Yang Yoga Practice for SI joint dysfunction

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UPDATE: I now have video for this practice! It's in two parts. Enjoy!

As I have mentioned previously in this blog, I’ve had chronic issues with my sacroiliac joint.  When I had my most recent flare up, I couldn’t manage on my own and went to a physical therapist, and I also saw a yoga therapist/structural integration therapist (AKA Rolfer).  One of the things I learned that I had suspected for quite some time is that I am more flexible than I am strong.  My yoga therapist recommended that I avoid yin yoga and hot yoga.  Guess what kind of yoga I teach?  Oops.  I had to dramatically change how I practice and how I teach.  I still teach both hot vinyasa and yin, but I am a lot more careful about it.  I avoid demonstrating complex or advanced poses and I no longer hold poses with my students when I teach my yin classes.  Is it kind of a drag? Yes.  But as this article articulates beautifully, the goal is balance in asana practice, not the most flexibility ever.  It’s become more important in my yoga classes, especially for people new to yoga, to teach them to create more functional movement patterns. Often that means limiting range of motion and doing “easier” variations of poses so that there is no way to cheat your way into making the shape of a pose without using the muscles I want you to learn to use.  I’m sneaky like that.

I still recommend my yin practice for SI issues, and I find the forward folding to backward bending sequence helpful for adjusting any misalignments.  One of the funny things about my SI issues is that my IT band and glutes would be really tight feeling so pigeon-family poses feel awesome on my tweaked out side.  But I learned from my PT that the tension was those muscles hanging on for dear life and not really operating in a functional way.  I had to retrain those deep core musces to work properly.  It’s still OK for me to do those super-satisfying yin style poses but they must balanced with strengthening excercises, otherwise there’s no way the sacrum is going to stay where it’s supposed to be. 

Here’s a complementary therapeutic “yang” practice that is a mashup of physical therapy, viniyoga, and pilates that I’ve found helpful for stabilizing the SI joint.  I might do this after a short yin practice or before dancing when I know my sacrum and low back is likely to take a beating.  I also will use a sampling of these poses and variations before a vinyasa practice to wake up the psoas and other deep core muscles so they will support me throughout a vigorous practice.  Like many injuries and conditions, one solution isn’t going to work for everyone.  This is just what has worked for me.  Hope you find some things in here that work for you, too.

Therapeutic Yang Yoga(ish) Sequence for SI Joint Happiness

  • Apanasana: Startign on your back.  With hands on knees, exhale knees to chest, inhale knees press away.  8 times.
  • Hip Flexor Thing: Keep hugging one knee to chest.   Inhale free leg extends straight and low an inch from the floor.  Exhale leg reaches straight and high.  Inhale straight and low.  Exhale knee to chest.  5 times on each side.
  • Heel Taps: Knees over hips, shins parallel to floor.  Inhale tap heel to floor.  Exhale back to starting position.  20 times, alternating legs.
  • Supine Marching: Knees over hips, shins parallel to floor. Inhale, extend one leg straight and low an inch from the floor.  Exhale back to starting position.  20 times, alternating legs.
  • Apanasana: 8 times.
  • One Leg Bridge Lifts:  Feet on floor close to hips.  Hug one knee to chest.  On inhale, press other foot into floor and lift hips.  Hold 5 seconds and lower on the exhale.  5 times on each side.
  • Viminasana:  On belly, hands close to lower ribs.  Inhale lift chest and lift legs, spreading legs wide.  Exhale lower halfway and squeeze knees together.  Inhale lift and legs wide again.  Exhale squeeze legs and lower all the way down.  Note: Squeeze your inner thighs like your going to crack a walnut! Fierce! Make sure your knees rotate to face towards the floor as you lower back down.
  • Chakravakasana: From hands and knees.  On exhale, pull in your low belly and press your hips back TOWARDS your heels but don’t go all the way back.  Inhale back to hands and knees, lifting chest.  Viminiasana is super stabilizing for the sacrum, so we don’t want to wreck any nice adjustment that happened by pulling it out of alignment again for the satisfaction of pressing all the way back to child’s pose.
  • Clamshell:  Lie on your side, knees bent. Inhale, lift top knee up without tilting your hips.  Err on the side of keeping it small and stabilize your core.  Exhale lower. 30 times each side.
  • Bridge Lifts:  On your back, heels close to hips, feet parallel.  On inhale, press into feet and lift hips, low back, upper back.  Exhale, lower upper back, lower back, hips down.  Try to isolate each part of spine as much as possible.  Four times, then widen feet about two inches.  Repeat two more times, widening feet a little each time.
  • Apanasana: 8 times.
  • Supta Baddha Konasana:  On your back, heels close to hips, let knees fall open.  Take 5-10 breaths to close them again.  5 times.
  • Supported Savasana: Bolster or blanket under knees for at least five minutes.