I'm gonna talk to you today about yoga butt! I got a few questions about this term, actually. If you think of the term “yoga butt”, you might think “Oh, that means I have an amazing ass from doing yoga!” But, that's actually not the case because with traditional asana yogasana there's no way you could tone your butt. (Unless you can tell me some ideas right now, but in general it's very difficult to tone your butt doing doing yoga)
So, why is it called “yoga butt”? I will get into that in a bit. Before I do, I'm gonna tell you a story about my own yoga butt. Yeah, I'm speaking from experience!
The Mongorrian (my husband) and I had been traveling for about two years. By the time my husband and I got to Tokyo, Japan, I had to see a physical therapist to continue rehabbing my body. My left hip bone had partially popped out of its socket (it's called subluxxing) and my shoulders were getting jacked up. I had a tear in my left shoulder’s ligament and I needed to see a physical therapist to show me what what I needed to do moving forward.
So, I sit in this dude’s office in Tokyo and I tell him what happened. He had me run some tests. The first one had me stand on one leg and lower into a one-legged one squat. My knee was wobbling very visibly to the hubby and the physiotherapist. My knee was buckling inwards which signaled the weakness of the glutes. If my glutes were awake and active, then my knee would be much more stable.
Then, the PT had me practice a version of bridge called “glute bridge”. I had to engage my glutes and lift my hips off of the ground. My hips were swinging a bit from side-to-side. This also signaled that the muscles in the glutes were not firing. There was no little to no motor control of the glutes. I did other things like clamshells and side leg lifts. Same thing. My PT said, “We have to get your brain and your glutes to communicate again so that you can be able to control their movement”.
So, this leads to my topic today. What is Yoga Butt?!
It's also known as “dead butt syndrome” or as I like to call it “sleepy butt syndrome”. You're going to get an awareness of what yoga asana typically does and doesn't. I'm also going to teach you how to awaken your yoga butt. You’ll know how to add glute strengthening to the mat.
If you're a teacher and/or studio owner and you work with teachers on staff, you’ll have the knowledge on cueing these traditional poses differently.
Let’s look at the biomechanics of your butt.
Here’s where your hip flexors would be. These are a group of muscles that help you flex your hips. Here’s the motion that your leg typically does when you flex your hips.
So, that’s happening while standing up. But, most people are doing this while sitting. Imagine if you're sitting for a couple hours at your desk/couch/car. You might not notice these muscles or how they've shortened. These hip flexors stay in this short position when you're sitting.
When you're sitting for a long-ass time for a couple hours and don't take breaks, you're actually making your glutes longer. What happens when your brain is trying to talk to your glutes?
I got ahead of myself because I got too excited being a body geek, so I’ll answer that question later.
Back to your glutes! They consist of several muscle tissues that help support your low back. if your glutes are acting properly and not acting the fool, they help your low back and stabilize your pelvis. If they're all working properly and being activated, then your posture would be awesome and there would be a much lower risk of low back pain.
So, what happens when your glutes get lengthened and your hip flexors are shortened for a long period of time?
Imagine what's gonna happen to your pelvis when your glutes get lengthened. You may notice some people walking with their butt sticking out with an over arched back. Or you might notice when you're walking that your hip flexors feel very tight.
Basically, your butt falls asleep and it's not doing its job. Then, the surrounding muscles start to take over say, “Well I better do the glutes’ job because the glutes are sleeping on their job. That makes them overwork because they're being extra helpful. Then, they’re getting tired.
Imagine if you're working at an office and your coworker is just lazy. You care about the company, so you start doing your co-worker’s job and you're doing the work of two people. Because you're tired, some other co-worker steps in to try to help you out. Now you got these chain of co-workers trying to take on the job of one person that’s just sleeping at his desk.
That's what's happening with your body! Your glutes fall asleep, then your lower back steps in. Then, your hamstrings step in. It doesn't just stop there. These other muscle groups all step in because your glutes couldn’t do its job right. Because one part of your body falls asleep and isn't doing its optimized job, these trail of events lead to this whole imbalance in your body.
