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A Balanced Yoga Sequence to Lotus Pose

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QUESTION
I struggle with tight hips and I want to learn Lotus Posture (Padmasana). Can you suggest a sequence that will help me open my hips and do Lotus Pose?

ANSWER
There’s a common mistake many of us make when trying to grow a Lotus: We focus too much on stretching the outer hips and forget to open the other muscle groups that make up the hip joint. Don’t get me wrong: the outer hips usually need plenty of help. But, the key to freedom and balance in your hips is working with all the muscle groups that affect the joint, not just your bum. The following sequence will make your hips be happier and healthier — and, if anything is going to help you sit in Lotus, it’s this practice.

THE ESSENTIAL ANATOMY

There are a couple of things to understand about your hips in order to approach them skillfully in your practice. First, your hip joint (coxal joint) is a ball and socket. This is simple enough, but it has big implications. It means that your hip joint is 360 degrees and has muscles around the entire circumference that produce motion in the joint. In order to create a balanced hip opening sequence you need to address all of these muscle groups. Be sure to target each of the following muscular compartments:

Hip Flexors

These muscles cross over the front of your hip joint and flex the hip.

Adductors

These muscles that line the inside of your upper thigh are usually left out hip-opening sequences. If these muscles are tight, your knees will remain far away from the floor when you attempt Lotus. These muscles need to be supple so that the thighs can drop as you fold your legs into Lotus.

Hamstrings

The hamstrings are not a significant factor in Lotus and they’re not usually thought of as hip muscles. However, they originate on the bottom of your pelvis, cross the back of the hip socket, and run down the back of your leg. The primary joint that they work on is the hip joint. This means that a balanced hip opening sequence will include postures that release this group of muscles.

External Rotators and Gluteus Maximus

Describing the Gluteals and their functions in a few words is tough because this family of three muscles does a lot of different work. Suffice it to say that we tend to think of this region when we think of hip openers. This is the bittersweet part of the body that we stretch when we do Pigeon Pose.

Abductors

Targeting this region is another key step in releasing hip tension and developing Lotus. These muscles run from the outside of the hip, cross the outside of the hip joint and attach to the outside of the thigh. Since this region is harder to get good leverage on than the external rotators, it is often short-changed in hip opening sequences.

THE SEQUENCE

It’s a good idea to warm up for this sequence with 5 to 15 minutes of Sun Salutations.

Modified Anjaneyasana

Focus on rooting down through the top of your back foot and lifting up through your hip points to get the most from this hip flexor opener. Maintain mild abodominal engagement while you do this pose.

 

Low Lunge Quad Stretch

This posture continues the hip opening that began in Anjaneyasana and digs deeply into the quadriceps.

 

Prasarita Padottanasana

This wide-legged standing forward bend stretches your hamstrings and adductors. It also prepares you for the more intense squat that follows.

 

Malasana

This is the most effective standing posture for releasing tension in the adductors. Use forearms to press your thighs away from the midline to intensify the stretch.

 

Pigeon Pose with a Twist

This version of Pigeon will help you access part of your adductors and external rotators and lead to more comfort in Lotus. To be effective, lift and turn your torso toward your front leg. Use your hand to pull strongly against your front knee.

 

Ankle-to-Knee with a Sidebend

To make this posture most effective, be sure to place your top ankle on your bottom knee and flex your foot.

 

Padmasana

I don’t think of Padmasana as a “hip-opener.” I think of Padmasana as a posture to sit in once your hips are open. Unlike the previous postures, Padmasana doesn’t use effective leverage to stretch the muscles of you hip-joint. In fact, the leverage induced through your shin bones in this posture is more likely to stress your knees than your hips if your hips are restricted. With this in mind, here is a step by step approach to folding your legs into padmasana:

  1. Start with both legs straight in Staff Pose.
  2.  

  3. Bend your right knee deeply and bring your right heel to your sitting bone. Do NOT simply bend the right knee and drag the foot into Half Lotus. Instead, fully flex the right knee first–without externally rotating it.
  4.  

