As most people age, a common complaint is the loss of mobility. Pain, stiffness and popping can increase in the joints, especially in the hips, the important connection between the upper and lower parts of the body.
But this doesn’t have to be destiny. In fact, your body can actually improve with age. The key is maintaining proper balance of strength and flexibility in your muscles and bones, especially your hip joints.
Sitting is something that we just “do,” often without thought. But the next time you take a seat, take notice of your alignment. Are you leaning into a chair, favoring one side of your body over another? Are you plopping into your seat? Do you experience pain or discomfort or hold your breath when you sit down or stand back up? If so, it’s time to bring in this simple sit down/stand up exercise to realign and strengthen your hips.
The sit down/stand up practice is especially wonderful because it also supports proper foot alignment, that is, with your second toe pointing straight ahead. Many people are accustomed to walking with their feet turned out, and though it may feel more comfortable, this foot position actually causes significant instability in your body, making you more prone to falling (if you don’t think that’s true, ask a friend to gently push you as you stand with your feet turned out and then again with your feet facing forward).
Everything you do has an impact somewhere else in your body; proper foot alignment supports hip and knee alignment, which supports pelvic alignment, which stabilizes your spine, making you more agile and able throughout your entire life. Who knew so much good could come from re-learning how to sit?
Try this sit down/stand up exercise as part of your regular asana practice and you’ll quickly begin to see a difference in the strength and flexibility of your hips, changes that will stay with you for a lifetime.
One of the reasons we like this pose so much is that it is easily modified for any starting point. Start with a chair, then move to a stable stack of blankets and eventually move to lower cushions or the floor.
1. Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart in front of a chair, stack of pillows or just at the top of your map with no support behind you. Be sure your second toes are pointing directly forward (this may feel slightly pigeon-toed if you are used to turning your feet out, but over time your legs and mind will adjust and it will feel natural). Align your hips directly over your knees and ankles.
2. Take an even ujjayi breath in through your nose. Maintaining your toe, knee and hip alignment, exhale and bend your knees to sit down. As you do so, lean slightly forward from your hips and let your arms swing in front of you for balance, while keeping your spine extended. Keep bending until your buttocks reach the chair, pillows or floor. You should fully release your weight to sit down.
3. With your feet and knees pointing straight ahead, inhale and stand back up, again using your outstretched arms for balance and legs and pelvic floor for strength. Be sure your movements are smooth and consistent and that you press your feet down into the floor throughout the entire process. Repeat this 15-20 times as part of a regular practice.
Common trouble spots
Knees splayed or turned in. Many people are used to turning their knees wider than hip-width distance or knocking them in to find better support as they sit down, but this puts strain on the knees and encourages imbalance in the hips. Keep your knees facing directly forward the whole way up and down to bring balance to the hips and leg, activate the pelvic floor and support your spine.