Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Bum Conversation : To Squeeze or Not To Squeeze in Backbends

By Susi Hately, BSc. Kinesiology, C-IAYT Yoga Therapist

Gluteus Maximus

Way back in 2004, I wrote in my first book, Anatomy and Asana: Preventing Yoga Injuries, that backbends are delicious. I still believe that statement all these years later. Backbends can help release the muscles and connective tissues on the front of the body; while at the same time strengthen the muscles on the back of the body. They provide a sense of elegance and efficiency to improving posture, and revitalizing energy flow. Some would say that backbends far exceed caffeine’s kick-start by providing a calm way to tame the sagging slump that can overcome a busy mind.

With a paragraph like that, what’s not to like about backbends? Turns out, there is plenty. For all the benefits that backbends provide, there is a whole mess of things that can happen. A common problem that arises is “jamming of the back” which leads to lower back, mid back and/or neck pain. This pain can lead to biomechanical dysfunction of the shoulder and pelvic girdle, which can in turn lead to referred pain and dysfunction of the shoulder blades and SI joints, which can continue down into the arms and legs, respectively.

So, it isn’t surprising that a whole number of cues and modifications are available for doing backbends, all with the intention of less pain, better movement and more freedom. Which leads to the meat of this post . . . The debate of whether or not to contract the glutes as you rise up into a backbend. This debate has been going for years – even before I started practicing…and that was way back in the early 90s.

So what is the consensus? Well, there isn’t one. Here is my offering to the conversation:

There is tone to the glutes as you rise into backbend. There has to be. The movement is a hip extension, and the glutes enable hip extension to occur. Not sure you believe me? Try this exploration:

Exploring Hip Extension: Part 1

  1. Come into standing.
  2. Place your hand on your right bum cheek.
  3. Extend your right leg backwards.
  4. As you do, the muscles under your hand will contract. Or rather they ought to.

Exploring Hip Extension: Part 2

  1. Still in standing, watch the angle of your leg bone moving in your hip, as you move your leg into extension.
  2. Now come to the floor, and set up for bridge pose.
  3. Lift your bum – notice how the angle of your hip changes. This is the same as in point 1.
  4. Now come onto your belly, and move into floor bow. Either look in a mirror or notice the movement of the leg bone in the pelvis. You’ll see it changes in similar way as in points 1 and 3.

The key point here is that the hip (leg bone in hip socket) is moving into extension. The gluteal muscles are required to do that movement.

I understand the position that some people over clench their butt as they move into many backbends. And yes, that extreme isn’t wanted, but to full scale shut them off is not the solution. Instead, the aim is to retrain the movement . . . and not just in hip extension. More often when you see a bum clench in a backbend, there is gripping or holding or other lack of awareness elsewhere – in their breath, rib cage, jaw, belly and toes. Soften or ease those areas and you’ll discover how using less effort can lead to a better result.

To drive the point home, there are a number of issues that can arise from not having glutes working properly. Poor weight transfer, SI instability, poor hip stability and mobility, an overly tight pelvic floor, weakness or shortness in the lower back, poor diaphragm function, jaw clenching . . . .

There is good news in all of this – Good movement is merely a week away – you can stand better, have less pain, and really enjoy your backbends a whole lot more. And as a bonus – be better at evacuating your bowels too – I know – who knew? – bowels and butts oh my! Your life can literally change that fast.



Hip Bursitis – A Different View

By Susi Hately, B.Sc. Kinesiology

Hip Adductors

Compensatory patterns are one of my favourite topics to talk about, write about and film. When we reduce compensation, and learn to move more purely, we have better biomechanical integrity, the forces move better through our bodies, and we “transfer load” more efficiently. Ultimately, pain reduces, fatigue lessens and we feel lighter, taller and much more at ease.

This concept can be applied to all sorts of conditions – whether an injury is new and acute, longer term and chronic, or whether it is a physiological systemic condition. With this post, I will explore this concept through a hip condition that can be deeply debilitating – Bursitis of the Hip.

