You will probably get it on the second try but not on the first one.
What typically is the area that holds the most tension?
Most people answer “neck or neck/shoulders.” Hard to argue with this one. If not this answer, then “back or low back” is the usual reply.
They are certainly valid replies and much effort and energy is put forth into stretching and strengthening these areas.
The area though, that typically contains the most amount of tension or unrecognized tension is the hips. Many people have jobs that require them to sit for the bulk of the day. Additionally, give the nature of our anatomy, we consciously or subconsciously have tension in said region as a way of protecting very delicate, sensitive organs. The later in particular occurs as a natural instinct or protective mechanism. Tension accumulates in this region and has a “spill-over” effect on most of the body, especially the lower back and upper legs. This in turns results in an altered gait which contorts the entire body in one way or another.
If it can have an effect on our gait, it is just a short leap to see how it would have an adverse effect on our Systema. When the hips are tight, movement is restricted – the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve.
What Can Be Done
There are 2 primary ways (at least) of improving our flow and flexibility in the hips. They are:
- Qi Gong
Stretching. There are undoubtedly dozens of stretches that can accomplish the goal of releasing tension from the hips and creating flexibility. Here are a few that I have found to be excellent:
- The Frog. Get on your hands and knees, in a table position. Slowly widen your knees out as if they were sliding on ice. At the same time, your feet in a line with your knees. Flex your feet and ease yourself forward onto your forearms. It goes without saying, focus on releasing and breathing.
- IT Band Stretch. From a standing position, cross your RIGHT ankle over and put it on your left knee. The outside of your RIGHT ankle should be touching just above the LEFT knee. Imagine you have a chair behind you and slowly sink down. Once you are as low as possible, hold and breathe. Come up and switch legs.
- Seating Pigeon. Sit down with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor directly in front. Put your RIGHT ankle on top of your LEFT thigh and flex your right foot. With hands behind your body, begin to push hips toward your heels until you feel a stretch through your outer left hip. Hold, breathe and then switch sides.
These should be a good start.
. . . a warrior is willing to do what is needed, not always what is easy.
Qi Gong. If you are not doing some type of internal art, you are not doing martial arts. You are doing exercises. Xing I, Pa kua, Tai Chi and Qi Gong are the “big 4.” There are a few others, along with powerful breathing methods too.
I like Qi Gong the most as it has an effect not only on the energy, but also trains the mind and releases built up energy (tension) from the body. Movements are generally easy to learn but take the will of the warrior to do, as the number of repetitions can be significant. Here are 2 specific for the hips.
- Hi/Lo. From a standing position, move the RIGHT arm up and in front of you at a 45-degree, palm up (as if you would putting something on a high shelf in front of you). At the same time, move the LEFT arm behind you at a 45-degree angle, down/behind you. Then switch and repeatedly switch. Each time you move, you should be looking at the heel opposite the arm that is up. Ex/ If the right arm is up and the left arm is down, you should be looking at your left heel. Repetitions start at 108.
- Hip Swing. This might be the oldest Qi Gong movement. Stand about shoulders width apart and allow your arms to swing, side to side. For a portion of the practice, keep looking forward. Then, allow your head to move from side to side. Again, reps start at 108.
Both are excellent but do require discipline and will. One needs to overcome the inner dialogue (“This is monotonous!” “When will it end” etc. etc.) but a warrior is willing to do what is needed, not always what is easy.
Ease into the above and over about a 12 week period, a significant amount of improvement will be noted.