It seems like the universal solution in yoga to hip pain…sciatica…and piriformis syndrome in yoga is pigeon pose – or rolling your glutes with a ball or foam roller.
As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?”
While we don’t want to hate on pigeon or self-massage, because both are relaxing, but it’s important to know that it’s only one aspect of helping yourself.
Both pigeon pose and self-massage (or really any massage) can be classified as a form of stretching, because they passively mobilize your tissues and in turn increase flexibility. However, if you’re experiencing discomfort or pain during your yoga practice or during activities of daily life, then you need not only flexibility, but strength + stability as well to support your movements.
Unless your goal is to be an Instagram famous yoga star, you need to be less concerned with flexibility and more interested in improving mobility and strength.
Flexibility is the ability to move through a large range of motion passively (e.g. getting your foot to your face or collapsing into the splits),
whereas mobility and strength is about being able to move with control through various ranges of motion (e.g. being able to do the splits and pop back out of them with strength).
If you have good mobility, then you are also usually flexible. However, when combined with strength, mobility speaks to being able to use your range of motion, where as flexibility is more about hanging out in it, which is arguably less helpful for both athletic and daily activities. This brings us to stretching.
There are a lot of ways to stretch, but among the most popular is static stretching or tugging on a limb and hanging out at an end range of motion. Unfortunately, because yoga poses are so often in end ranges of motion, we can end up hanging in our joints as we fatigue, even when we’re trying not to. This can be an issue because end range of motion is usually where we have the least amount of strength + control and as a result, are most likely to get injured.
You shouldn’t fear static stretching, especially if you have a regular strength and stability practice. However, if you happen to have weakness at the end range of a joint (like your hips!), your body will often tighten that area as a protective mechanism. This is why you can stretch something or have a lot of flexibility and still feel “tight,” which is especially true if you’re prone to hypermobility or laxity in your joints.
This is also why static stretching and self-massage don’t always help long term with hip pain. The pain and feelings of tightness are happening, because of weakness around the hip joints, not because of short tissues.
We’re not saying that you need to stop stretching or practicing self-massage. These are wonderful tools for down regulation of the nervous system and relaxation, both of which promote better health and well-being.
But unfortunately, they’re a short term solution if you don’t do strength and stability work to teach your body how to use the new range of motion.
You have to earn the right to stretch and release. It’s the candy you get to eat after the main course.
However, the gym can be a loud and overwhelming place, so if you want to build strength and stability in your hips without a gym membership, you should check out my friend Nikki Naab-Levy’s brand new online course Hips Don’t Lie, an 8-week program to reduce stiffness and pain by building strength, improving balance and increasing flexibility.
I incorporate the concepts and exercises from this program into my personal movement practice and also recommend it to students and clients. As an added bonus, when you buy the course, you’ll also receive Class # 1 from my Yoga Deconstructed® course, a full hour and fifteen minute movement practice that will build upon the progress you make in Hips Don’t Lie with an added benefit of relaxation + making your yoga practice better 😉