Figure 6.19c. Third: Grasp the knees from the inside and pull them down and laterally for more stretch of the adductors.

Figure 6.19d. Fourth: Grasp the ankles and pull the feet toward the head, pressing the elbows sharply against the thigh muscles. This tends to lift the shoulders, and you may want to have a pillow to support your head.

hip socket or the front of the ilium, you may still get stopped by tenderness in the groin. Don't force the issue if that is the case, because numerous delicate tissues run through this region.


The hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint that accommodates "rotation" during the course of any combination of six movements—flexion and extension, abduction and adduction, and lateral and medial rotation. Even though in a literal sense all of these motions rotate the head of the femur in the acetabulum, by convention only the last two are termed anatomical rotation. These of course can be superimposed on any of the others. For example, if you sit down and spread your thighs apart keeping the knees straight, and then turn your toes out, you will be superimposing lateral rotation on Hexed and adducted thighs; turning the toes in from the same position is medial rotation. "Hip-opening" in hatha yoga means developing a full range of motion for all of these movements plus one more—circumduction—that sequentially combines flexion, abduction, extension, and adduction.

You can circumduct the thigh in any position in which the floor or some other object is not in the way. We'll look at it in a standing position to explore the principle and then in supine postures to see how various muscles restrict the movement. If you balance on your left foot, extend the

Figure 6.19e. Fifth: Grasp the lateral aspects of the feet and pull them toward the head, pressing the elbows sharply gainst the calf muscles. This Provides the fullest stretch for the adductors in this series.

F|gure 6.19f. Sixth: Grasp the *Mes of the feet from their medial borders and pull the "nees toward the floor on er side of the chest. Be careful, because the arms can Pu« more powerfully than is emperate for the hip joints.


right knee, and swing the right foot around in a circular motion, you || be circumducting the thigh. You can start with adduction, continue f'orw d for flexion, swing the foot out for abduction, to the rear for extension,; ir) back into home position with adduction. If you project an imaginary trai on the floor with your foot, you'll notice that the movement is kid) y-shaped rather than circular. There are two reasons for this: the leg you -e using to support your weight gets in the way of the one that you are swin;. ig around, and you can flex the thigh forward further than you can extei it to the rear. Try this exercise with both lower extremities and notice if ie excursion is different on the two sides.

As you swing your right thigh in front of the left thigh and leg, you tn first feel the right hip joint and the left thigh limiting how far you can dl the right thigh to the left and forward. Then as you flex the thigh stra ht forward the right hamstrings limit the movement. Swinging on aroun to the side, the right adductors (or the right hip joint in those who are espet lly flexible) start resisting. Continuing to the rear, the right hip flexors 1 lit extension, and finally, just before you bump into the left thigh, the righ hip joint again stops you.

We have already taken note of the straightforward effects of knee extei ion and flexion on hip flexion (figs. 6.3-4), and we have seen how important his is to forward bending with the thighs adducted, as in the posterior sti tch (fig. 6.12). Now we'll look at how flexing the knee assists circumduct!« 1 of the thigh in general and abduction of the thigh in particular. You can d his only when you are lying supine with the hips near the edge of a table or rm lied, because you want to be able to hyperextend the thighs beyoni the lower edge. The first thing to do is repeat in the supine position wha ,ou just did standing, extending the knee and projecting the tracing for cii traduction on the opposite wall rather than on the floor. Then, with tin is a basis for comparison, bend one knee and project the same kind of tracii on the wall from an imaginary line running down your thigh.

You will notice immediately that you get a much bigger projection hen your knee is bent. Swinging the thigh around in the same directs 1 as before, it does not make much difference at first whether the knee >ent or extended. But as soon as you have the thigh flexed straight to the I >nt, knee flexion enlarges that segment of the projection considerably >ver what is apparent with the knee extended. Moving on around, as you al luct the thigh straight to the side, you get only marginally more thigh abdu ton with the knee flexed than extended. Finally, everything is reversed a.1- you try to bring the thigh to the rear. Knee flexion at that point stops t ugh hyperextension cold because the rectus femoris muscle comes u der extreme tension and keeps the thigh lilted. Be careful at that stage n< to hurt your knee.


Next, to examine how this works in a dynamic movement, improvise freely, circumducting the thigh with varying combinations of knee flexion and extension. always sweeping the thigh in as wide a "circle" as possible. These are all valuable exercises for hip opening in their own right even though they are not practical for a class. They work best at the end of a firm bed.

