had been replenished? Or, do you feel achiness in your joints in the hours or days following your practice? The difference may be in where you are moving from in your various asana (postures) during your yoga practice, or how deep your are moving. Looking at your joints & moving them in a comfortable range of motion is essential.
Think of a hinge on your door. It opens & closes time & time again, but if you don’t maintain it with oil it may start to squeak or if you are too forceful with the door, the hinge may become too loose. Even worse, what if you stop using the door, over time it may rust, get difficult to move or even stop moving all together. The joints in our body are like this. If we are too sedentary the joints will stiffen & over time will stop doing the job they are meant for. If we overwork or stretch the joints, the ligaments that attach muscle to bone can be overstretched & the joint becomes unstable. When we move mindfully through out joints, it’s like oiling the hinge, the joints feel lubricated & work well.
We have to learn to move our joints enough to keep them lubricated but not too forcefully to cause them damage. But how do we do this? Lets start by looking at the largest joints in our hips that are responsible for moving & supporting our body through our day. Think about how you start a common yoga pose such at uttanasana (standing forward bend). Do you start your movements from your joints, or do the hip joints follow the rest of the body?
Quite often our body will lead from it’s habits, like the upper back that habitually curves forward from our time sitting at desks or on the computer. This can cause a large amount of stress on joints of the spine being pulled together due to the tense muscles of the upper & lower back. When we go to move into uttanasana these tight muscles are asked to stretch, but instead with cause compression to the joints of the spine. This tension will then cause the pelvis to move out of alignment & even the joints of the knees to lock. So a pose that is about releasing the hamstrings will instead cause them to grip more & the joints all along the body to have less space instead of more.
What if instead we initiated the movement from the hips joints, keeping the spine long & strong, allowing the heart centre (chest) to stay open. The knees will naturally bend & the back will be in a strong, long & safe position. The weight can then be felt in all of the feet & now, when the weight of the head comes below the heart, it will elongate the spine giving a natural traction & space between each vertebrae. This weight of the head is now transferred throughout the whole body instead of one or two tight spots. The bend from the hips & knees will also allow the hamstrings in the back of the thighs to release in a way that will not be forceful. The key is to notice what is felt in the joints, in this case the knees & hips. If there is discomfort at or near the joint, you are trying to straighten the legs or rounding through the back too much.
Next time you come into uttanasana, start with lifting the heart centre, then hinging forward from the hips with the knees bent deeply. Once you decide how far to allow the bend to go forward (see what feels comfortable in your joints), then find the weight even in the feet front to back & side to side. As you begin to press the feet into the floor & lift the front of the thighs, feel how the sit bones reach back. This action shows the movement is happening through the joints & as you feel the stretch in the center of the back of your thighs continue to stretch, stopping if any discomfort is felt in or near the knee joint. This careful attention will help those like me who are stiff by nature to not cause the joints to over compress & those that are more flexible in nature to not lock in the joints. We have to get over what the pose is supposed to look like & work with what it feels like. Remember to bend the knees deeper again as you come out of the pose as mindfully as when you went in.
Our awareness of the joints is not limited to when we extend them, it is also when we compress them. Even a simple hug of a knee into the chest, if the knee is squeezed too tightly, can cause the joint to become unstable & cranky. It is finding the range of motion that feels right, in both extension & compression that will keep each joint strong & spacious. In other words stable.
Now repeat this exploration as we move through poses that involve the shoulder joint. How high should you lift the arm? Are you creating tension in the muscles of the neck as you lift it? Is there any discomfort in & around the shoulder joint? What happens if you stopped before that tension happened, could you create space & strength in the shoulder girdle? What happens if you press into the floor through the feet & lengthen through the crown, engaging the core, how does it feel now? Stronger & longer? How does moving through the shoulder joint affect the elbow & even the wrist. The largest joints of the hips & shoulders affect what is down the line as well.
These awareness are even more important if you are dealing with any form of arthritis. With arthritis the joints tend to have pain often due to inflammation or stiffness. Mindfully exploring the idea of those joints needing to move to “oil” them, but not to much or forcefully as to inflame them is essential. I encourage moving any joint that is affected by any type of arthritis (osteo, rheumatoid, tendonitis, bursitis, to name a few) to follow the rules I state with an added, don’t stay too long in any one pose. To move in & out of the pose more often, as to not over word or compress the joint, but to keep it feeling more fluid.
No matter what condition your joints are in, being mindful of them will help the whole body to function as one unit keeping each part safe as you practice.
Learning to move mindfully from each joint in our body from our toes to our jaw, will keep the body in good working order & spending less time trying to recover for it’s activities, even dare I say, from your yoga practice.
See the attachment for the Joint Freeing Series by Mukunda Stiles as a way to keep all of your joints happy. I have noted some modifications on his practice as a way to honour all of our body as we work on our finding "juicy joints".
Anne Cox E-RYT500