What Does "Yoga Butt" Mean? Settling the Age-Old Question

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Have you ever heard of the term "yoga butt"? If so, do you know what it means? In my experience, this term is a bit confusing because it has two different definitions that are both commonly used in the yoga world.

 

YOGA BUTT DEFINITION #1

The first definition has to do with the idea that the practice of yoga gives yogis firm, attractive backsides - the appearance of which is often colloquially referred to as "yoga butt".

[Side note: I find this first definition ironic because in all honesty, traditional yoga does not challenge the glutes enough to create very firm and toned backsides in the first place. It really doesn't! But that's another topic for another blog post - and if you happen to be a yogi who is interested in some actual focused glute work within a yoga context, consider trying my "Recruit the Glutes" practice in my online yoga class library! It's a great class that does have a good chance of helping yogis to create a yoga butt, if that's something they desire. :) ]

 

YOGA BUTT DEFINITION #2

This first definition for "yoga butt" was all that I knew throughout my earlier yoga days. But later on, I started hearing about a new, alternative definition of the term. "Yoga butt" had also come to be known as a nagging, irritating pain that many yogis experienced in their "butt" area - specifically at the very top of their hamstrings, where these muscles attach to the sitting bones (or ischial tuberosities in anatomy-speak).

This "yoga butt" pain is often exacerbated when yogis fold forward or perform a "hip hinge" type movement like uttanasana (standing forward fold), paschimottanasana (seated forward fold), or virabhadrasana III (warrior 3). And this yoga butt pain is surprisingly common in the yoga world. In fact, it's rare to meet a long-time yogi who has either never experienced this version of yoga butt or doesn't know someone who has.

 

SETTLING THE AGE-OLD QUESTION

Because there are clearly two different definitions for the same term being used concurrently in the yoga world, I decided to put out an "anatomy geeky" survey on my Instagram page last week that asked:

What does "yoga butt" mean? A) an aesthetically-pleasing gluteus maximus or B) proximal hamstring tendinopathy?

Because the "cute butt" definition was the one that I personally had known long before I learned about the "hamstring pain" definition, my prediction was that the majority of votes would be for option A. But to my surprise, these were the results of the poll:

 

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Clearly, the hamstring pain definition was the winner by a wide margin. (77% to 23% - in politics that would be a huge landslide!) The fact that so many more yogis associate the term "yoga butt" with pain than with a cute derriere reveals just how widespread the problem of high hamstring tendinopathy truly is in the yoga community.

And luckily, my brand new online program  "5 Weeks to Strong, Flexible Hamstrings" is designed to address this exact issue! Why, you might ask?

 

HOW DOES HAMSTRING STRENGTHENING HELP YOGA BUTT?

Well, the main reason that so many yogis experience pain at their proximal hamstrings tendons is that although yoga is full of a high amount of passive hamstring stretching in forward bend positions (which repetitively compresses the hamstrings tendons on the bony protrusion of the sitting bones), yoga includes very few, if any, hamstring-strengthening moves.

We know that in order for our hamstrings and their tendons to be resilient and healthy, they need to have a high capacity for load tolerance. And the only way we can increase our hamstrings' capacity to tolerate load is to strengthen them. (Passive stretching and other passive techniques like self-massage and rolling do not load tissues enough to ask them to adapt.)

And this is why my new online program is perfect for yogis: it fills in a missing gap that traditional yoga classes miss out on completely: the important ingredient of hamstring strengthening. If you or any of your yogi friends have an experience of high hamstring pain, this new program might be a perfect solution. (And as a side note, this program is also excellent for anyone who feels that they have "tight" or inflexible hamstrings. It's also ideal for anyone who simply wants to strengthen their hamstrings because yoga does not strengthen them, which is a good idea for all of us yogis!)

Check this new offering out, and feel free to let me know if you have any questions at all.

I'll see you and your hamstrings in my excellent new program!

"To Correct Is Incorrect"

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Everyone is moving in the best way they can with the best tools they have.

There are no inherently bad movements.

Each person in a yoga class is a complex, dynamic organism compromised of numerous subsystems, past experiences, emotions, relationships, beliefs, and an extremely sophisticated nervous system.

Given that our movement emerges out of such unique complexity, how could we possibly know what and how to “correct” in another person’s movement?

As a yoga community, we could use to shift our focus away from “correct alignment”, and more toward exploration, self-knowledge, and helping our students *increase their movement options*.

These types of things can truly make positive change in our students’ bodies - which for me, is the main goal of my yoga practice & teaching!

[Microblog] Should Our Shoulders Always Be "Back and Down"?

You know the idea that we should keep our shoulders "back and down"? Like all the time, in every yoga pose that we do? Well our shoulders were actually designed to *move* - not be pinned into one position all the time.

There are four (four!) joints that make up the shoulder joint complex, and regular movement keeps all of them healthy. Lack of movement, on the other hand, just makes your shoulder joints mad at you.

Why would we want to train our shoulders not to move by keeping them pinned back and down all the time?

