Settling into a comfortable seated position, you close down your eyes and try to figure out how to exactly quieten the mind’, when a deep ache begins to reside in your backside. Suddenly your mind gets a lot louder and ‘easy pose’ is now anything but. In fact your ‘butt’ is the entire source of frustration and the simple task of sitting down just escalated from ‘ahhh’ to ‘pain in the aaaarse’… literally.
Despite how strange it may sound, it turns out giving too much attention to your tush is a thing. Introducing ‘yoga butt’ – a common overuse injury that affects yogis specifically.
Think of it like the runners knee of the yogi world – ‘yoga butt’ is the result of enjoying all of the asanas, a little too much or a little too little. While runners can risk placing too much pressure on the knees when they stride, yogis can just as easily dive a little too deep into their glutes by over stretching surrounding muscles such as the hammies.
So what is yoga butt?
“‘Yoga butt’ is a broad term to explain gluteal tendinopathy or proximal hamstring tendinopathy,’ explains Nick Cracknell, physiotherapist at The Studio Rozelle. “Tendinopathy occurs when a repetitive load is placed on a tendon without adequate recovery. While placing a progressive load is necessary to stimulate the muscle and tendon tolerance (strengthening), if pressure is applied often with little recovery time, an overuse injury will occur.”
In yoga world, ‘proximal hamstring tendinopathy’ is the one that tends to get to us the most – thanks (or no thanks!) to all the juicy forward folds and split variations that our hamstrings love to hate.
You’ll likely know of it if, after practise, it begins to flare up in the unexpected moments like walking or sitting down. While it’s not uncommon to feel a deep sensation or ‘screaming out’ from your hammies when holding a pose, if it’s yoga butt, it’ll be all the more intense and lingering.
‘It typically presents as pain around the sit bones but can radiate down the back of the thigh,’ explains Kara Murphy, Sydney based physiotherapist at Stadium Sports Physiotherapy.
It also doesn’t just have to be from aforementioned poses either (don’t swerve away from that half hanuman just yet!); it can be also based on the following:
“This can be from a sudden increase in training load or from repetitive loading over a long period of time,” explains Murphy. “Research shows tendons take 24 hours to adapt to a load. Without sufficient recovery time, the tendon structure can become impaired.”
“Commonly seen in yogis and dancers, this is where from repetitive pulling of the proximal hamstring tendon away from the sit bones,” says Murphy.
“This can either from increasing your sessions quickly, or going for a few times a week then having a three week break then returning back to regular amount or even increasing from a beginner to advanced class within a short period of time,” says Cracknell.
“Either from direct pressure on the sit bones (where the proximal hamstring tendon attaches) or from indirect compression of the tendon alongside sit bones in long lever poses such as Warrior 3,” says Murphy.
And take it from a yogi who would know. When I was a fresh out (read: overly keen) yoga student undertaking my 200 hour teacher training in India, I was unlucky enough to experience yoga butt first hand.
With daily practise ranging from six to eight hours a day, seven days a week, aside from being the most physically demanding month of my life, it also meant I got to stretch and ‘deepen my practise’ more than ever… which as a result landed me face to face in the ugly presence of ‘yoga butt.’
Yep, I was that awkward yogi who, for two weeks, needed a special chair, bolster, or was allowed to stand up during our daily lectures and asana practise.
Not only did sitting down and yoga-ing hurt, I also felt left out from enjoying the fully felt, immersive experience, and it definitely bruised my ego (now something I have learned is a good thing). Having trained so hard before I went to India, I was feeling overly flexible and fit and when suddenly all the prep I’d put in and deep stretching I’d been relishing in was stripped from me, I was left bare -injured behind and in fact constantly clutching my behind.
Worst of all, I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t have enough time to ‘rest and recover’ and even after the magical hands of Renita (the best masseur and body whisperer in Goa), I still couldn’t shake it quickly.
What can you do?
So, if like me, rest is not an easy option and you’re not ready to take a step back from yoga (because you know, mind goes crazy and all), what’s an eager yogi to do?
According to the experts, it begins with upping the strength and dialling back on the hamstring stretches (okay, pretty much all of them)… and if you’re stubborn or unsure, see the comprehensive list below.
Asanas to avoid:
- Adho Mukha Svasanasna – Downward facing dog pose
- Uttanasana – Standing forward fold pose
- Arda Uttanasana – Half standing forward bend pose
- Prasarita Padottonasana – Standing wide leg forward fold pose
- Paschimottonasana – Seated forward fold pose
- Half hanumanasana – Half split pose
- Hanumanasana – Full split pose
- Urdhva prasarita ekapadasana – Standing splits pose
- Supta Padangusthasana – Reclined big toe pose
- Janu Sirsasana – Head to knee pose
- Upavistha Konasana – Wide legged forward fold
- Parsvottonasana – Pyramid pose
- Trikonasana – Triangle pose
- Ardha Chandrasana – Half moon pose
But what if you just can’t give them up?
I get it, it would be crazy to rule out downward dog or forward folds when they are the basic 101 of sun salutations – I get it.
So there is a few simple modifications you can try instead. In downdog, focus on deeply bending the knees and sending hips to sky rather than lowering the feet to touch the earth. The same goes for uttanasana – generously bends the knees and let the body dangle in a restorative way, rather than ‘hinging’ the head towards the knees like you would when you’re actively stretching hamstrings.
Recovery wise, it’s all about investing in the tricks and tools of the trade. If you haven’t yet got a trigger ball or foam roller, hop to it.
“Research shows stretching irritated tendons can flare symptoms, so try a trigger ball or foam roller to release the hamstrings and gluteals,” advises Murphy. “Note though to avoid placing the ball/roller directly over the sit bones as this will compress the irritated tendon and inflame symptoms, instead work on releasing surrounding areas.”
Want to focus on body work without the gadgets? Murphy suggests isometric exercises as a good starting point.
“Isometric exercises are proven to provide an analgesic effect (aka pain relief) for tendons. Aim for four rounds of bridge pose (with heels further away from body), holding for 60 seconds each and allowing a 90 second recovery per round,” says Murphy. “You can then progress this load (with a physiotherapist) and move up to exercises like single leg bridges, hamstring curls, heel slide outs, crab walks and core exercises.
And if you’re lucky enough to not have ‘yoga butt’ yet and don’t want to be the awkward standing yogi in sukhasana? Then get to know the warning signs and ways to avoid now.
If you’ve got weak glutes then ramp up the booty building stat. ‘Gluteal weakness is definitely one of the many factors that can contribute to hamstring overload,” says Murphy.
On the contrary, if you’re glute game is strong but worried a niggle might one day get the better of you, Murphy suggests throwing the following in for good measure to kick that ‘yoga butt’ to the curb for good!
“I recommend alternating yoga with Pilates, running, gym sessions, swimming and where you can, add modifications to your routine such as walking/running on flat surfaces rather than hills, cutting back on high speed running, placing a rolled towel under your hamstrings when sitting to take the load off your sit bones and also avoiding deep spinal flexion poses.”
Sam Bailey is a Sydney based yoga teacher. To learn more about her classes and philosophy follow her on Instagram or Facebook.
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Fitness | body+soul