“. . . according to the Yoga Sutra (3.1), the term [Bandha] refers to the ‘binding’ of consciousness to a particular object or locus (desha), which is the very essence of concentration.”
Georg Feuerstein

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to Use Nutation to Refine Uttanasana, Part II—the Tensor Fascia Lata and Gluteus Medius

In the last post, I talked about how masters of various disciplines are continuously refining their art—even though they are masters. I followed the anecdote with some background information on sacral nutation. In this post I will give you a tip on how to use the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius muscles to create some opening for movement that can incrementally deepen your forward bends, especially Uttanasana.

freeing the sacroiliac joint in uttanasana
Freeing the sacroiliac joint using
the gluteus medius and
tensor fascia lata.
The tensor fascia lata (TFL) and gluteus medius are muscles at the sides of the pelvis. The TFL originates from the front of the iliac crest and inserts onto the iliotibial band and from there onto the outside of the front of the tibia. The gluteus medius originates a bit farther back on the iliac crest and inserts onto the greater trochanter at the top of the femur (thigh bone). The main action of these muscles
is abduction of the hip (taking the leg out to the side away from the midline). The TFL and the more anterior (front) fibers of the gluteus medius also internally rotate the femur. If the femurs are fixed in place (by constraining the feet to the mat), then activating these muscles pulls on their origins at the iliac crest, creating a degree of mobility at the sacroiliac joint. This is an example of “closed chain” contraction, wherein engaging a muscle moves the origin rather than the insertion (moving the insertion is considered “open chain” contraction).

In Uttanasana, firmly press the feet into the mat and then gently attempt to drag them apart (without actually allowing them to move). This is a cue to activate the TFL and gluteus medius. These muscles then pull on the iliac bones and free the sacroiliac joints, allowing that extra millimeter of forward bend from counter nutation.

Remember to go slowly when applying these techniques. It is not necessary to use strong muscular contractions to experience the benefits. Start with gentle force and learn to moderate the contraction, “dialing” it in. Use similar care as you gradually release the action of the muscles. This applies to using the shoulders as well--gentle contraction and release.

Stay tuned for the next post, when we’ll illustrate a fringe benefit of engaging the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius to counteract the kneecaps rolling outward in forward bends.

Namasté,

Ray and Chris

17 comments:

  1. re "Stay tuned for the next post, when we’ll illustrate a fringe benefit" - nuances nuances, incredible how important, thank you!

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  2. Yes, I learned this technique a while ago. I like to tell my students they should feel their sit bones and SI joint spread apart slightly.

    Please explain what you meant that this could be applied to the shoulders.

    Ah, just received your 4 newest books. I can't wait to delve in. Excellent explanations and illustrations.

    THANK YOU!!!

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  3. Thanks Ray for succinctly explaining how to invoke sacral nutation in uttanasana!

    In other poses, I've had instructors direct the students to "tuck the tail bone under" and I presume that they refer to the coccyx rather than the entire sacrum. I've had trouble getting in touch with that action other than setting mulabanda which seems to exert an inward pull on the tailbone. How much movement is available in the coccyx and how and why would one invoke it?

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  4. Hello Maria,

    For the shoulders, I was referring to using gentle contraction and release of the anterior deltoids--the info in the first blog post. Thank you for your positive feedback on our books--much appreciated.

    Best,

    Ray

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  5. OMG Thank you so much, I find this work very enlightening. Much appreciation

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  6. That's it Adan--the nuances are where the openings happen in yoga. Good to see you again.

    Ray

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  7. Thank you so much for this info.I have ordered all the books and am very excited to share this info with my students.
    Shirley

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  8. You stated, "These muscles then pull on the iliac bones and free the sacroiliac joints, allowing that extra millimeter of forward bend from nutation."
    My questions:
    What is the effect and benefit of "freeing" the sacroiliac joints? I imagine it could help to avoid sciatia, but if someone already has sciatic pain, I always caution them not to do deep forward bends while that nerve is inflamed.
    Also, the benefit of having that extra millimeter of forward bend isn't obvious to me.
    Thanks in advance for your answers and for these articles!!!

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  9. Hello Anon,

    Thanks for your questions. I plan to address sciatica in detail in a future blog, but you are correct in avoiding deep forward bends when the nerve is inflamed. As to this technique helping with a situation where the practitioner has pain during forward bends, that can be true as well. When the sacrum nutates, the lumbar spine extends approximately the same amount. If the pain is coming from hyperflexion of the lumbar spine (and causing pressure on the nerve root from a bulging disc, for example), then obtaining the movement from within the pelvis through nutation can help to relieve this. Remember that sciatica can be caused by entrapment of the nerve anywhere along its course, so this does not always work. The key is to move gradually and gently in applying this. Check the next blog post for more on how this can work.

