National Public Radio (NPR) recently did a story on the “lost art” of bending over. Spoiler: it’s only been lost in the West; other cultures still practice it.
Photo: Jean Couch.
If you’ve had private lessons with me, you’ve worked on this in nearly every lesson: re-discovering how to bend over, how to come from sitting to standing. Essential!
“. . . when you hip hinge, your spine stays in a neutral position. The bending occurs at the hip joint — which is the king of motion.” — NPR
Please note: this requires time and practice to re-discover as an adult. Please go slowly. Begin by thinking, “I’m taking my sit bones back. And my spine is like a pendulum. My head’s at one end, my pelvis at the other.”
Which Letter of the Alphabet is Your Spine Making?
You can use the alphabet to help discover your pattern. Are you making a C-shape (rounding) as you bend over?
Or are you maintaining an L-shape with your spine and hips?
As You Practice Bending
If you’re practicing bending over, it’s key to understand, to feel, where your hip joints are located (about 15 centimeters above the crease at the top of your pant leg). Also essential: to realize that your pelvic girdle has three moving parts.
To see this principle in action, watch elite athletes. Speed skaters, surfers, weightlifters. No way you can lift 100 pounds or more overhead without damaging yourself, unless you take full advantage of your pelvic opportunity.
Practice every time you need to bend over. You’ll be so glad!
If you have back or hip pain, the more you understand and can bend over in this way, at your hip joints, the less pain you’ll have. And if you don’t have pain, you’ll lessen the chance of creating it.
So, after six years of teaching, I follow my hunches when planning what to teach. I listen to my private clients, to students in my classes. I continue with my advanced study. Patterns emerge. Something comes into the foreground.
Now it’s hip joints which keep presenting themselves to me.
Connecting with Your Strength
My ongoing interest remains uncovering innate strength. And clarifying use of our hip joints is key. The pelvis is our power center. Those bones are the biggest we have. The lumber vertebrae are enormous, compared to our cervical vertebrae.
The head of the femur is spherical, almost. It has the potential to rotate in almost any direction. Yet most of us use only a fraction of the potential. Watch a dancer or gymnast to see the hip joint exploited to its fullest.
Most of us don’t have hypermobile joints like acrobats. Yet we can still find more range of motion than we’re currently taking advantage of. We can find, for example, the top of our hip joint, that place around which we can pivot freely and discover what Moshe Feldenkrais called good posture: the ability to move in any direction without preparation.
Why Study Anatomy?
I’ve been going back to the transcripts of the lessons Moshe Feldenkrais taught years ago in Jerusalem. We have roughly 600 of these lessons, from the time he spent teaching on Alexander Yanai Street. I’m finding gems in his comments to students. He says repeatedly that we don’t know where our hip joints are. We can’t accurately locate them on ourselves. We think our hip joints are located where our pants crease at the top of our legs. They aren’t. Because we move from a faulty understanding of our anatomy, we damage our hip joints and low back. Moshe said that 60 years ago, and it’s still true today.
The heads of the femurs point towards your sacrum. Your hip joints are located where they can direct ground forces up and into your spine on either side to help you stand erect and move your spine freely.
When you stand using your skeleton clearly, without unnecessary activity in your core, you’ll feel support flowing up from your heels to your hip joints, all the way to the crown of your head.
It’s literally a heady feeling.
So why do so many of us lack or forget that connection? Many reasons: injury, prolonged sitting, inactivity in general. I also think the English language doesn’t help.
Basic Pelvic Anatomy
We have one word, “pelvis,” for what are actually three bones: the sacrum in the middle and an ilium/ischium on either side. To add to the confusion, we don’t have one word for the hip bones on either side of the sacrum. Each is composed of three elements, the ilium, ischium, and pubis. These are separated in newborns and become fused by adulthood. The three elements form a deep socket called the acetabulum where they meet. The acetabulum articulates with the head of the femur. In front, the pubic bone on either side is connected by cartilage. So each of these three parts of your pelvis has the potential to move independently. To see that potential exploited to its fullest, watch a skillful belly dancer.
Why isn’t study of basic human anatomy required? How we’re put together is fascinating. When kids meet my skeleton Heinrich, they can’t stop touching him, moving his bones around, asking questions. It’s absurd and a profound disservice to allow children to reach adulthood in ignorance of how their physical selves function. (Of course, public school would probably find a way to make anatomy boring. But that’s another story.)
The point is, understanding and clarifying function of our hip joints is key to improving our movement and self-use. This spring, that will be the theme throughout my classes. I hope you’ll join me.
Going Deeper with Anatomy
If you’d like to study human anatomy on your own, there’s no better place to start than Anatomy of Movement by Blandine Calais-Germain. Her analysis focuses on function, not the study of anatomy for its own sake. She’s a dancer and physical therapist. The book is full of great illustrations. It’s organized so you can easily pick it up and simply read the section dealing with the pelvis. Or go cover to cover, if you like.
Here’s an informative blog I discovered about the value of freeing your pelvis. It’s especially important to address pelvic health when you consider how much we sit in contemporary life. A sedentary lifestyle is antithetical to a freely moving pelvis.
Lise Wood of WHF
On the fundamental properties of good movement, Lise Wood of the Women’s Health Foundation writes: “If the body forms angles to the main line of action, some of the force generated by the pelvis will become absorbed in the tissues and fail to be transmitted toward the goal of the movement. The tissues that absorb this force may be the muscles, ligaments, tendons or the joint itself.”
In other words, when movement travels optimally through our skeletons, it follows the lines of our bones. The pelvic muscles—the biggest of the body—can do their job efficiently. If force is absorbed in the tissues, over time this can lead to inflammation and joint instability. This applies to both women and men.
Whether you have a yoga or meditation practice, or would just like more comfort in sitting, you’ll benefit from this workshop. When your pelvis moves naturally, movements of your upper and lower body coordinate to produce powerful, precise, graceful movements – and ease in moving or sitting.
Awareness Through Movement lesson®.
Please be comfortable lying on your back, stomach or side, and floor sitting. Wear several layers of loose-fitting clothing.
Where: MoveStudio, 17062 Preston Rd., Suite 108, Dallas, TX 75248