In yoga asana, we often experience imbalance in our body, where certain muscles love to be powerful and to dominate – like our hip flexors – while others (our adductors and abductors) begin to soften, weaken, and become quiet. By bringing our bodies into balance and allowing each muscle to truly step back fully into its functional role, the whole of our system becomes more expansive, powerful, and expressive.
Five minutes to Hip Functionality
I learned this marvelous and simple exercise from Susi Hately Aldous. You’ll need a block and a strap.
- Lay in semi-supine (lay down, knees bent)
- Place your hands on your hip flexors (place your hands at the crease of your thighs and hips)
- Lift one leg at a time
- Feel your hip flexors fire under your hands
- Now, place a block between your upper thighs (as high as it will go)
- Squeeze the block and hold. Release. Repeat several times.
- Notice what you feel beneath your hands.
- Now, release the block and place a strap around your mid-thighs snugly
- Press your thighs out into the strap firmly and hold. Release. Repeat several times.
- Notice what you feel beneath your hands.
Did you notice your hip flexors firing when you squeezed the block or pressed out into the strap? Most of us will. However, we don’t need our hip flexors to fire when we’re doing either of these actions. If your hip flexors fire, that is a sign of these big and overworked muscles are trying to take over for the adductors (inner thighs/ squeezing the block) or abductors (outer thighs/ pressing into the strap). Your muscular relationships have become co-dependent.
- Try the exercise again; this time keeping your hip flexors as settled and quiet as possible
- Are you able to let them quiet down? Even a little?
- Once you’ve let them become silent, increase the force that you use against the block or strap.
- In other words, once you’ve empowered your boundaries, you can increase your power – functionally. Sounds a lot like a relationship to me.
Application to Asana
Here are some ways to bring this functionality into your asana. Empowering your boundaries will make your practice lighter, more functional, and more free. Now, having great boundaries isn’t necessarily “easy” – in fact, at first it might be harder – but it creates the groundwork for more power and personal expression.
In Surya Namaskar:
- Hug a block between your thighs through the whole cycle: how does this change your core connection? The lightness of your spine? How does this empower your plank?
- Strap yourself snugly at your mid-thigh: how does this change your strength? Your plank and chaturanga? The freedom of your lower back?
In your externally rotated poses (Warrior II, Side Angle, Triangle, Half Moon):
- From Warrior II, use your hands to actively externally rotate your front thigh in the socket and press your knee towards your pinkie toe
- Feel the outer hip engage to support you
- Keep this support so that your knee tracks over the center of your ankle as you transition to Side Angle, Trikonasana
- In the transition to Half Moon, can you keep this integrity through the outer line of your hip as you move? You can even place a hand to the outer thigh and actively press into your hand as you move. This action will begin to imprint the support of your outer leg into the movement.
- Once in Half Moon, use the stability of your outer hip to deepen your hip crease. As you stabilize the lower leg, then you will have the freedom and stability to open the pelvis and spine safely towards the side wall.
Crow pose is not only a balancing pose. And trying to balance your knees in your armpits will disconnect your midline and your core – the very support that you need to realize this pose effectively.
- Toes together, knees apart, come into a low squat
- Bring your elbows underneath your knees so that your knees are hugging the outside of your arms, as high up as possible
- From this low and tight position, squeeze your knees and connect to the inner lines of your legs
- Now, stay low as you shift forward and lift the toes off the floor
- If you’re feeling your inner thighs – you’re doing it!
- Once your feet lift, squeeze your knees in to lift your upper back to the sky and straighten your arms
- Use the connection of your inner thighs to squeeze in to send you up
To do this, we’ll play with lifting both legs at the same time. If you have a regular handstand practice, add this into the mix to explore the connection of the inner and outer thighs.
Most of us know the importance of the inner thighs in handstand. After all, we squeeze the legs together like crazy once we’re up. Reinforce this action on the lift up by placing a block between the upper inner thighs as you hop up.
- Downdog at the wall, block between your thighs
- Bring your shoulders over your wrists and straighten you arms completely
- Keeping your tailbone high, bend both knees and squeeze the block
- Squeeze the block, keep your arms straight as you play with hopping the hips above your shoulders and bringing your legs into a pike position, then eventually straight up
- Do the same with a strap at mid-thigh to bring the outer legs online.
What have you noticed in these explorations?
Do you feel more integrated, lighter? Is there more or less space for your own growth and expression here?
Creating strength in our adductors and abductors will free your power muscles to do their job with greater functionality and grace. Although waking them up may take a little effort and time, the greater result will be integration and ease.
I used to think that boundaries would make me hard, impermeable, rigid, un-loveable. But in fact, cultivating boundaries and unsticking ourselves gives us space to grow.
Having clear boundaries lets us nourish our internal goodness so that we can shine our best self forward. Then we have the strength to uphold others with compassion. We can serve as an inspiration to those needing to find love in their own eyes rather than the eyes of others.
In the Upanishads, it is said, “The pleasant is one thing. The good another.”
May we rise to the good.