Jive to the Hip

jive to hip 1 In 13 years of teaching Nia, I’ve watched a lot of people move.  And here’s what I notice:  most people don’t move their hips much.

I don’t know how many hip replacements are performed in the US every year.  I did my best to find out and found wildly different numbers from 120,000 to 178,000 to 500,000!  Suffice it to say, it’s a lot.

I’m not a doctor and I don’t have the research, but I think there is a connection.  Hips that move are healthy hips and, well, as I mentioned, most Americans just don’t move their hips.

No great shock, really.  Ours is a comfort and convenience culture.  Most of us don’t regularly sit on the floor, lift of heavy objects, or even walk much.  In addition, large or circular hip movements tend to be connected with sexuality, and sexuality with embarrassment or fear.  So we Americans tend to zip up, button down, and keep our tails from wagging.

What a bummer, since the hips are major storehouses of strength, mobility and energy.  The strongest joint in the body, the hip offers circular mobility (instead of one plane like the knee or elbow) as the ball (femoral head) turns in the socket (acetabulum).  The hip joint is also layered with lots of connective tissue and muscle which gives the joint both strength and stability.

hip joint Hip_Muscles hip joint muscles

Mobililty, strength and stability – so we can walk, run, balance, jump, turn…and wag our tails!  The hips are meant to fold completely (as in a squat – a common pose of ease in many countries) and open completely (as in the yogic Wheel pose, below).  But how often do we actually allow the hips to move as they are designed?

hip squat hips wheel pose

Most of the hips I see primarily sit, stand, and walk: small range of motion, mostly front/back.  Think about what you and your hips do during your waking hours.  I spend at least half my day sitting…and I’m a movement teacher!

These limited movements have big repercussions for the health of hips and their owners.  Physically, when hip movement is limited, some muscles and connective tissue get over-worked or over-stretched while others get underused and weak.  This causes imbalances in the body that can result in physical pain (like lower back pain and tight hamstrings).

What’s more, the hips and pelvis contain our sexual and emotional energy.  Locking down hip movement locks down that energy.  Freeing the hip joints allows it move.  As a result, when people start moving their hips, it’s not uncommon for them to feel waves of sadness or anger or excitement.  After a Nia class, a new participant will often sheepishly approach me and say, “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I felt like I was going to cry (or laugh or scream) during class!”  I don’t think they’re crazy, I think they are self-healing.  And I think more hip movement would do them a world of good.

With all the connective muscle and tissue around the hip joints, hip movement strengthens and stretches abdominal, back, leg and pelvic muscles.  A little tail wagging goes a long way toward creating more health all through the midsection of the body!

As children, most of us had strong, mobile hips.  Our little bodies easily folded up and unfolded again.  We were up and down off the floor and wiggling around in all sorts of ways.  (Below is a picture of my niece, Olivia, when she was a toddler.  She’s 11 now and still squats and wiggles beautifully.)

hips olivia squat

The practice of Nia invites us back into our playful, easeful, child-like bodies.  It invites us, at least for an hour every day, to let go of the cultural corset and allow our bodies – and, in turn, our minds and emotions – to flow and relax.  Whether you are taking Nia this week, or you are just dancing through your life, I invite you to start allowing your hips more movement and range of motion.  If hip movement feels new or awkward to you, start gently and slowly, breathing all the way.  Your hips are designed to move, so have fun!  Before getting out of bed, pull a knee into your chest and gently rotate your thigh in the hip socket.  Sit on the floor to put on your shoes!  Stand up from your computer right now and wag your tail!  And most daring of all, walk with a swing in your hips – no matter your age, gender, or professional title!

Now you’re hip to the jive so give some jive to the hip!

  1. Having done alot of Nia for ten years, I had some pretty strong hips. As I has done alot of yoga throughout my life I thought I had pretty good hip mobility, or at least compared to alot of other folks I appeared to be pretty mobile. After having a major surergy and several severe illnesses which had me bedridden I lost alot of weight rapidly and alot of that was leg and butt muscle.. What I have learned is that hip strength and mobility has alot to do with being able to stand up, maintain balance, and to climb stairs. Even though I have done bodywork professionally for 20 years, I don’t think I ever really had a full understanding of what full range of motion in the hip joint involves. Re-learning to stand and walk multiple times has really helped me understand that freedom in the hips requires a balanced strength in the muscles, and some focus to gently exploring a fuller range of motion, in the hip joint. This is truly a “use it or lose it joint.” Best to start gently and progress slowly but consistantly!

  2. The wisdom of healing, Maria. Thank you for sharing your experience! And little by little, ease peasy double cheesy (or lemon squeezie for the lactose intolerant) is always the way! xo Susan

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