So, what about yoga? What is it about the yoga poses that are contributing to this problem?
In my experience, many yoga teachers are not cueing or telling you to engage your glutes in asana. For the longest time, I was told by a famous teacher who I had looked up to for a while (before I didn't agree with his teaching anymore) to “relax your glutes in Cobra”. He made some joke about how Californians have a “Type A” personality and how they’re mainly tight-asses about life. The joke was funny at that time but as I started learning about the glutes, I realized how that's not a good cue to give people anymore. We really shouldn't tell people to relax their glutes.
Think about bridge pose. I never heard a cue given to engage the glutes. It was usually, “From bridge pose, lift your hips up to the sky. Draw your chest to your chin while pulling your chin away from your chest”. There was this focus on these intensive backbends that’s all about curving your spine. It doesn't make sense anymore because your glutes support your back. If you have your back being super active like that, why wouldn't you ask your glutes to work with your back? Your glutes keep your back moving safely within an active range of motion.
***READ HERE ABOUT ACTIVE VS PASSIVE RANGE OF MOTION***
There's also rarely any activation in their posterior chain in yoga. There's a lot of strengthening in the front. You got the chaturanga, the plank, the down dog. You got the strengthening in the chest, the front side of the shoulders and the triceps. Those muscle groups tend to get strengthened over and over.
Since we're talking about exercise and balancing balancing things out with yoga…
If you're sitting for a couple hours and you don't get up every 20 or 30 minutes to move, keep your blood flowing and to change the sensation of your butt, then waiting all day to take that 60 to 90 minute class doesn't undo the hours of sitting on your ass.
Let me repeat that: If you're sitting for hours and you don't move around every 20 to 30 minutes and you wait until your lunch break or the end of the day to take an hour-long class it doesn't really undo the damage that's done by numbing your ass.
NOTES FROM THE ROGUE YOGI:
I understand and respect that if you're working a really busy job you have to sit or stand in one place the whole time. In that case, doing the one-hour exercise is better than no exercise or no movement at all. But, if you can also add in things to your workday (like pushing yourself up off your chair every 20 minutes while engaging your butt) that would be even better.
When you sit for that long without doing any kind of muscular contraction, you're basically telling your brain to just shut off that line of communication and it just becomes harder and harder to talk to the butt again. At this rate, it's much more valuable and important for your body to do some kind of micro movement where you're nourishing these parts of your body that normally don't get touched.
I can't believe that I would sit for hours and I wouldn't notice how sleepy my butt was. Now that I've gone through this physical therapy , learning about biomechanics and somatics, it's hard for me to sit still after 20 minutes. I can feel my butt starting to fall asleep. By 30 minutes it's uncomfortable and I have to get up and do something. I whip out anchored resistance bands, roll around on lacrosse balls, do some glute bridges and all sorts of cool stuff.
It really can be a process. Yoga butt is not a permanent situation! You're not doomed to have a dead butt forever! You can actually go through the process, take some time to nourish your butt and get it waking up.
Here’s one effective movement you can add to Warrior III. It’s a one-legged squat that will involve many of your senses as you try to keep your balance.
Here’s something you can add to your Malasana, aka “yogic squat”. It’s not to engage your glutes while hanging out in the passive range of motion. Instead, begin by standing, engaging your butt, then lowering down slowly until your glutes don’t allow it anymore. Take slow steps forward, back, side-to-side. Notice how your hamstrings and glutes feel as you do this.
So, I explained to you what yoga butt is or “dead butt syndrome” and how sitting for a long-ass time, how many “traditional” yoga pose cues contribute to glute weakening and butts falling asleep. I also demonstrated a couple things you can add to your yoga practice so you can wake your butt up and get it going. I also recommended that you get off your ass frequently to take moving breaks so the blood can circulate throughout your body.
Try these variations out and let me know how it helps!
Julie (Your Head Rogue Yogi)
Related Post: The 5 Most Common Yoga Injuries
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