Okay, okay. I have a little more for you about lengthening the inner thigh and opening the pelvic bowl. So much activity happens around the pelvis and hips both, muscularly and organically, that the more we can open there the more space we offer the bones, the joints and even the organs. Standing poses, particularly the lateral standing poses, allow our bodies to access the areas we tend to tighten and close. Think about the belly, the groins, even the heart. These are all sensitive, vulnerable organs and when we operate in our daily lives we tend to tighten forward to protect (usually unconsciously) ourselves. I was amazed to learn that when I had a fear response, I hardened my front groins as though wanting to pull my knees into my chest and wait until the perceived danger passed. Standing poses can help to unwind some of these habits of holding, soften muscles that tend to grip and offer us awareness of areas we tend to close.
Let's take Virabhadrasana II. (Warrior Two). Usually, I have students use the back foot at the wall to connect with the stabilizing action of the back leg. This is good and important work. If you were in class a while back, you'll recall the work we did with the front thigh and the brick. In class, we had the advantage of working with a partner, strap around the back thigh to support the back leg -- a true wishbone effect -- but, at home, you can work this way:
Stand with your right leg facing the wall. Make sure when you bend your front knee there is room to wedge your block between wall and knee, then come back to the position where your feet are wide, left foot turned in, slightly, and right foot facing the wall. Now, establish the back leg. Press the foot into the floor, particularly aware of the outer edge. Turn the inner left thigh out, keeping the left hip moving away from the wall. (It's important to note that the pelvis is not completely square, if it were our knee would be very strained).
Keep those actions and bend the knee toward the wall, placing the block between wall and top shin. Lengthen your inner thigh toward the block to keep the block from falling on your toes! Did you lose the action of the back leg? Find it again. Now that your thighs open away from each other make sure you lift the pelvic rims (hip bones) up toward the waist and lengthen the trunk.
Take your hands onto your hips and explore the leg action. What does keeping the block there do for your inner thigh? Can you stay connected to the back leg? What does the pelvis feel like to you? Your back?
Make sure you retrieve the block before straightening your front leg. Then, turn your feet and change sides.
Try the pose again without the block. Notice the difference in the ways of working.
Enjoy exploring your inner warrior and let me know how it works for you!
The adductor muscles run the length of your inner thigh. We made the connection to them in the abdominal poses I posted last month. Now, in this basic seated pose, we'll aim to lengthen these muscles.
Sometimes the adductors grip, contributing to a pulling of the pelvis or even troubles in the back and/or spine. In class, a few weeks ago, I had you work the Baddha Konasana before working standing poses, not only to create length in the muscles, but to open up space in the pelvis. This allows for increase blood-flow to the pelvic and abdominal organs, offering them true organic health.
When we first sit in Baddha Konasana**, we may come to the alarming realization that our knees hover well above our hips and our backs round and the abdomen collapses. Often, I see students pushing on their thighs, or worse, their knees, to get those knees to the floor. But if we go back to our objective, we want to create length along the inner thigh and space in the pelvis, we may need to lift up on some height.
Take what height you need. A block or two, a blanket or three, or even a bolster. Bring the bottoms of your feet together, your knees apart. Now, take the marble test: if you placed a marble on the inner knee, would it roll to the groin? If yes, you need more height. If marginally, then you can experiment. If no, then, you may find you get more release through the inner leg.
If you feel the gripping or strain in the inner thighs, be sure to support them by placing rolled up blankets, blocks etc., beneath hem This support offers the muscles an opportunity to actually let go. If they don't have the support, they may actually tighten.
Now sit with the hands beside your hips, or place a strap around the outer feet and hold it with your hands to lengthen the body. Lift the sides of your body evenly up. Draw your shoulder-blades down your back and into your chest. Sit here for several minutes. First, observe your breath and allow the abdomen to soften. Then, bring your awareness to your inner thighs. Keep the corners of your feet pressing together as you consciously lengthen from inner groins to inner knees.
Now, lean to your left and with your right hand lengthen the right thighbone toward the knee (don't push the knee down!). As you slide the thigh further away from the pelvis, draw the pelvic rim (hip bone) up toward the waist. Feel how it creates a sense of space and traction in the joint, freeing up congestion there.
Do the same on the other side.
