As I get older, I feel like a car that needs constant servicing! In fact, I conjure up images of cartoon character old ladies who complain about their rickety bones predicting the rain coming in! Over the past few months, my right hip has been constantly aching, to the point I went to visit my GP, who has ordered some tests. As you can imagine, having aches and pains isn’t exactly conducive to being a yoga teacher. However, I suspect it has more to do with the stage in my life, more than anything else.
So why do our joints begin to hurt more as we age?
As we move into middle age, it is common to notice our joints giving us a bit more trouble. This can be due to a mix of reasons that just come with the territory. One big factor is the wear and tear our joints experience over time. You know, that natural cushioning called cartilage starts to wear down, so things might feel a bit creakier and stiffer. Also, the lubricating fluid that helps things move smoothly in there does not flow as freely as before. It is our body's way of reminding us that it's been through some adventures. Remember all those active years, maybe a few tumbles, and even what we eat and how we move can add up. Sometimes, conditions like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis might join the party as well. So, while it might not be the most exciting guest at the get-together, a bit of joint discomfort in middle age is quite normal. It just means it is time to be a bit more mindful and give those joints a little extra care and attention.
There are a few things we can do to help reduce inflammation and ease hip pain:
A. Stay Active: Engage in low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, or cycling to keep your hip joints moving and maintain flexibility without putting excessive strain on them. I find the more I move, then the pain lessens.
B. Apply Cold or Heat: Applying ice packs can help reduce acute inflammation, while heat packs can soothe and relax muscles around the hips, providing relief. I use a cooling gel on my hips when they feel particularly achy.
C. Stay Hydrated: Drinking enough water supports joint health by keeping cartilage hydrated and promoting overall body function.
D. Over-the-Counter Pain Relief: Non-prescription pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage occasional hip pain, but consult your doctor before extended use. In addition, I use Magnesium gel directly on the affected area.
E. Practice Gentle Stretching: Incorporate daily stretches that target hip muscles to improve flexibility and alleviate tension. This is where yoga is particularly beneficial. Some of my favourite hip-targeted yoga poses are:
1. Begin in a seated position on your yoga mat. Sit up tall with your legs extended in front of you.
2. Bend your right knee and bring it toward your chest. Place your right ankle on the mat just in front of your left knee.
3. Slide your right foot to the left, aiming to stack your right ankle directly on top of your left knee. Your right shin will be parallel to the front edge of your mat.
4. Flex both feet to protect your ankles and knees. The sole of your right foot should be visible to you, and your right knee should point out to the side.
5. Gradually begin to lower your hips toward the mat. You might feel a deep stretch in your outer right hip and glute area. Use props like yoga blocks or cushions under your hips if needed for support.
6. Aim to align your hips as much as possible. Your right hip might be slightly lifted, which is normal. The goal is to find a comfortable stretch without straining.
7. Depending on your flexibility, you can stay seated upright with your hands resting on your thighs, or you can gently fold forward over your legs. Support your upper body with your hands, forearms, or props like blocks.
8. Stay in the pose for a few minutes, (usually around 3-5 minutes or more), so be patient and allow your body to gradually sink into the stretch focusing on your breath. Take slow, deep breaths to help release tension and encourage relaxation in the hips.
9. To exit the pose, gently release your legs and extend them in front of you. Shake out your legs if needed. Then, repeat the sequence with your left knee bent and left ankle stacked on your right knee.
Reclined Pigeon with a twist
The Reclined Pigeon Pose, also known as "Supta Kapotasana" or "Thread the Needle Pose," is a Yin Yoga posture that stretches the hips and glutes.
1. Lie on your back on a yoga mat.
2. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the mat, hip-width apart.
3. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh, just above the knee.
4. Flex your right foot to protect your knee.
Lower the left knee to the floor, allowing the sole of the right foot to touch the floor. If this isn’t possible, then add a little support under the foot.
8. Keep your head and shoulders relaxed on the mat.
10. Hold the pose for about 2-5 minutes, breathing deeply and allowing your body to relax into the stretch.
11. To release, gently return the knees to centre, uncross your right ankle from your left thigh.
12. Extend your legs and take a moment to feel the effects of the stretch before switching sides.
Winged Dragon Pose
The Winged Dragon Pose is a Yin Yoga pose that provides a deep stretch for the hips, hip flexors, and thighs.
1. Begin in a lunge position with your right foot forward and your hands on the mat, framing your right foot.
2. Gradually slide your left knee back as far as is comfortable. Keep your toes pointing back and the top of your left foot on the mat.
3. Walk your right foot out to the side of your mat, turning the toes to roughly 1 o’clock.
4. Slowly lower your hips toward the mat while keeping your hands planted in the centre for support. Feel the stretch in the front of your left hip and thigh.
5. You can choose to stay upright with your hands on the mat, or lower down to your forearms for a deeper stretch. Use props like blocks if needed to support your upper body. For a deeper hip opener, you can gently press the right knee out, allowing the foot to roll onto the outside edge.
6. Take slow, deep breaths as you relax into the stretch. Allow your body to gradually release tension in the hip and thigh area. Hold the pose for anywhere between 1-3 minutes.
7. To come out of the pose, gently lift your hips, step your right foot back, and switch to the other side. Repeat the sequence with your left foot forward.
Remember, it's important to consult a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your routine, especially if you have chronic hip issues or persistent pain. These tips can help you manage inflammation and discomfort, but a doctor's guidance ensures you are on the right path to hip health. If the pain does not go away, I recommend visiting your GP for a further consultation.