When Stretching ISN’T The Answer

image from fitsugar.com

image from fitsugar.com

I’ve been battling an aggravated hip injury for some time in my yoga practice. For a while, it was something that came and went and if I practiced mindfully it would go away. For the last month or so, it has been consistently present and I had started also getting irritation in my knee as well. Any time the pain would flare up, I would immediately pull out my “yoga asana tool box” and start working hip openers and other stretches…because for me, anytime something hurts my response has always been to stretch it. And I would argue that is the natural response of many of us, yoga teachers or not, to find relief from my pain through stretching.  And yet, all this stretching and nothing was getting better.

Enter my partner, and a workout called “Inferno.” I have done my fair share of intense work outs in my life having trained for a half marathon, rode over 550 miles in 7 days in the AIDS Lifecycle, and participated in various other adventurous outdoor sports including climbing, kayaking and mountain biking. I had not, however, done “Inferno.” From my understanding of cross-fit, its something similar…lots of push-ups, lots of core-work, lots of squats and lots of jumping…not to mention lots of sweat and lots of drill sergeant style encouragement.  Basically the anti-thesis to my yoga experience. I was initially wary of the impact on my hip and knee and paid very close attention as I began the workout to ensure that I wasn’t making things worse, yet to my surprise, after only a few days of practice things started feeling better. My knee pain subsided and my hip, while still not totally happy, was doing much better. I was baffled, all this pushing hard and no yoga, and I was feeling better.

The following week I was in a yoga teacher training with twelve hours of anatomy training, with nearly four hours focusing only on the hips. I was in heaven, I was looking for answers! What came up as we talked was that sometimes stretching ISN’T the answer, sometimes strengthening is. In my case, some of my glute muscles were weak and some smaller hip and quad muscles were over-working to compensate. What I needed to do, to help these over-worked muscles, was strengthen the muscles that were weak so the hard-working muscles could start to let go. This explained why so much squatting, so much jumping, would actually make me feel better, I  was strengthening those glute muscles that needed my attention. I wasn’t over-stretching these already over-worked muscles. Little had I known, but I had stumbled upon exactly what I needed to start healing. It was a powerful reminder of that age-old adage “everything in moderation”…even stretching.

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