    As to why we seek the extra millimeter, the short answer is that we are seeking openings within the body when we practice yoga. Subtle openings happen in millimeters. We are also working to safely stretch muscles by creating the form of the poses. An extra millimeter of length is, well, an extra millimeter of refinement. This is part of the art of yoga that makes it so rewarding to practice.

    Thanks again for your excellent comment and check back soon,

    Namaste'

    Ray

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  10. Hi Bill,

    Tucking the tailbone (coccyx) draws the sacrum in the direction of counternutation. With forward bends, use nutation. The coccyx itself is essentially fused vertebral bodies. It doesn't have much movement, i.e. don't worry about it much. Thanks for your comments--keep me posted on how this technique works for you.

    Best,

    Ray

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  11. Hi Ray,

    I'm in a confused state about nutation! I recently had a bout of SI joint pain (pain around PSIS). My chiropractor attributed this to spending a lot of time (at my yoga teacher training workshops) sitting crossed legged on the mat. He said something along the lines of "when you sit cross or open legged you widen the ishium while the ilium moves inward toward the sacrum and can jam into the upper SI joint. If you then move forward, nutating the sacrum (eg as I do to write in my notebook)its a recipe for an irritated and misaligned SI joint."

    Clearly you're decribing something different here in utanasan but after experiencing this SI pain and reading some other articles on line, I got it into my head that nutation in general was not good as it encourages the sacrum to (micro) move indepedently of the pelvis and potentially misalign the joint. Also it made me think about postures like upavista konasana and badhakonasana, where you widen the pelvis and forward bend.

    I should perhaps say that I'm not the most naturally flexible person, although padmasana isn't a struggle for me, however forward bends definitely are, especially seated. I mention this only because it could simply be that I pushed too far and caused my problem! But my chiro seemed to be talking in general terms when he mentioned this process.

    I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on the nutation/effect on the SI joint. Thank you very much.

    Samantha
    PS. My SI joint is fine now.

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  12. Hi Samantha,

    Glad to hear the joint is doing better! First, on being not “naturally flexible”, you can change this—especially in forward bends. See the blog post on how to do this with the hamstrings. Once you get a feeling for how to do it with the hams, work your way up the posterior kinetic chain. The Key Poses of Yoga illustrates the steps for this in the section on combining biomechanics and physiology. I go all the way up the body in one pose in my workshops—fun to watch the reactions of the “inflexible” people. Here’s the link for the hams:

    http://www.dailybandha.com/2011/01/how-to-lengthen-hamstrings-in-janu.html

    For the SI joint, there is a spectrum of thought on that ranging from no movement to nutation. Most orthopedic surgeons say it does not move, due to the stout ligaments and interdigitations between the bones. the movement they describe is subluxation or frank dislocation—usually after high velocity trauma involving a sheer force across the joint (ouch! is right…). In any event, its hard to study micro movement outside of a cadaver with much accuracy—and this may not translate to someone doing yoga (stuff changes when we die…alas). I’m checking the literature to find if there are any new studies on this.

    A lot of surgeons would agree, however, that the joint can be compressed—which can cause inflammation. This indicates to me that there is potentially some “play” in the joint that can be accessed by “expanding” it, which is the basis for that cue on nutation. Obviously, I don’t have any radiological proof of it, but rely on the anecdotal experience of students when they try it.

    I learned a few things from an article in Yoga Journal by Roger Cole—here’s a link to that: http://www.yogajournal.com/for_teachers/1027

    Sounds like your chiro also took a sensible approach too. Can you identify anything specific you did that helps. Please let me know, because this helps me learn what works. Thanks for your comment!

    All the Best!

    Ray

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  13. Thanks. This is great. What a fine blog.
    I will tell others about it!

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  14. Thank you Lek! much appreciated~Ray

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  15. Hi Ray,

    Thanks for this - Roger Cole seems to be echoing what my chiro said - maybe safer for us SI injury prone bunnies to stay away from trying nutation until we're ready to try gradually. Regarding what helped, apart from chiro adjustment - gentle slow supported forward bends (chairs/bolsters) so that i could completely relax but was supported at the same time. Also I found a gentle backbend sequence in an old copy of yoga journal that emphasised tkaing the bend out of the lumbar spine and feeling it through the length of the spine. Both really helped with the pain and the sense of "security" in my back if that makes sense.

    Thanks for your advice, will try the PNF stretch in JS. Love this website and can't wait to get a book or 2!

    Samantha

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  16. Thanks Samantha~this helps me as well. The back bend sequence (emphasizing distributing the bend over the length of the spine) makes good sense as do the supported forward bends. I will keep this in mind as it can help others with a similar condition. A lot of the management of these types of things is based on the experience of others with what works. Delighted to hear that you like our website~do stay in touch. All the Best~Ray

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