by Rena Urso
Early on in my training to become a Licensed Body Mapping educator, I struggled most with finding my hip joints. I remember thinking “why do I need to know where my hip joints are, will it help my flute playing?” Short answer: Because everything is connected and affects everything else, and yes. Maybe the reason for this common mis-mapping is because when asked to put our hands on our hips, we place them on the top ridge of our pelvis or the area we call our waist and call that our hips. But this isn’t where our hip joints are, in reality, they are lower and more internal. Once I was able to sort all of this out, it was like Dorothy opening the door into Oz; I immediately felt more ease, less whole-body tension, and able to access a richer palette of colors in my sound than ever before, especially on the piccolo.
Stand up and palpate (examine by touch) the bottom of your ribs and top of your pelvis, make two fists, and set them in this space. Now, unclench your hands and place them here on what we refer to as our waist, resting on the top ridge of your pelvis (iliac crest). Notice where your pinky fingers are, and palpate the front edge of your pelvis (anterior superior iliac spine). With palpating and use of your kinesthetic sense, explore this area and a few inches below, give or take – everyone is built a little differently. March in place. Fold forward and notice where your leg crease is. This is the halfway place in our bodies and where the hip joints live.
Our hip joints are sideways, slightly upward-facing ball and socket joints. For the parts of our bodies that we can’t actually see or touch, anatomical images are especially useful for correcting and/or refining a faulty body map. Google images of your pelvis and hip joints and take note of what resonates with you. Is this what you imagined? If not, how is it different?
Students often ask me how they can “strengthen” their hip flexors. It’s really less about strengthening and more about lengthening and gaining more mobility.
The primary muscles of the hip flexor group are:
Psoas and iliacus - together creating the iliopsoas.
Rectus femoris - also part of our quadricep muscle group.
Sartorius - the longest muscle in our body.
How does this help your flute and piccolo playing and overall ease in your movement?
The psoas are the primary muscles connecting our torso to our legs and are among the deepest muscles in our core, attaching along T 12 – L 4 of our spine and running down through the pelvis ultimately connecting to the outside of our femur (greater trochanter), joining forces along the way with our iliacus and together creating the iliopsoas. With all of the sitting we do, these vital “tenderloin” muscles are often in a chronic state of tight and shortened. Being the only muscles to connect our spine to our legs, the psoas muscles have a lot of responsibilities being stabilizers, providing support for our internal organs, making leg movement possible, and being integral for free breathing. In addition to the discomfort and limitation, we experience when we have tight psoas muscles, releasing them can bring up emotions which are for many of us, stored deeply in this musculature as a part of the “fight or flight” response to stress. Because of the natural gathering and lengthening of our spine when we breathe, tight psoas muscles will absolutely affect our access to breath, especially if you habitually tilt your pelvis; overarching your lower back and tipping it into duck butt or tucking your tailbone and tipping the other direction into butt tuck.
To help you get to know your psoas better and gradually gain more flexibility, I’ve put together a shortlist of favorite yoga postures. Pick a few each day and change it up – just like we do in our daily practice of tone, technique, and études. Let your breath lead your movements; maintain a steady flow of air, and notice which shapes make you want to hold your breath.
This is a wonderful movement exploration that I originally learned in a Feldenkrais class. Lay down, bend your knees, place the soles of your feet on the floor, and imagine the face of a clock on your belly, with the number 12 at your belly button and 6 at the tip of your pubic bone. Be aware of the space that naturally exists between your low back (lumbar spine) and the floor. Explore micro-movements between 12 and 6 and 9 and 3 on your imaginary clock face, with the ultimate goal of finding a neutral pelvis. Remember how neutral feels in your body and see if you can rediscover it while standing and sitting. Don’t worry if you return to your habitual way of standing/sitting. The beauty of Body Mapping is allowing ourselves to go off balance and then rediscovering it over and over.
You can either do this while seated with your legs outstretched in front of you or while standing. Noticing where the crease in your legs is will help you acknowledge where your hip joints are.
While lying on your back, hug your knees to your chest, then place a hand on each knee and slowly draw circles both directions with your knees. Not only is this a great hip opener, it helps to reinforce clarity in mapping these joints.
You may recall I spoke about this in my February column about the spine. What I love about Cat/Cow is how many parts of the body that you reach by the seemingly simple movements. Another way to do this pose is seated cross-legged on your mat and on an inhale, outstretching your arms as if you’re getting ready to hug the biggest tree in the forest, while expanding and opening up the front of your body, arching your back, tipping your pelvis forward, and gazing up to the sky (cow), then on your exhale, bringing your arms straight out in front of you, palms together, rounding your spine, tucking your chin and pelvis (cat). Allowing your breath to guide this movement, repeat this at the tempo of your inhalations and exhalations.
Baddha Konasana (Butterfly):
I’ll recommend a few options for this pose. While seated, bring soles of feet together and let knees splay out wide. Adjust how far or close your heels are to your body. Maybe you’ll fold forward or stay upright in your seated position and gently bounce your legs as if to imitate a butterfly, either way, you’ll find it beneficial. Two other variations to try is to keep the shape of your butterfly with your legs while lying on your back, or while seated, take hold of your ankle joints, make wide circles with your torso over your sit bones clockwise, then switch to counterclockwise.
So many excellent variations to this pose. While lying face down (prone) – bend a knee in front of you and stretch the other leg straight out behind you. In this variation, you can press your palms down into the floor and get a nice front of the body stretch, including your psoas, or fold forward to the floor and get a deeper stretch in your glutes. Most of us also have tight glutes and this is a good stretch to reach these deep muscles, including the piriformis, a small deep muscle that can also contribute to discomfort and limitation in this area. Another option, while seated in a chair, placing an ankle on top of a thigh and stretching forward toward the floor. Finally, while lying on your back (supine), interlacing your fingers behind your leg with the ankle resting on it, and draw your legs toward you. Your piriformis will thank you for this stretch, also.
Malasana (Garland pose/deep wide-legged squat):
Just like it sounds. Be careful not to overstretch and make sure to keep breathing in this shape!
Now that you’re better acquainted with your hip joints and able to organize yourself around the front of your spine, you can allow this part of your body to bear weight from above and deliver weight below more naturally.
You will also enjoy …
Dynamic balance with free and easy hip, knee, and ankle joints.
Enhanced rib mobility = greater access to breathing in a 360 ° way.
A rich, resonant sound with more availability to colors/nuance.
Lighter, freer arms, less labored, without holding or gripping.
Less fatigue from chronic compensatory tension.
Friends, utilize this gift of time by exploring and becoming more curious in your practice rooms. I also encourage you to revisit my previous columns in The Flute View archives. Looking for other specific movement exercises to add to your routine? Feel free to reach out to me directly!
Rena Urso is a member of the faculties at California State University Long Beach and California State University Stanislaus, and a Course Coordinator for California State University Summer Arts – home to her popular biennial summer flute course, The Complete 21st Century Flutist at CSU Summer Arts. As a Licensed Body Mapping educator, she presents Body Mapping workshops and masterclasses all over the world. An active freelance musician in the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a member of the Oakland Symphony, the Oregon Coast Music Festival Orchestra, and Alcyone Ensemble. Rena lives in the Chicago area with her husband John and their beagle Lillie. For more information about Rena and Body Mapping tips, please visit www.renaurso.com.