For years, I experienced pain at my sternum and knees. Sitting cross-legged and even sleeping was uncomfortable. Though I alleviated the pain by foam rolling daily, it would always come back. I felt tight, tense, and restricted all over my body. This was a new and frustrating experience for me, coming from an athletic background. The pain even worsened after I completed my yoga teacher training.
With this newfound knowledge, I decided to take things further. I supplemented my education by learning more from Dr. Jen Esquer, PT, DPT, who has tons of incredible resources and educational programs (like The Mobility Method and Optimal Body). I learned more about my restrictions, limitations, and decided to make myself my first client.
For once in years, I finally saw lasting results. By focusing on breathwork, mobility, and activation, the pain finally subsided. I learned about my own limitations and restrictions (tight psoas, limited hip internal rotation, lack of scapular mobility, etc.). Whether or not you experience the same, I encourage you to learn more about yours so that you can feel better and move better in yours.
Now, I know what exercises to integrate into my practice to feel my best. My hope is to help you find that too—however, I do recommend seeking a physical therapist or professional if it’s recurring pain.
What is Mobility? Why Implement it, Instead of Flexibility?
Flexibility is a more passive range of motion that allows you to stretch without having resistance or tension, while mobility is taking the range of motion from flexibility and make it active.
The basis of mobility is to help us find and understand the foundation of our bodies. How much range of motion do I have? Where am I restricted? To move safely, functionally, and effectively, you have to know your foundation before you load the body, workout, or do any type of physical activity.
Mobility → Stability → Controlled mobility → Skill
Breath: The Foundation
Breath is the foundation not only for mobility, but all forms of movement. Generally speaking, any exercise is a stressor on the body. Breathing correctly will 1) stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, communicating to your body that you are safe and 2) move efficiently and effectively. So how can you maximize your breath? Diaphragmatic Breathing.
Our Bodies as Communicators
Stress and tension can accumulate in different parts of our bodies. Notice a reoccurring pain that seems to flare up when everything is going wrong at once? Coincidence, maybe. Or perhaps its your body communicating something to you!
The Autonomic Nervous System: Sympathetic vs. Parasympathetic
The sympathetic nervous system is the body’s “fight or flight” response. It’s a survival mechanism that turns on when we feel threatened, in danger, or stressed. Our heart rate increases, and blood pressure rises. Our muscles tense, breath shortens, and senses heighten to prepare us for anything, from a leaping bear to a tight deadline we have to meet at work.
In contrast, the parasympathetic system elicits a “rest and digest” response. It slows down the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and has an overall calming effect on the body.
How can you go from the parasympathetic to sympathetic? The breath. It’s how you communicate to your body, letting it know it is safe, and that things are going to be okay. It’s key to moving out of your restrictions, allowing your movement to be more effective.
Our diaphragm rests right underneath our ribcage. The lower ribcage is where we should be breathing from. Next time you inhale, think about breathing into this area. Think wide, deep, and high – expanding 360° like a balloon.
Here’s a simple exercise to help better understand diaphragmatic breathing:
- Start by laying down. Place your hands on your belly. Feel the natural rise and fall of your belly beneath your hands.
- Take a deep breath in through the nose, expanding into your belly and hands. Exhale out the mouth, and feel the belly drop. Repeat 6x.
- Next, place your hands on your lower ribcage. Focus on breathing in a 360° degree pattern – remembering to breathe not only into the side of the ribcage, but also your back. Repeat 6x.
Now that we’ve set the foundation, let’s dive in!
Chest and Hip Flexor Mobility Flow
This mobility flow will help with opening up the thoracic spine and hip flexors (a group of muscles that include rectus femoris, iliacus, psoas, iliocapsularis, and sartorius muscles) which tend to shorten and tighten from sitting for long periods of time. Use this as a warm up or cool down by holding each movement for a longer period of time.
#1 – Open Book with Angel Reach (5 reps, each side)
Inhale as you reach your arm across the body, and exhale as you open and extend, opening through the upper back and the front of the chest.
#2 – Spinal Articulation Cat-Cow (5 reps)
This spinal articulation cat-cow works down the spine: starting at cervical (neck), thoracic (shoulders, ribs), and lumbar (low-back, tailbone).
#3 – Hip 90/90 Shin Box (5 reps, each side)
We often think about external rotation, but what about internal rotation? This exercise gets both!
Start by bending the front and back leg to two 90° angle, shins and thigh bone parallel to the mat. As you lean forward, keep your back straight. You should feel an opening across the front glute. Notice if your back glute is catching, and try to relax. Hold for 10 seconds, or longer for a deeper stretch.
For internal rotation, gently sit the hip back and breathe. You can even lightly massage your TFL (tensor fasciae latae) by using your thumb or elbow to help with the release. Notice here if the glute is tensing here as well.
#4 – Kneeling Hip Flow (5 reps, each side)
This kneeling hip flow has 5 parts that targets the major muscles associated with the hip:
- Hip-Flexor Stretch: tuck the bottom, bringing the pelvis to the ribcage to maximize this stretch. Remember to breathe!
- Quad Stretch: same thing here, tuck the bottom, bringing the foot to the hand. Place a pillow or blanket underneath the knee for added support.
- Hamstring Stretch: keep the back flat as you lean forward. Don’t worry about flexing the tough – instead of getting into your nerve, you want to focus on getting a true hamstring stretch, across the back of the thigh.
- Twisted Glute + QL Stretch: this will open up the side of the glute, as well as the low-back area (the quadratus lumborum, or QL).
- Ankle + Adductor Stretch: if your ankle doesn’t reach the floor, come up a bit higher to feel a stretch.