As you play with the different options and combinations for knee flexion and thigh abduction, you can begin to understand how the hamstrings, adductors, and hip flexors in combination affect circumduction of the thigh, and you will be encouraged to see that lengthening these muscles even a little can improve hip flexibility. Circumduction of the thigh also clarifies for us how hip flexibility is limited by the inherent structure of the joint itself, and once you become aware of the limits imposed by the individual muscles, you can begin deeper work. As an experiment, do a series of hip-opening postures, both the simple ones outlined at the beginning of this section and some of the more demanding ones described later, then try a balanced hatha yoga practice for an hour, and come back to the same hip-opening exercises at the end. After you arc warmed up. you will not only be more flexible, you will be conscious of more bony and ligamentous constraints.

a supine half lotus hip-opener

The next exercise—a supine half lotus hip-opener—does two things: it improves hip flexibility, and it stretches the adductors and deep back muscles. And because the back is stabilized against the floor, it is safe as well as effective. It is less rewarding early in the morning than after you are thoroughly warmed up. but once you get acclimated to it the pose will become a favorite. Lie supine and draw the heels toward the hips, keeping the feet on the floor. Then bring the left ankle to the near side of the right knee, resting the ankle against the thigh and pressing the left knee away from the body. P&ss the left hand into the triangle formed by the two thighs and the left leg, lift the right foot off the floor, and grasp the right shin with the left hand just below the knee. Pull the left foot down closer to the pelvis with the right hand, plate the right forearm above the left ankle, and interlock the fingers around the right shin just below the knee (fig. 6.20).

nght wrist instead of below, or by gasping (He back side of the right n'gh instead of the right shin.

directed in text, or modify it as

"feded, for exampl e by permitting '"e right ankle to rest above the

Rgure 6.20. To do this supine half-■otus hip-opener, proceed as as



If you are not flexible enough to get into this position, you can keep le right wrist below the left ankle, or you can grasp the thigh instead of in' r_ locking the fingers around the knee. Do it any way you can. Rock from |e to side as far as possible without falling. Then draw imaginary circles ,n the ceiling with the right knee. Go as far to the left as possible without topp ig over, and pull on your right knee, deeply stretching the adductor mus >s on the left side that attach posteriorly along the inferior pubic rami. 'I n go as far to the right as possible, again without toppling over, and pull, fet ig the stretch higher in the back. In this position, the right thigh is fit 'd straight toward the chest, so the right adductors are not being pi; -d under much tension, but the left adductors are stretched by the m<xl d half lotus combination of flexion, abduction, and lateral rotation. Re; at on the other side.

gqlgi tendon organ stimulation

The following exercise lengthens the hamstrings and reaffirms the pi ci-ples of working with feedback circuits between tendons and their mu les (chapter 1). It is safe for beginners because the back and pelvis are stabi ed against the floor. Ixjcate a length of cloth or a belt that can be thrown er one foot and grabbed with the hands. Then do a standing forward lx to test the initial length of the hamstrings. Next, lie down with the butt ki> against a wall, the feet facing the ceiling, and the thighs flexed yoc froi 1 he trunk. Keep the knees extended and the feet together, and toss the do or belt across the sole of one foot.

Keeping one leg against the wall, draw the other foot away from t ht all by tugging on the bell with the opposite hand. Keep both knees extei -"d-With the other hand, first locate the ischial tuberosity on the side yoi ire working with, and feel the hamstring tendons that lead distally, ui ind away (toward the ceiling) from that point of origin. Second, locate the < rd-like hamstring tendons that connect the bellies of the hamstring mu les to their insertions on the tibia and fibula. These tendons can be fell ist proximal to the medial and lateral sides of the knee joints. Once the tei >ns are all located, hold the cloth or belt firmly and press the thigh towar he wall isometrically, bringing the hamstring muscles into a strong sts of contraction. Then, keeping that tension on the hamstring muscles, di ply palpate their musculotendinous junctions with your free hand, first '»r their origins and then near their insertions. Repeat the exercise or he other side. To complete the experiment, stand up, again try the fon trd bend, and notice how much further you can come down.