[Microblog]: Your Trippy Anatomy Geek Moment of the Day

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Here's a TRIPPY ANATOMY GEEK MOMENT for you: blood flows in our body through *blood vessels* (arteries, veins, capillaries, etc.), and these blood vessels form a complex network that fills our body from head to toe. The tissues of our body are nourished as the blood flows through these vessels (specifically the capillaries).

Now here's the TRIPPY PART (if that wasn't already trippy because how is our body so complex and amazing, right?) But anyway, the TRIPPY PART is that our *largest* blood vessels are so large that they need their *own* individual blood vessel system just to support them. So within the outer walls of our largest blood vessels, there lie tiny arteries, veins, and capillaries - an actual mini-blood vessel network within a larger blood vessel itself.

So the overarching blood vessel system that supports our entire body is in turn supported by a mini-version of itself. As my friend Maddy would say, that is so meta. 😜

These tiny blood vessels-within-blood vessels are called "vasa vasorum", which means - get this - "vessels of the vessels".

I hope you enjoyed your trippy anatomy geek fact of the day!

[Microblog] Bridge Pose & "The Glutes"

I promise this is a post about yoga, even though I'm at a gym and using a weight in this video! Think for a moment about bridge pose in yoga, which involves lifting your hips up away from the floor (i.e. active hip extension). So often in yoga we hear the cue to "soften" or "relax" our glutes when we're in bridge pose. But this is a holdover old alignment cue that isn't really informed by movement science.

In this video, I'm doing a gym move called the "hip thrust". I'm lifting my hips up away from the floor (just like in yoga's bridge pose, right?!), but do you know what the purpose of doing this movement is in the gym world? It's to *strengthen the glutes"! That's right - because the glutes are the main muscles that are challenged in this movement! It's normal and healthy for them to work a LOT here.
 


If an exercise like the hip thrust was designed specifically to strengthen the glutes, does it make sense that in yoga we *discourage* our students from using their glutes in bridge pose, an extremely similar movement kinematically?

Sometimes in the yoga world we could use to step back and examine the reasonings behind some of the cues we give. Are they informed by the science of how we move, or are they just inherited cues we teach simply because that's what was taught to us?

You can start modernizing your yoga teaching with my new online course called *Keeping Your Yoga Teaching Current*. Learn to shed the many outdated myths about the body that hold us back in the yoga world and embrace effective, new-paradigm approaches to mobilityasana, and movement that are truly evidence-based!

Mobility, Stability, & Flexibility: Clarifying Our Concepts in Yoga

I'm more than excited about my newest article in Yoga International that just published this morning! We tend to use the words mobility, stability, and flexibility all the time in yoga, but what do these terms actually mean?

The information I write about in this piece changed my whole perspective on yoga and movement, and I think these concepts have the power to change our yoga community’s entire approach to asana if this message spreads. There is so much value in getting clear on our terms & definitions!

I’m very thankful for the positive feedback I’ve received so far on this piece - I hope you enjoy it if you check it out!

Deconstructing Down Dog Shoulder Alignment

This is a consolidation of a 4-part series of posts that I recently ran on my social media channels (Instagram & Facebook). Social media is a great tool for sharing information because so many of us tune into these outlets regularly, but it's also a somewhat temporary medium because new posts continually arise and replace old posts, etc. So here I've decided to consolidate my 4-part series into a blog post, where it can live more permanently and be accessed easily in the future. (And please excuse the somewhat chatty "social media voice" I wrote this in, because I originally wrote it for that platform. :) ) I hope you enjoy!

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Part 1

In this series of posts we’ll be deconstructing down dog shoulder alignment with *critically-thinking minds* to learn more about the body and why we say what we say in yoga!

Before we can deconstruct down dog shoulder alignment, we need to first establish what the classic shoulder alignment instructions ARE, so we know what we’re going to be deconstructing, right?

Now the anatomy of the shoulder girdle is quite complex, but we're going to keep things pretty simple here because this is just IG/FB and not a full-on yoga anatomy training. (For that, consider one of my online workshops on my website!)

In my long-time experience in the yoga world, the most common alignment for the shoulders in down dog that I see taught is: shoulders *externally rotated* ("outer spiral") and shoulder blades *protracted* (broadened apart from each other). Is this what you've experienced too, or are you used to a different shoulder alignment in DD?

If you have time while you're commenting, can you also share WHY this alignment is believed to be important - what purpose does it serve?

Once we have our basic DD shoulder alignment established, we can start to look at it more closely and question it. (Because that's what we do as evidence-based yogis, right??) Tune into my next post in this series to continue this inquisitive discussion!

 
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Part 2

In part 1, we established that, with a few exceptions, DD is generally taught with the shoulders *externally rotated* ("outer spiral") and the shoulder blades *protracted* (broadened apart).

Now the next thing to establish is WHY. Why this particular alignment? What purpose does it serve?

The general reason given for this alignment is because it helps us to keep the tissues of our shoulders safer.

