The last time I wrote about my yoga practice, I was on the cusp of a hip aggravation that had begun affecting my left knee and lower back. That was April 17th. Today is May 1 — a new beginning of sorts. To mark the fresh start of a new month, this post is about the process of healing that aggravation and coming out with a stronger foundation of muscular strength and body awareness.
High school anatomy was a looong time ago, so I had forgotten about the interconnectedness of our amazing system of muscles and joints. Plus, the last few years of a rather sedentary lifestyle did nothing to keep that musculoskeletal system primed — or to keep me attuned with my body as a late-30s woman.
So in return, my body said: Uh-uh, you take care of ME.
For about a week and a half (which, dramatically, feels like forever and like you’re never going to get better), my left hip flexor was really, really tight, and even sore to the touch. The pinnacle of this aggravation was the night I decided to sleep with a heating pad.
I remember this night well because the next morning, I had to have my friend and colleague, Juli (who encouraged me to take this yoga journey), put ointment on my back because I burned myself with the heating pad overnight. #fail #thatswhatfriendsarefor
What stands out about that moment is how completely locked up my body felt. I have never felt such lack of mobility in my body before — and I don’t want to again for a long time. (When I’m 95, I will find it acceptable.)
The burn was mid-back — approximately where your right rib cage is centralized on your back — but I could.not.reach.it. My shoulders weren’t moving. And as I did more of an on-the-spot body scan, my hips were locked, my neck was stiff, and I had pain in my left outer knee and lower back. Mentally, I didn’t feel sharp.
It was ridiculous. It was all connected.
By talking with Amy, Rebecca, and Blake (yoga teachers at Downtown Yoga Memphis), I learned that, one: this is part of the process. “You’re getting stronger,” they said. And two: the iliopsoas region (muscles connecting hips, thighs, knees, back) is basically a command center — for a lot. A tight hip flexor leads to an overstretched IT band, which pulls knee and back muscles askew.
Caring for that iliopsoas (pronounced: ill-ee-o-so-az) area is all about core work. When the small hip muscles have to overcompensate for what larger glute muscles should be handling, the command center gets a little out of whack.
To nurture this situation back to better health, I stayed away from Power Yoga and Vinyasa for two weeks; focused on slow stretching in Yin, Restorative, and Hatha classes; took balance poses slowly and core poses deliberately; and used props (blocks and blankets) regularly to support my left knee in cross-legged poses and to support my left hip in longer stretches. I also walked to and from the yoga studio as much as possible (1.09 miles each way).
In other words, I continued using these muscles, but gently.
This past Saturday, it was like I woke up to a younger-me body. I felt as strong and confident in my movements as I did five years ago when I was practicing kickboxing regularly. Turns out, Amy, Rebecca, and Blake were right. I was getting stronger.
Whatever happened in my body when I slowed down and nurtured the problem area seems to have paid off better than I expected.
I guess it’s one of those situations where you slow down to eventually go faster. I still have remnant tightness in my left hip flexor, and maybe I always will from now on. That’s ok.
I’ll only get stronger from here.