Vigorously palpating Golgi tendon organs of the hamstring mu les when the hamstrings are in a state of isometric contraction relaxes he muscles, and we can see the evidence moments later when they accommo ite r

6. mKVAKD HEMJIMi rOSTVRIS Jfiy to a greater length under conditions of passive stretch. For example, if we guess that the hamstring muscle fibers had been receiving }0 nerve impulses pei- second before the isometric endeavor and massage, they might receive only 20 nerve impulses per second in the same stretch after the treatment, releasing some of their tension and enabling us to bend forward more gracefully. Even more to the point, the diminution in motor neuronal input seems to last for as long as a day or two, supporting the usual advice to do hatha yoga postures eveiy day.

hip opening in inverted postures

When the body is inverted, hip-opening is both safe and effective because the hip joints are not bearing the weight of the body as a whole. In either the headstand (chapter 8) or the shoulderstand (chapter 9), you can stretch the hamstrings on one side at a time by pulling one foot overhead, and you can stretch the adductors by allowing gravity to abduct the thighs. From the shoulderstand you can come into the plow or half plow to stretch the hamstrings on both sides, and you can do that while abducting the thighs maximally to stretch the adductors. You can also fold one foot into a half lotus position and lower the other foot overhead toward the floor to stretch the hamstrings on one side. Finally, you can work within the hip joint by folding up the knees and hips in any number of ways that reduce muscular tension.

forward bending with one foot tucked in

Sitting forward bends with one foot tucked in are among the most useful hip flexibility stretches for beginners and intermediate students. They do not place as much stress on the lower back and sacroiliac joints as the posterior stretch, and they are asymmetrical postures that are helpful for working with right-left imbalances.

To begin, sit on the floor, stretch one leg out in front of you, and pull the other foot in toward the perineum. The thighs will be at about a 90° angle from one another, and you will be facing about halfway between the two. Next, to work with this posture conventionally, twist the spine 45° to face the outstretched leg and come forward without lifting your hands overhead or making an attempt to bend initially from the hips. Let the hands rest, depending on your flexibility, on the outstretched thigh, leg, or foot (fig. 6-2ia). Remain in the posture for about half a minute and then slowly unroll, first at the hips and then in the lumbar region. Finally, lift the head and neck. Repeat on the other side.

LThis forward bend toward one foot is useful for several reasons. First, w'th one knee flexed, it is stretching the hamstrings on only one side. Second, even though it is stretching the adductors to some extent on both

370 anatomy of hatha yoga sides, it creates more stretch on the side to which you are reaching becai e the knee on that side is extended. This is one of the best possible postures I r working with the adductors on one side at a time. Finally, the forward be 1 with the pelvis angled 45" creates different and generally fewer stresses- n the hip joint and lower back than the posterior stretch, making this post e safer and less discouraging for beginners.

After getting accustomed to this pose, try a variation. Again come 1 o the prehminary position with the right knee extended, but insteai if reaching out directly toward the right foot, press your left forearm aga st your left knee. In most students, this will pry the right hip off the floor, d that's fine. Now reach out and slide the right hand against the I >r halfway between the two thighs, approximating a 30-45' angle from ie outstretched leg. Keep reaching toward your limit even though it lifts ur right hip even more. The idea is to stretch the adductors on the right 1 re than the previous posture. Then try reaching out closer to the right < >t, perhaps 10-20" oft'axis from the right leg, in order to increase tension n more in the right adductors (fig. 6.21b). These variations are mainl ur beginners and intermediate students. Those who are already flexible ill not find them very interesting because their adductors can easily at n-modate to all of the stretches.

Finally, after exploring the poses in which you are reaching out an angle, come back to the original posture and reach straight towai he right foot. You will find that you arc able to come further forward ig-6.21c}. The hamstrings are still resisting almost as much as before, bu he stretches off axis from the extended knee have relaxed and lengthene he adductors on that side, and the increase in how far you can now reac! s a rough measure of how much they were contributing to your limitatii s— over and above restrictions from the hamstrings—in the initial postu

These are all elementary stretches, and in keeping with the spi of meeting the needs of novices, they should all be explored by simply r ng forward naturally, working from distal to proximal, coming into the st tch first with the upper extremities, head, chest, lumbar region, and hips "d then releasing in the opposite direction one step at a time from the h --to the upper extremities. Since these are asymmetric postures, you si dd repeat the series on the other side. After a warm-up, you can tak the option of moving briskly back and forth from one side to the oth to determine if one side is tighter, and then concentrate your attei ion accordingly.

When students are comfortable with these postures, they can art thinking about re-ordering their priorities by reaching up first witi he hands and bending from the hips, then the spine, and then the hea< md neck. Only advanced students with good flexibility should try the final tep

6. hxmkxari) BOWING HIXUl(RKV 371

of catching the outstretched foot to pull themselves fully into the pose, however, because we see the same problem here as in the posterior stretch: advanced students come into the posture by releasing rather than increasing tension on their spines, and beginners who pull forward with their hands may strain their lumbar region. Coming out of the pose, beginners should roll up and out as always (even if they came into the posture bending from the hips), intermediate students should release slightly in the hips and lower back before reaching forward, out, and up, and advanced students can do whatever they want, including reaching out and then up as a first priority.