Specifically, this shoulder position is believed to help us avoid a condition called *shoulder impingement*. (Getting a lil anatomy geeky here - but this is good stuff to know!) In shoulder impingement, the rotator cuff tendons and/or other soft tissues of the shoulder are "pinched" between the head of the arm bone and the bony shelf right above (called the acromion process just FYI) as the arm moves overhead.

When we ER & protract as the arm lifts, we create more space in the shoulder joint - more room between the bones - to help avoid this pinching. Therefore this alignment helps protect us from impingement.

...OR SO THEY SAY!! Heheheh tune into Part 3 of this series to read more and to learn about why there might be reason to doubt this commonly-cited justification for this classic DD shoulder alignment.

(Sorry to be such a yoga rebel sometimes, but hey, the research leads where it leads, and it doesn’t always support our long-held beliefs, does it?)

 
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Part 3

In Parts 1 & 2 we established that we're commonly taught to externally rotate & protract our shoulders in DD because this is supposed to help us avoid a condition called *shoulder impingement*.

(Quick review: shoulder impingement happens when the rotator cuff tendons and other soft tissues are pinched between the bones of the shoulder joint as the arm moves overhead.)

Wellll inspired by my amazing yoga mentor Jules Mitchell who originally connected the dots for me about this topic, I looked at some scientific research and here's what I learned [DM me for the refs!]:

"Shoulder impingement syndrome" is actually highly questioned among experts today - it is suspected as not being a THING at all, and is even hypothesized to be a "clinical illusion". (An illusion!!)

The truth is that we ALL have impingement because no matter who you are, whenever you take your arm overhead, the tissues in your shoulder will always pinch at some point. It just happens and is actually normal - not pathological!

Here's a quote from one research article: "a synthesis of the current research findings suggests that no definitive relationship exists between scapular orientation and SIS (shoulder impingement syndrome)." Translation: the alignment of the shoulders is not (not! despite what we're taught!) related to impingement symptoms.

(There is *tons* more to discuss about all of this, but I have to keep this brief 'cuz this is IG/FB heheh.)

So if impingement isn't as much of a problem as we've been taught, then do we need to always be externally rotating our shoulders in DD to minimize it? DO WE?

Wellll I will leave you with that big thought to ponder for a bit... Stay tuned for Part 4, our final installment in this fresh perspective series!

 
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Part 4

In Parts 1-3, we learned that external rotation & protraction is generally taught in DD because it is believed to be safer, but then we used scientific research to question the idea that this one position is superior and the best.

While ER is just fine to do (absolutely!), we should ideally be able to position our shoulders in DD in ALL WAYS, as long as we have control there! The traditional alignment of ER + protraction is a good way, but it is *only one way*. The body benefits from variety and options, and the more ways we can create a shape, the better.

Is it OK to do DD with shoulder blades down? Yes! Elevated? Yes! Retracted? Yes! With shoulders internally rotated? Yes! As long as you have *control* over these ranges, and as long as you have no pain while you're there, it is fine to practice DD in this wide variety of ways. But position your shoulders intentionally and with control - no dumping or flopping. Know what I mean?

(This conversation is of course more complex than we can delve into in an IG/FB post, but injury-prevention is less about *alignment* and more about progressive loading of our tissues to make them stronger. More movement variability creates more resilient tissues! (And when there are high loads involved i.e. lifting heavy weights overhead 🏋️, alignment for safety becomes more important.)

A great guide for ourselves in DD is: what is our goal in doing the pose in the moment? Then we can base our alignment decisions on that. And if you don't know what your goal is (heheh sometimes we just don't!), then just do what your teacher says - but don't buy into fearmongering messages about it needing to be done that way and only that way to avoid injury.

Enjoy exploring alignment in down dog - your shoulders will thank you!

[Microblog] You Can't Move an Area Well if You Can't Sense That Area in the First Place

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There are sooo many areas in our body that we don't sense well. This might seem surprising - I mean, we live in our bodies all day every day, so don't we know them pretty well? It's true that we connect to some parts of our bodies well - the ones we tend to use a lot, in the ways that we use them the most.

But have you ever stood up, barefoot, and tried to lift just your *left big toe* straight up off the floor? How did that go? Did your other toes want to lift too? Did your face scrunch up as you tried to figure out how to lift just that one individual toe by itself?

Or try doing some wrist circles (make fists and roll your wrists around) and notice: are you actually moving your actual wrist joints, or are your forearms twisting around, giving the appearance of wrist movement? Same thing goes for every other joint in your body! Can you consciously isolate and move that area through a controlled full range of motion? (Probably no.) Or do other body parts want to jump in and help, meaning that the single area you're trying to isolate and control isn't actually moving well? (Probably yes!)

You can't move an area well if you can't sense that area in the first place. Therefore the real pre-requisite to improving our mobility is to improve our internal image of ourselves - also called *increasing the clarity of the body maps in our brain*.

And how do we do that? Well through muscle contraction and movement, of course! But ideally through smart, intentional movements designed for increasing body awareness - like the classes in my online yoga class library, for example ($8.99/month & you can cancel anytime!)

Once we can sense all of our parts well, we can move them well! 👏🏼