Striking a Balance: Part 4
Corrective Exercises for Lower Crossed Syndrome
by Jenny Thomas
In the final installment of this four-part series, we will dive in to corrective exercises for lower crossed syndrome. Keep in mind that lower-crossed tendencies can perpetuate upper-crossed tendencies and vice versa. Everything is connected! Remember the lower-crossed imbalances? Weak glutes and abdominal muscles paired with tight hip flexors and lower back muscles. To correct these imbalances, we must lengthen the lower back, hips flexor, and psoas muscles, and strengthen the lower abdominals and glutes. Start with mobility (in order to avoid perpetuating bad habits and poor proprioception), and then move on to strength.
Lower Back/Hamstring Stretch/Twist Sequence
Pavanamuktasana (knee-to-chest or “wind-relieving” pose), supta padangustasana (reclining hand-to-big-toe pose), and supta matsyendrasana (reclining lord of the fish pose) are wonderful poses to help release tight lower back and hip muscles and cultivate more balanced mobiprolity for people with lower-crossed tendencies.
Lie on your back with your legs extended, then draw your right knee toward your chest. Interlace your fingers over your shin. Relax your head and shoulders, and press the back of the left leg down into the floor. This creates more space across your low back and left hip flexor. Maybe even add your cervical nod that you learned in the upper-crossed corrective exercises by gently pressing the back of your neck down toward the floor and tucking your chin to create a stretch down the back of your neck. Hold for five to seven breaths.
Tight hamstrings can also contribute to tension in the low back, so take this into a hamstring stretch by placing a strap around the arch of your right foot and straightening your right leg. Give yourself as much slack as you need. Continue to root the back of your left leg down into the floor, and keep your hips level (make sure the right side of your torso doesn’t shorten). Hold for another five to seven breaths.
To take this into a twist, draw your right leg toward your chest again, and use your left hand to gently guide your right knee across your body to the left. If your right knee doesn’t reach the floor, place a block underneath it. Try to keep your hips stacked. Don’t worry if your right shoulder lifts off the floor. Find some softness in your belly, chest, and shoulders, and breathe. Repeat on the other side.
Hip flexor stretch
Now that we’ve opened the lower back and hips, we can move on to opening the quads and hip flexors with a lunge variation.
Set yourself up near a couch, heavy chair, or wall and come to a low lunge position with your right leg forward (knee at a 90-degree angle) and your left knee on the floor just in front of the couch, heavy chair, or wall (cushion your bottom knee with a blanket, if needed). Now the left foot is up on or against the couch/chair or wall. Bring your hands to your right thigh for support, press down into your thigh, and lift your torso up. If this is difficult for you to get into, you can start from a tabletop position with your feet against the wall/couch/heavy chair and bring your left foot up the wall/furniture to slide your left knee back toward it. Eventually, you may step your right foot forward into your lunge position, but this is optional (it’s fine for the right knee to stay down, right where it is).
Draw your outer left hip forward, and keep your lower belly engaged to make sure your lower back doesn’t collapse. Lengthen your tailbone down toward the floor. You should feel a stretch in front of your left hip down into the front of the left thigh (quadriceps). To deepen this stretch, bring your left knee back more until it’s eventually against the furniture or wall, and your shin is perpendicular to the floor. To lessen the stretch, move your left knee away from the furniture or wall and/or keep your hands down on the floor framing your right foot. Double check to make sure your lower back is relaxed, happy, and not crunched!
This is a very intense quad stretch, so remember to breathe! Exit this pose mindfully by bringing your hands back down to the floor and bringing your left knee forward and away from the wall or couch until the foot is back on the floor. Move mindfully so that you're not “slingshotting” yourself out of the pose. Repeat on the other side.
Lower Abdominals: Plank Pose (Kumbhakasana)
We know kumbhakasana in the West as plank pose; however, the root, kumbhaka, literally meaning “pot” or “vessel,” actually refers to a cessation of breath either at the top of an inhale or the bottom of an exhale. While you’ll want to maintain a steady breath as you practice plank, visualize the muscles of the abdomen, back, diaphragm, and pelvic floor creating a strong “vessel” within your torso.
Plank is a wonderful pose because it strengthens the muscles all the way around the spine. Come to a high push-up position. If this is too intense, lower your knees to the floor. If your wrists give you problems, lower to your forearms. Whichever variation you’re doing, try to keep a straight line through your knees, hips, and shoulders. Draw your lower belly in to make sure your lower back doesn’t collapse, pull your belly button back toward your spine, and point your tailbone back toward your heels. Keep a strong foundation through your hands (or your forearms, if they are lowered). Find a happy medium in the shoulders—in other words, make sure your chest doesn’t sink down toward the floor with collapsed shoulders, and your upper back isn’t so rounded that your chest collapses. You can actually perpetuate upper crossed and lower crossed tendencies in the posture if it’s regularly performed incorrectly, so be mindful of your posture. Hold for five to seven breaths, or, if you can comfortably hold it for longer, hold with good form to fatigue.
Glutes: Bridge Variations
You may automatically think “backbend” when you think of bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana); however, with this variation, the purpose will be less about backbending and more about activating and strengthening the glutes.
Have a yoga block nearby and come to lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat, heels toward your seat. Place the block between your thighs and squeeze it. With your arms down by your sides and your palms face down, press down into your feet and arms to lift your hips. Unlike bridge pose/setu bandha sarvangasana, we do not want to backbend for this exercise. We are using the glute muscles to lift the hips into a position that puts the knees, hips, and shoulders in a straight line. Bring more work into the glutes by lifting your toes and pressing down into your heels. If this is too easy, try lifting one leg. Hold for five to seven breaths, or do 10 to 20 repetitions, lifting and lowering your hips.
These sequences will help correct imbalances associated with lower crossed syndrome, improve your posture, and benefit the entire body’s kinetic chain. Experiment with these movements, and notice how you feel creating balance in the body. When we train our bodies to balance the strength and the ease, the sthira and sukha, we eliminate the need for the body to compensate for shortcomings elsewhere. By cultivating a balance of sthira and sukha, we find harmony throughout the body and along this kinetic chain. What other areas of your life could benefit from balancing the sthira and the sukha?