Figure 6.21a. With the left foot placed against the right thigh, come forward in an initial trial to feel and evaluate hamstring tightness.

Figure 6.21b. Pressing the left forearm against the left knee, reach out at various angles (in this case 20°) to stretch the adductors on the right side.

Figure 6.21c. Notice the improvement. This is due to having lengthened the adductors, some of which have a hamstring character and which limit •he forward bend for the fame reasons as the true I hamstrings.

372 anatomy ot hatha yooa

Another variation of this series of postures that may be of more inter» to intermediate and advanced students is to place the pulled-in foot high on the opposite thigh before undertaking the forward bends. This variatioi not recommended for those who have poor hip flexibility or for anyone v. n chronic low back pain, since it places peculiar and unanticipated stres s on the lower back.

forward bending with thighs abpucted

Forward bending with the thighs abducted stretches both hamstrings d adductors. In its usual form it is a symmetrical posture for intermeri te and advanced students who have already achieved good hip flexibility S' it with the knees straight and the thighs abducted. Then initiate a forv d bend leading first with the promontory of the sacrum to achieve ur personal maximum for nutation. Then bend from the hips, or try to di ,o, before bending additionally in the lumbar spine. Those who have od sacroiliac flexibility will feel their ischial tuberosities spread apart am ill be able to flex the pelvis forward whde keeping a prominent lumbar ch (fig. 6.22), but as in the case of the posterior stretch, those who are inflt ;>le are likely to be at their limits of sacroiliac nutation and hip flexibility m ely trying to sit up straight.

In this posture tight adductors add to the problem of tight hamst igs for two reasons. First, spreading the thighs apart places the addi ors under tension even before you start to bend forward. Second, because me of the adductors take origin posteriorly along the inferior pubic rami ley will pull forward on the underside of the pelvis just as surely as the rra-strings. Compared with the posterior stretch, the additional difficult ou have coming forward is due to the adductors, and if you are not very fl< ible you are likely to be struggling. If you can't separate the thighs mori nan 90c, it means that both the hamstrings and the adductors are limitii the stretch. The simplicity of the problem makes this perhaps one of the lost maddening postures in hatha yoga for stiff novices.

Those who have good sacroiliac and hip flexibility have a complete liferent experience. They may even be able to bend all the way to the ,>or> keeping the back straight and even keeping the lumbar region arched for ird.

Figure 6.22. In this advanced forward bend with hip joints abducted, the thighs literally get out of the way of the pelvis, which can drop all the way forward to the floor in the most flexible students.

6 forward henmm; pumvres 373

This 180* hend from the hips can happen only because full sacrodiac nutation in combination with extreme abduction gets the thighs out of the way quite literally, and permits the front of the pelvis to drop down between them. This, in fact, has to happen in the most extreme cases of abduction, in which the thighs are spread straight out to the sides. What happens at the level of bones and joints under those circumstances is that the pelvis rotates forward and allows the anterior borders of the ilia to drop down between the necks of the femurs just as we saw with some of the hip-opening stretches (figs. 6.iye-f). The only difference is that here, those who are especially flexible are able to both abduct and to flex their hips fully when their knees are extended.

The extreme abduction in this posture, in combination with the pitched-forward pelvis, reveals one more feature. In comparison with the posterior stretch, it actually takes tension off the hamstrings because the sacroiliac joints slip to the extreme of nutation, spreading the ischial tuberosities laterally and posit ioning them closer to the insertions of the hamstrings, which are located out to the side in this posture. This means that those who have a lot of sacrodiac mobility will not be limited by either the hamstrings or the adductors in this stretch and will be working on limitations within the hip joint itself.

It is even more important to be attentive to foot position in this posture than in the posterior stretch, because with the feet spread so far apart, you may not notice that one foot is angling out more than the other. The cause of this is right-left imbalances in the medial and lateral rotators of the thighs, and these cannot be corrected except by paying attention to detail over a long period of time. If you are relatively inflexible, you should find the foot position that interferes the least with your attempts to bend, so long as you keep both feet at the same angle, but if you are more flexible you should analyze carefully which foot position gives you the most useful stretch. Many instructors who are watchful of such matters will suggest that you tiy to keep both feet perfectly upright.


An alternative for those who cannot come very far forward in the previous Post ure is to work with it asymmetrically and dynamically, combining the Pose with a mild spinal twist. From the starting position reach with your right hand toward your left foot (or thigh, knee, or leg) while at the same time swinging your left hand to the floor in back of you and giving yourself a little push from behind to aid the forward bend. Then come up partially and reverse the position, reaching with your left hand toward your right foot and pushing yourself forward from behind with your right hand. Exhale each time you come forward, and inhale each time you come up.

