Back Up Your Hips to Cure Your Feet

Alignment Habits

In an earlier post, I suggested that you have three habits that are critical for the health of your feet. And you have control over the outcomes of each habit. Total control!

  1. The shoes you (choose to) wear
  2. How you move your feet
  3. How you align yourself

Every time I consider this list, I am tempted to declare that one is more important than the others. But, I never do, because they are equally culpable in impacting the tissues of your feet. An entangled lot they are.

Take alignment. Last week, I wrote about how to position your feet, when standing and walking, with the outside edges in a straight line. Feet that do not point straight ahead, but instead point out laterally or diagonally are one of the most effective alignment habits you can have for building a bunion. But there is another alignment habit that is just as prevalent and injurious. Standing with your pelvis shifted anterior of your body’s center of mass. Huh?

The mass of your pelvis is your center of gravity. If you draw a vertical line from heaven to hell, it should go through the exact center of your pelvis. You really could be the center of the universe. “Should” is key here. Wherever the center or mass of your pelvis is, that is where the bulk of your weight will be. If your pelvis is is vertically stacked over your knees, ankles and heels and vertically stacked under your shoulders & ears, then the bulk of your weight will be over the center of your heels, which is structurally the strongest part of your foot and the only place 100% of your weight should be. When your pelvis is shifted or thrust forward of your ankles/heels, your center of gravity, mass of your pelvis, bulk of your weight loads your forefoot, the weakest part of your foot. The tiny bones, muscles, and other tissues of your forefoot are intended for intrinsic movements and supporting the arches of your feet. Bearing weight on the front of your feet can contribute to plantar fasciitis, bunions, bone spurs, hammertoes, flat feet, metatarsalgia (pain at the base of the toes), and neuropathy.

There are other reasons for vertical stacking of your joints, all of which I will write about in more detail another time.

  • minimizes the forces that cause joint degeneration
  • signals your pelvis and femurs (your “hips”) to build more bone density, making them stronger and less susceptible to fractures

Getting Your Hips Back

My yoga students attest to the broken recordness of my cuing. “Hips back, hips back, hips back.” “Get your hips back over your heels.” “Your hips should be stacked over you knees, which should be stacked over your ankles.” “Keep your pelvis from shifting forward.” “Hips back, hips back, hips, back.” I never tire of saying it.

What and where are your hips anyway? Your hip is not a bone. Your hip is actually a joint made from your pelvis and femurs. Basically, the top of your femur (greater trochanter) fits into the socket or acetabulum at the side of your pelvis. When you place your hands on you “hips,” you are actually placing them on the top of your pelvis.

Here is how to get your hips back:

  1. Stand with your feet aligned – outer edges are straight. See building a bunion.
  2. Shift your weight back, all of it, into the center of your heels.
  3. Press the balls of your feet (not your toes) into the mat, without bringing your weight forward.
  4. With your hands on your hips, the top of your pelvis, gently guide your pelvis back** until your hip joint (about where the side seam of your jeans lies) is stacked directly above the side of your knee, which is stacked directly above your the side of your ankle at the maleolus bone, which is directly over the center of your heel.

**It is critical that you don’t rotate your pelvis back (tuck your tail) or forward (Beyonce your butt), but merely shift it back.

When you back your hips up, it may fee like your butt is sticking out behind you. That’s good. That’s where it should be, behind you. It’s why we call it your rear.

The images below will give you a visual of what it looks like to have your hips thrust forward (losing) or properly backed up (winning). This is from one of my favorite books from my favorite biomechanists Katy Bowman. Her book Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Health Feet is my go-to source for most things feet and is absolutely relevant for men too. In fact, I wish she had named it “Every Human’s Guide…” because other than a few strictly female bits, it is applicable regardless of gender.

Pelvis forward of center of gravit

Pelvis forward of center of gravity

In the image above, The stance on the left shows Katy’s center of gravity, her pelvis, is where it belongs. In contrast, she is definitely not vertically stacked in the stance on the right.

hipsback10002

In the image above, Katy’s pelvis is clearly shifted forward until the bulk of her weight is over her forefoot, which, overtime, could have disastrous consequences for her feet. On the right, her hips are backed up and her pelvis is over her knee, ankles, and heels.

hipsback10003

In the image on the left, Katy’s alignment is signaling the bone cells in her hips to build more bone density because the weight of her torso is stacked vertically. Her stance on the  right, overtime, will prove degenerative to her joints.

I’ll leave you with one final thought. Backing up your hips is a practice. It takes intention, practice, and time to instill this new alignment habit. Start today.

Namaste, Michele

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10 responses to “Back Up Your Hips to Cure Your Feet

  1. Pingback: Strong Yoga Foot | FootLove Yoga

  2. Great advice. Is there a good quick reliable way to determine where your hips are? I am sure you are supposed to feel them, but is there a way I could verify where my hips are “on average” when I am not thinking about it? Can I take a picture? Can I send it to you? Can you tell from a photo? Is there a way for me to check someone else standing nearby? Can you practice spotting “stacks” on strangers in an airport?

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    • I am constantly spotting unstacks, and the occasional stack, everywhere. I can get an idea from a picture if you have an obvious pelvic thrust. But you can evaluate yourself using a plumb line or a tall rod or length of pvc piping. Place the rod/line vertically next to your outer ankle bone. Back up your hips until the center of your hip joint (on the side of your body) is even with the rod. Most people habitually stand with their pelvis forward of the rod. A less measured way is to look down at the center of your shins. Most people will back up their hips when they do this. If you did, keep you hips back as your raise your head/chest up. Does that make sense? If you know the alignment points on the lateral side of the body – outer ankle bone, center of the knee joint, center of the hip joint – you can tell when others are pelvic thrusting. One additional piece of alignment that is important here – are you tail tucking aka retroverting or tilting your pelvis backwards? Many people of an age (yours) will have a tucked butt posture. Your marker for this: your pelvic bones (ASIS, “hip bones” on the front of your pelvis) and your pubic bone should be in the same frontal plane. If your pubic bone is further forward of your pelvic bones, then you are butt tucking. If you pelvic bones are anterior to your pubic bones, then you are sticking your bum out too far and your lumbar spine is hyperlordotic and you are probably a yoga teacher!

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