This article was originally written as a recap after a presentation at the Florida Flute Association Convention.
It is such a joy to me to get to be able to personally walk people through the mechanics of fitness and learning how to properly use their bodies to better play their first instrument, their bodies, before picking up the flute.
Speaking of learning to use our bodies correctly, I have noticed a large overlap in strength training with Alexander Technique and yoga. The biggest overlap I see comes in relationship to our hips. If you have ever had an Alexander lesson or taken a body mapping course, one of the biggest things you must wrap your head around is this: your hips are a hinge. I will never forget when I was taking Barbara Conable’s “What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body” course back in college that it blew my mind when she revealed that the human body does not have a waist.
That is a fashion term, not an anatomical term! There is no joint in the middle of the spine, and yet, that is where so many of us bend from and a large reason why we end up throwing out our backs, or hurting other areas of our bodies.
It never ceases to amaze me when I ask my private students, workshop participants or presentation attendees “where do you think your hips are”? and ask them to point to the hip joint. Almost everyone gets it wrong. The hip joint is not the bone you can feel around the waistband of your pants. It is lower. If you move your fingers down your pelvis to the spot where your leg meets your body and forms a crease and you push, you will notice that if you push hard enough, the joint will move and your rear end will go backwards. This is the hip joint. The bone we often point to is the top of the pelvis, and from where we usually try to bend. In Alexander lessons you spend a great deal of time learning how to bend from the hips, pushing your butt back to sit in a chair, leaning forward from the hips to get out of a chair, etc. all because we have not only forgotten how to use our hips, but we don’t even know where they are!
This crossover is huge when it comes to strength training. I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen some guy in the weight room, lifting more than he is capable of lifting safely, and doing it with bad form, bending from the “waist” – causing his back to round and all those pounds of weight to be supported by his lumbar disks. YIKES! Alexander Technique has been fantastic in helping my clients understand where their hips are located so they can bend and hinge properly. When the hips are used properly, as a hinge:
- There is less tension in the neck
- There is less excess tension in the back
- The legs are allowed to hang freely from the body
- The entire body moves more freely
- The core muscles are engaged properly
- The spine is protected
Etcetera, etcetera, the list goes on and on. When you bend properly, your butt will go back, you will feel a stretch in the back of your legs and your spine will remain neutral. Not only will this allow you to lift weights properly, this is the basis of human movement. You will prevent the dreaded “throwing out” of your back, you can help your friend move with no back pain, you can play your flute in a rehearsal for hours with less pain due to the freedom in your spine, and on and on it goes.
If you think of the hips as a joint that cuts the body in half, the thighs bend one way and the spine bends the other way, just like a pendulum or a see-saw. When you bend from the hips, your spine should not round. It should stay neutral (or “flat” as they say in the fitness realm). Try this exercise next time you go to sit down:
- Walk your fingers down your pelvis until you find the joint where your legs meet your body, this is your hip joint.
- PUSH HARD.
- If done correctly, your rear end will go back.
- Watch yourself sideways in a mirror: if you can keep your shoulder blades pulled back, belly button in tight to your spine and spine in neutral, you are hinging correctly. If you cannot do one or any of the above and your spine “rounds”, your knees lock, cave in, feet turn out, etc. then more than likely you lack the core strength necessary to hinge properly and are probably facing several different muscle compensations, most of which lead to excess tension in the body, which leads to muscle imbalances which can lead to injury.
I urge you to learn to use your hips as a hinge properly. Seek out a good Alexander Technique teacher if you ever can, even just to find out how to hinge your hips. Take body awareness classes when they are offered and find a good personal trainer, even if just for one session, for that session can go a long way towards leading you on the path to balance and health. Again, if you missed my class at the convention, I am available for travel for workshops and would LOVE to present at your school, for your studio or to your group, so please contact me to find out how I can help your group. I’m happy to offer free assessments to anyone over Skype, as well. I would very much like to hear your comments on what you think of my articles and hear what fitness questions you have. Please feel free to email me at Angela@MusicStrong.com and I would love to get some questions to answer in the next quarter’s column. Hope to see you soon in Las Vegas!