374 anatomy of hatha xx,a

This dynamic churning exercise is more rewarding for beginners tha the previous pose because the emphasis on movement allows them to fe< as if they are accomplishing something. It's also helpful because tl asymmetry of the movement allows them to work with extra concentrate on the side that is showing more restrictions.

three more variations with abducted thighs

Three more variations of sitting forward bends with the thighs abduct 1 are commonly taught. For the first one simply face the left foot and be 1 forward. If the thighs are spread to a 90° angle in the first place, this \ |] require a 450 twist in the spine in comparison with bending straight forw 1 toward the floor. Repeat on the other side.

For the second and more demanding variation (fig. 6.23a), tuck the ' ft foot in toward the perineum, and while remaining upright, twist li t. Follow this with a side bend to the right, at the same time reaching o\ r-head with the left hand toward the right foot. This superimposes lat< <d flexion to the right onto a spinal twist to the left. Again, repeat on the ot t side.

The last variation is similar to the second one except that both knees re extended. With the thighs abducted, sit straight, twist enough to lie right—45° if the thighs are at a 90" angle from one another—to face he right foot, and do a side bend toward the left foot. Repeat on the other Je. Like the previous pose, this posture is more fitting for advanced stud' its who can reach overhead with the free hand, grasp the toes, and nil further into the side bend (fig. 6.23b). This should done carefully, espe< lly if you do the posture after you are warmed up, because so much of >ur attention is placed on whole-body twisting and bending followed by pi ng with the free hand that you may not, notice you have just dislocated >ur hip. One time a friend of mine got canned away doing a demonstration md did exactly that. So be watchful. If you feel something give, come 1 ick delicately to a neutral position and stop doing all postures for a day so to evaluate what has happened.

Figure 6.23a. To come into (his twisted side bend, tuck the left foot in, twist left, bend to the right, and reach overhead with the left hand toward the right foot. This superimposes lateral flexion to the right onto a spinal twist to the left.

Figure 6.23a. To come into (his twisted side bend, tuck the left foot in, twist left, bend to the right, and reach overhead with the left hand toward the right foot. This superimposes lateral flexion to the right onto a spinal twist to the left.

6. hikw aki) he.wmng itlsti res 375

These last two postures are among the few side bends that are possible from a sitting position. Even so, they are not pure side bends because they are superimposed on sitting spinal twists. This makes them less natural and more complex than standing side bends (chapter 4), in which the thighs are extended and in line with the torso, and in which a relatively simple lateral flexion of the spine is possible.

sitting twists

Sitting spinal twists, which we'll discuss in the next chapter, create stretches and stresses in the hip joint not found in any other type of posture. Every sitting spinal twist in which you lift one knee and pull it toward the opposite side of the body opens the hip joint, and does so without many encumbrances from muscular attachments, and, as we have seen repeatedly, when the muscles are not limiting hip flexibility we are down to bare bones, joints, and ligaments.

the kneeling adductor stretch

To create the purest passive stretch of the adductors, especially lor students who are not very flexible, warm up for at least half an hour, and then kneel down on a well-padded carpet with each knee on a small sheet of cardboard. Drop the head and chest, and settle onto the forearms with the forehead resting against the crossed hands. Slowly slide the knees apart, letting the feet move to whatever position is most comfortable as the body weight abducts the flexed thighs, possibly to an angle of about 120° from one another. Stay for a while in a position that permits the most abduction.

Next, slowly move the torso forward. This may permit you to slide the knees further apart (fig. 6.24J. Then slide the knees somewhat closer together and lower the hips to the rear for more flexion. Try to relax. As you flex the hips and take your weight to the rear, you will be stretching different parts of the adductors than when you bring your weight forward, and anyone who is not very flexible will find that moving to the rear is an

F|gure <>.23b. For this twisted side bend, abduct the thighs, twist right, bend left, ar"J again reach overhead with the free hand toward the opposite foot.


intense stretch that should be approached with caution. Last, you can y coming all the way forward, but be careful of this if you have lower b; k problems because the pose creates an acute backbend that places a lot if stress on this region.

These exercises are among the most effective stretches available ir the adductors, and working with them five minutes a day as a part i a balanced practice will soon show results in all postures that depend in adductor flexibility, including all forward bends, all standing posti es with the feet wide apart, and all cross-legged sitting postures.

Unite Mind Body Spirit With Yoga

Unite Mind Body Spirit With Yoga

Practitioners of yoga talk about a unification of body, mind and spirit acquired through practicing the yoga exercises and techniques. Learn more within this guide.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment