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Hips, Hips Hooray! by Noah Karrasch

Posted by: Emma on: 10/01/2017

Category: pilates


This is the second in a series of articles featuring various body hinges that, unused or misused, cause trouble throughout the body. One could argue that by moving from toe and ankle hinges to the hip hinge, I’ve left out an important way station--the knees. While this is true, I have my reasons….

I’ve always told students and clients that I’m not particularly good with knees, but that I’m good with feet and hips, and knees often sort themselves out when those two hinges decide to work, and work together. When I work to recondition knees, I nearly always work more below and above than I do on the joint. Very rarely, I’ll get into a popliteal space; more likely I’ll find a sideline posture and focus on opening the adductor channel and the adductor/hamstring septum. So, thus, the reason you won’t be seeing a separate article on the knees….you just did.

So, hips. Before I started writing today, a thought came to me, quickly, directly, simply. “Illness comes when we don’t acknowledge our pain.” The longer I work with this concept and refine this thought, the more I believe it’s true. And the line from feet to knees to hips, and on to low, mid, and upper back and everything distal and above can get kinked, compressed, and painful in any spot. But, ANY spot can be causing the problem all the way up and down the line. This is why some of us are so interested in the CORE: we’re after the deep line holding or pain that manifests somewhere, but is often held throughout the body. And hips are a Grand Central Station on the tracks of transmission through the body.

In fact, I teach a class called Iliac Crest: Function Junction. If you allow yourself to think this way, nearly all the body’s parts are only a couple of muscles (or bones) away from that iliac crest….if psoas, for example, anchors on lesser trochanter after crossing pubic bone, and joins iliacus which lands just below that iliac crest…one can argue that psoas connects to the crest. Run up the psoas to diaphragm, to back side of sternum on transversus thoracis tissue, or on the vestiges of sternohyoid, and you’ve reached the throat, jaw, ear and shoulder…in three or four muscles! Or run up the iliacus to crest; from there, travel up quadratus lumborum to low back and twelfth rib; or up obliques to all the lower ribs and thence into ribcage. So, begin to consider the hips as the powerhouse and gateway of energy up and down the body.

But, go back to my earlier thought: “Illness comes when we don’t acknowledge our pain.” Too many of us subscribe to the antithesis of “Use it or lose it”—we feel if we baby things, if we don’t move in directions that make us hurt, that we’re taking care of ourselves. Wrong! My 93 year old father-in-law has been active all his life, and still lives in a two story house where he must climb stairs for bedroom and bathroom. He recently told me, “I know I need to move, but it hurts so badly I just can’t do it.” I ache with and for him; but I also know that as he gives up, so will his body give up.

My point: Move! Let’s look at the simple action of squatting. Occasionally I’ll start a class inviting all to squat for a segment. For the most part, many participants have to get out of the squat within a minute or two…we’re just not designed to squat. But wait! Why do some cultures squat easily, happily and for long periods of time? And why do those cultures have less low back pain and bowel issues? When we condition ourselves to use all parts, all parts work together for good. So let’s begin with the simple

concept that bending, squatting, and twisting all enhance hip function and therefore total body function.

Another favorite way to enhance hip function, for me, is slow motion movement, especially in walking in a way that I actually try to feel my entire foot reaching the floor, then toeing off and into the next step. A second favorite is likewise in slow motion: climbing stairs or descending, if I can move slowly, with feet pointing straight ahead and allowing all segments of plantar surface to touch equally, and trying to use toe and ankle hinges to absorb the shock of steps, I can tell my hips are happier.

Ida Rolf is reputed to have said that ‘Maturity is the ability to discern finer and finer layers of distinction.” This makes sense to me…that’s why I spend so much time exploring my own body in slow motion. This is why I continue to see exercise equipment in ‘that which we have’. When I cook for day to day occasions, I look in the cupboards and refrigerator to see what I’m cooking most of the time. When I move, I use whatever ingredients I find at hand; stair railings, kitchen counters or tables, desks, couches, car seats, desk chairs, stairs—all these static objects can become your workout arena if you’ll allow yourself to see them as such and move slowly into and through range of motion as you go through activities of daily living.

I’ve dubbed a new muscle—ilioquadratus. I join the iliacus which is inside the concavity (the spoonlike shape of the hip bone) of ilium and down into a common tendon with psoas on lesser trochanter, to the quadratus lumborum, which arises from the crest of the ilium and goes all the way to twelfth rib (think moving on through diaphragm and intercostals all the way to shoulders) and transverse processes of the spine (think energy all the way to occiput). By the way, I do NOT subscribe to the term ‘iliopsoas’, coined by Basmajian years ago simply because the two muscles share an insertion in that lesser trochanter. They are separate muscles with separate functions. But this ‘ilioquadratus’ acts nearly as an older, less straight highway through the same regions that psoas muscle covers, lesser trochanter tospine and twelfth rib, with a detour down into that important hip bone. If one half of this duo is tight, the other half much compensate…in either direction. And usually a tight ilioquadratus can point to a tighter psoas on the other side of the body.

So, as a manipulator, I want to work in psoas area, but as much into the ilioquadratus area, to relieve pain in the hips, in the sciatic area, down the legs, into the knees, and up into low back and trunk. It’s that important to me to restore energy in these areas. As a teacher, I encourage students and clients to start moving through these spots themselves, slowly, with awareness, in exploratory mode instead of achievement mode. When I can get people to either feel my touch, or touch themselves with awareness of their painful, sleeping, tight or in some way unawake spots, change happens. And isn’t that our goal—be it hips, head, heart or anywhere else? Resilience leads to health….are you seeking it?

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