The hip consists of the pelvis, femur, and a symphony of muscle, tendons, ligaments, and fascia, which are directed by nerve impulses, blood and lymphatic flow. The bursa are fluid filled sacs that are designed to reduce friction between tendons, ligaments, muscles and bones. When the bursae have an “itis”, they are swollen or inflamed, and their friction reducing, smooth gliding job is limited, leading to symptoms of pain that range from sharp and pointed to dull and achey. Symptoms can be consistent and always present, consistent and occasional, and/or randomly annoying. They can also show up in a surprisingly, stealthy and surreptitious way leading the person with the symptoms to wonder what caused what.

Bursitis can be both painful, and frustrating, which over time can lead to feelings of resignation – “this is just the way it is”, or “this is just part of getting older”. Irritation, heaviness, the feeling of living a more and more compressed way of living sets in.

There is another way.

Recovering from bursitis is possible. It does require some work, which starts with developing and honing your level of awareness. The following will start the process.

plumb-line2Think about your body as you stand on your feet in front of an ATM, or in a grocery store line. As you are standing, there are forces and gravity moving down through your body. There are also forces coming up from the ground. Both sets of forces need to be absorbed in your body.

Now, look at your posture while you are standing. Are you slumped, standing on one leg, holding your breath? If you are slumped, think of where your rib cage is – it is likely slightly rounded, and your head is poked forward. If you are standing on one leg, your hips are likely leaning to one side and your rib cage is likely moving to the other side to balance you out. If you are holding your breath, there will likely be a slight bracing through your torso and maybe into your pelvic floor and jaw.

I highlight this because where the various parts of your body are situated in relationship to each other will have an impact on how forces are absorbed and dissipated. If you are standing perpendicular to the sky and the earth it will be easier for force and load to move through, whereas if you are deviated from this perpendicular orientation, your integrity will be off, as will the way the load and force move through you. Bracing and gripping patterns will increase, muscles will not contract and release as they are meant to and compensatory patterns will set in.

Typically if you don’t have injury, pain or strain, this shift won’t be a big deal, and you will likely not even notice that you are moving less efficiently. Since it won’t impact your day-to-day, it won’t register as an issue. However, if you have condition like bursitis, if you take the time to improve your skeletal and biomechanical integrity you can make a hugely significant difference in your body and how you feel.

Improving Hip Function

One of the biggest issues with improving bursitis is to reduce the strain on the hip joint so that integrity can be improved and forces can move more efficiently. We can do that by improving the relationship and integrity between:

  • the spine, pelvis and leg bones.
  • the shoulder girdle, spine and pelvis.
  • how the body moves and breathes.

With even a slight shift in how these parts function, you will improve the way your upper body transfers weight or “load” to your lower body. If the weight transfer of the upper body –via head, neck, rib cage and spine – through the hip sockets, legs, knees and feet is inadequate, and there is bursitis present, you will feel this as pain since the tissue throughout your body is no longer able to make up for the imbalance.

Next Steps

The good news is you don’t need big fixes to make your pain reduce. You do need to increase your awareness of how you are standing, moving and breathing, so along with the suggestions above, consider the following.

  • When standing – feel the bottom of your feet. The centre of your heel, the ball of your foot and the base of your pinky toe. Just notice where your weight it. Oftentimes with hip bursitis, you will notice your weight is shifted and not balanced. The aim here is not to change it, it is to notice it first. img_9855img_9853
  • As you continue to stand, notice yourself breathing. Are you breathing? How does it feel? Full, empty, slow, shallow, thin, held? Again, just notice what the breathing feels like.
  • Next place  a ball under your foot and roll the ball slowly under one foot for about a minute (less if necessary). If you are in standing the amount of pressure will be greater, and you will also need to have more weight on the opposite leg, so be sure that you are comfortable doing this. Then switch sides.
  • When you are finished, stand and notice what you feel with your feet and your breath. You may also notice something different in your hip.

This is just the beginning. However, with this base of awareness, you can add in exercises and movements to increase the mobility and stability of your hip and, in turn, improve your overall integrity. Change is possible.

If you would like more – I work privately with clients Mondays and Tuesdays live and via Skype. I also run graduate level teacher training programs for yoga teachers and health professionals. To connect with me, please email me through our contact us page –