When you've completed both sides, come back to Baddha Konasana with the hands behind or holding the strap. Observe the inner thighs. Do they feel longer? Softer? How about the pelvis? Can you feel the breath in the pelvic cavity?
You can start your practice this way, or place it near the end of your practice. Or, if you only have a short time, practice it on its own. Even while watching a movie!
** Note: If you find it difficult to hold the back of the waist into the body and the spine lifted, practice with the back against the wall.
Core stability is inherent to the practice of yoga asana. Though we don't work explicitly on strengthening deep core muscles, the use and support of them are integral to most yoga poses. The core helps us centralize our movements allowing them to be stronger and more stable.
Oftentimes we mistake hard abs for core strength, but in yoga we want to cultivate a deeper understanding and connection to our own core.
The adductors are the muscles of the inner thighs. Often addressed in the instruction of asanas, the inner thighs are required to inwardly or outwardly rotate, depending on the pose. Also, they can be pulled up toward the inner groins to assist the deepening of the groins into the body. Adduction moves the legs toward the mid-line of the body; connecting with the adductors helps us draw the action of the asanas into the body's core. When you walk, you may turn your feet out or feel like your moving in different directions. If you bring your awareness to your inner thighs, have the sense of them moving toward the space behind you, your gait feels more centred.
One way to explore this is by lying on your back with the knees bent. Place a block between the inner thighs and guide them in toward the block. Don't squeeze the life out of the block. Although we want to tone the inner thighs we don't want them to get 'grippy'. Now place your fingers an inch in from the pelvic rims. Do you notice a toning of the lower abdomen? The transversus abdominus are deep abdominal muscles that connect the pelvis to the ribs and help with pelvic stability.
If you don't feel the connection, don't worry about it. Just know that by toning the adductors you are connecting to your core, including the stabilizing transversus abdominus, whether you feel it yet or not.
Supta ardha pavanmuktasana
Connecting to this 'core line' is helpful in a variety of poses. Supta ardha pavanamuktasana is an easy way to make the connection to this core line.
Lie on your back in supta tadasana (a reclined mountain pose). Even with both legs extended imagine you've got the block between the thighs. Keep your kneecaps lifting, your buttocks moving toward your heels. Now pull your right knee in toward your chest and hold the chin or back of the thigh. Do you feel how the inner thighs want to splay away from each other? Now imagine the block and travel along the core line as though both inner thighs had a block to press in to. Notice how working that way keeps you more centred and connected to your core. Do this with the left leg.
Do the above actions again with the right leg. Stretch tremendously through the left leg. Pull the left kneecap up and anchor the left thighbone down. Keep connected with both inner thighs. Gather them toward the imaginary block. Then widen your elbows and lift your shoulder blades off the floor as though you wanted to take your heart centre to the ceiling. (If you feel strain in your neck, leave the head on the floor and almost lift off and your abdominals should still engage). Hold for one breath, then lower. Change sides. Repeat three to six times.
Urdhva prasarita padasana
You can also connect with your core in variations of urdhva prasarita padasana. Start with your buttocks several inches away from the wall, so that if you were to put your heels on the wall the legs would be at about sixty degrees. Now draw your knees into your chest and lengthen the buttocks toward the wall.
Take your legs up to ninety degrees. Imagine the block between the inner thighs, gather the legs into the core line. Maintain this connection as you lower your right heel to the wall. When you take the right leg back to join the left make sure the back ribs touch the floor, that the low back does not take the brunt of the work. If you feel it in the back, bend the knees and bring the legs into the body.
Also, feel your abdomen. Is it bulging? Can you keep it wide as you draw the leg up? If not, move a little closer to the wall.
Do the other side.
If working one leg at a time is easy, try lowering both heels to the wall simultaneously. Keep your arms stretched overhead and your back ribs down. Breathe. Again, notice if the work moves into the back at all.
Repeat several times. Each time the heels come to the wall, let the touch be light. Also, connect to your core line. Imagine the block between the thighs and act as though the two legs were one.
When you are finished spend some time relaxing the abdomen. Though we want strength in our abdominal muscles we also want to maintain a softness too. Otherwise, our breathing can become restricted and our abdominal organs constricted. Lying on the back with knees bent and hands on the belly offers you a connection to this softening. Feel how the belly moves with the breath. Widened out on inhalation. Relaxed down on exhalation.