Yoga practice usually starts with some form of Surya Namaskara and most sun salutations include moving from Samasthitih or Tadasasna to Uttanasana and back upright many times. These movements are often made by keeping the back straight and folding forwards at the hips, with the knees locked and rising back to vertical in the same position, lifting the head first.
- Keeping the back straight to bend forward involves a strong contraction of the Erector Spinae muscles and eccentric lengthening of the Hamstrings (Hamstrings contract to control the movement and lengthen at the same time). The Iliopsoas works very hard as well, because it acts an antagonist and stabiliser of both muscle groups.
- Returning to an upright position involves contracting the spinal muscles, and concentric contraction of the Hamstrings.
- Another side effect of hinging from the hips is that the Iliopsoas becomes overactive, causing pain in the midsection of the body.
The problem here is that the Gluteus Maximus is barely used and repeating these movements many times reinforces a habit pattern which weakens the butt and lower abdominal muscles. The Gluteus Maximus is one of the strongest muscles in our body and Gluteal strength is essential for correct posture and stability in the Sacroiliac joint. The combination of weak Gluteals, weak lower abdominal muscles and overactive hip flexors is referred to as Pelvic Crossed Syndrome
Weak Gluteal muscles are very common in yoga and yogis may wonder how it can be possible.
Neurological usage patterns determine which of the muscles are utilised when making movements. For example, it is possible to extend the leg backwards – as in Dighasana – without engaging the gluteal muscles: the Hamstrings and Erector Spinae do the work instead. The body can use many muscles besides the correct ones to make movements, but the end-result is pain and injury.
The way to ensure that the Glutes are being used during movements is to engage the lower abdominal muscles to pull the pubic bone up towards the rib cage, as well as hollowing the belly (Uddiyana Bandha).
Hollowing the belly protects the spine, but it can also allow the pelvis to tilt forwards and anterior pelvic tilt reduces the contribution of Gluteal muscles. Some other side effects of anterior pelvic tilt will be looked at in more detail next.
Hinging forward from the hips with a straight back is not a problem for some people, but yogis who have hip problems should try this instead:
- Bend the knees very slightly and roll up and down through the spine, while maintaining a strong gluteal contraction and engaging the leg and lower abdominal muscles for support
- When returning to standing, movement must begin at the sacrum and NOT by first lifting the head and shoulders. This is accomplished by a strong contraction of the Gluteal muscles.
A small change of emphasis in movements can make a big difference with chronic hip problems
De Franca, 1996, Pelvic Locomotor Dysfunction
Sharkey, 2008, The Concise Book of Neuromuscular Therapy