I just received a call from one of my students, Ms. B., in Florida, who is an incredible golfer and on the course about every day. She loves golf and she is good at it. She is a right-handed golfer, with a beautiful extended finish on her swing. And what I mean by that is when I watch her, I can clearly see her weight shift to her right foot and hip on her back swing, she cocks her wrists, and then shifts to her left foot and hip on the swing and follow through. She is a little bitty thing who has an awesome drive that someday I hope to master. She shared that her right inner thigh muscles were really sore and even irritated to the touch. So I asked her what was different about her game. Ms. B shared that she was playing around with widening her stance. There it was.
First let me say that I play golf. I love it. And I am not an expert golfer. But I have worked with golfers using yoga for over fifteen years. I have never understood the stance widening thing. This isn't baseball, this is golf. And why? The further your feet are apart, the more you compromise joint congruency of the knees and hips in golf...and I can't even get into the spine on this one or I will be writing all day. Joint congruency is a concept used in orthopedics that refers to the joint surfaces maintaining their natural curvature when in contact with one another. So when you add all of your weight, in this case to the back leg, (then shift as you twist, torque and shift to other leg to swing), the contractile forces of muscles that surround the joints involved in the movement create what is known as joint reaction forces. When joint articulations are taken beyond what the body used to, the joint reaction forces tend to be concentrated over a much smaller area, in this case, the inner hip joint. So, you want to spread joint reaction forces over a greater area by maintaining congruency of the joint surfaces. Clear as mud right?
So let's go back and walk through to what is happening with Ms. B. and let's for the sake of this blog, assume she is playing nine holes every day. I am familiar with the course that she plays and know that eight out of the nine holes, she uses her big dog driver. So eight times within two hours per day, she has been doing the following:
- Her stance to address the ball is in external rotation (toes turned outward) which is a new thing she is trying on. Her back leg femur head is externally rotated more in the joint than her conscious mind is used to, and now it has to inwardly rotate more from a weighted position, to complete her swing.
- She is standing wider - more than shoulder width apart. Her entire weight now, is being shifted a greater distance from her back leg to her front leg, increasing the joint reactive forces in the back leg (right) hip joint. The back leg is where the power is...right? It is not in your shoulder girdle. Your shoulders and arms are the pendulum that allows the club face to do it's work when your power generating forces are applied. Power is generated from your inhale, pulling up energy and connection from the ground, pelvic floor lifts, energy flows up your feet, legs and hips where it gathers in your naval center and explodes it into a desired action. In sports language, this would known as thoracic stabilization which has a bearing down type of energy. Whereas in yoga, we call this mulabandha, where the energy is brought up into the body and pooled in the belly to use at will.
- So let's say this new stance has created a conscious difference and maybe the illusion that she has to hit the ball harder, maybe changing the speed of her swing? Now all these thoughts are in the way! More thoughts are present in the mind in an already over the top thought-filled sport! UGGG. It drove me crazy when I first learned to play because there was SO much to think about I kept getting in my own way. So, what happens to your power when you try really hard? Hold your breath? Dig your club into the ground? Throw your club? Say something that is out in the Universe forever that you can never take back? Let's take a pause and another deep breath.
This is how I helped Ms. B take responsibility for what is happening in her golf game that is causing her pain.
The Ms. B Solution:
- Go back to toes forward, feet shoulder width apart.
- Warm to hot Epson salt and baking soda baths daily, just like grandmother used to do, to pull lactic acid out of sore muscles.
- Supportive inner thigh garments for at least one week to support inner thighs.
- Walk a little more than just the golf course.
- Next two weeks, the big dog stays in the bag along with other drivers. Just know that a few extra shots will be taken on all drives. The handicap will return in good time. Take easy swings with a favorite iron, allowing the inhale to flow in on the back swing, pause at the top, cock your wrists, and exhale through the swing and follow through. Have fun with this...and enjoy the club doing the work.
- Week Three: Yoga to release the internal rotators of the hip (specifically the tensor fascia lata and the gluteus medius) to maintain the joints. The test run: from a chair, cross right ankle on top of left thigh close to the knee. Flex the right foot. If this causes pain in the inner groin, stop. Your body has not healed enough yet. Another week of easy golf and walking. If you are good here, move to your mat on the floor and proceed to next step.
- Lay down on your back, cross the right ankle over left thigh as before and flex the right foot. Curl up pressing your lower back down on the floor with your belly muscles, and take your right arm through the legs, left arm on outside of left leg, and hold your left shin just below the knee. Stay curled up, balancing on your lower back, hugging the shoulder blades down. Keeping your right foot flexed, contract your biceps, chest muscles and hug your shoulder blades down. Take 5 slow breaths. Now, press your right elbow against your right thigh, moving the right knee away from the shoulder, keeping right foot flexed. 5 more breaths. Next, press right knee into right elbow, take 5 breaths. Now stop pushing, and draw the right leg into your chest more keeping the right foot flexed. Hold for 3 breaths. Release by taking both hands to right knee, drawing it towards your belly, and slowly set your right foot on the floor. Rest there on your back, knees together, feet apart.
- Feel the difference between the two hip joints. Take your feet mat-width apart and "windshield-wiper" your knees to the midline towards the floor, alternating slowly to feel the resonance of the stretch in the hip.
- Do all steps on the other side. Contracting and releasing the stretching muscles uses what is known as PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) to lengthen the hip internal rotators in this case.
I have taught this one pose, with these specific cues to all athletes I work with that have hip tightness. Golfing students in Florida, football & baseball players in Kansas, even the young track stars in Trenton, Missouri. You can do this yoga pose adaptation no matter how tight you are from a chair, or the floor on your back as described here, or from sitting on the floor (fire log pose aka agnistambhasana) or for advanced yogi's, standing and balancing on one leg. That is the beauty of yoga; creating mindfulness and kindness, adapting the poses for your needs, while cultivating your unique source of will, strength and flexibility.