  5. Now, that your right knee is fully flexed, externally rotate and abduct your right knee. Then, bring your leg into Half Lotus.
  6.  

  7. If your right knee is comfortable in Half Lotus, proceed to Step 5. If not, take your leg out of lotus and work on any of the above postures that felt the most necessary.
  8.  

  9. If your right knee is comfortable in Half Lotus, bring your left leg into Full Lotus.
  10.  

  11. Make sure to place your feet high enough on your thighs to prevent your outer-ankles from over-stretching.
  12.  

  13. Take a few breaths before repeating on the other side.
     

This post was originally featured on yogaglo. Please visit yogaglo.com where I offer online classes as well as e-courses focusing on sequencing and anatomy.

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Yoga and Your Hips, Part II

Baddha Konasana
For more than a decade, I’ve quivered at the thought of attending a hip-opening workshop. Having played ice hockey and been a skateboarder for more 15 years, my hips were molten lead that no amount of Pigeon Pose could crack open. Now, 20 years in, I’ve chipped away and breathed steadily enough to be halfway comfortable and mobile in these joints.

As I step back and look at the challenges my hips presented, I finally realize that the issue wasn’t just hockey and skateboarding. Part of the problem was that I didn’t understand the joints or muscles that I was working with. I didn’t have a “map” of the region to make sure that I was stretching and strengthening all the muscles involved in the hip joint. I was overly focused on my outer hips and hamstrings, while ignoring my hip flexors and adductors. I didn’t understand the nature of the hip socket and that truly “opening” the hips requires a more intelligent, comprehensive approach.

I’m creating this guide because I know it would have helped me practice and teach more effectively years ago. This is the approach that I stick to when I’m working with my students and trainees—and, when I teach anatomy live and online. I’m hopeful that it will give you a simple framework for understanding your hip muscles. Make sure to check out my Illustrated Guide to Yoga and Your Hips, Part 1. It describes the structure and ligaments of the joint and will help you understand the hip joint more clearly. I’ll be creating Part III very soon. It will provide you with a balanced sequence for strengthening and opening your hips. Click Here to Subscribe, and you’ll receive Part III in your inbox as soon as it’s ready!

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Yoga and Your Hips, Part 1

parivrttajanu
Yoga has made me curious about my body for more than 20 years. When I feel restriction in my outer hips during Pigeon Pose, I wonder what exactly is holding me back—is it my gluteus maximus, my piriformis and external rotators, my posterior capsule… or my questionable karma? Hey, I’m a Virgo, I don’t like surprises, and teaching yoga is my passion, so I like to understand these things. That’s fair, right?

My hips have been a source of constant inquiry. I grew up skateboarding and playing ice hockey, so you can imagine that I’ve had my work cut out for me when it comes to creating more range of movement. For years, my singular focus was to open my hips. Now, a little older and a little wiser, I have a more balanced approach to my hips that also includes plenty of strengthening work.

When I started creating online anatomy programs with Paul Roache, MD, I built them for three people: me, myself, and I. I needed to build a program that would help me understand the body in a more refined, yet simplified way.

Now, I’m creating these Illustrated Guides to Yoga and Anatomy for the students in my trainings—and, for you. If you’re interested in understanding your body and creating more sustainability in your practice, then we’re on the same page. And if you want to train with me more formally, you can either join my online anatomy course (details here), or join me for my teacher training in San Francisco launching February 15, 2016. You can take the entire training or come for individual modules. (Details here.)

This Illustrated Guide to Yoga and Your Hips, Part 1 focuses on the joint structure and ligaments. I know it’s not as sexy as the musculature, but the structure tells us a very interesting story if we’re patient enough to listen. It tells us the story of the body’s complementary demands of strength, stability, and flexibility. Unlike the relatively unstable ball and socket joint in your shoulders, the hip-joint is extremely strong due to the nature of the socket and the reinforcement it receives from the ligaments and muscles. Plus, if you understand your hip’s structure, you’ll have a much easier time understanding your muscles.

Now, let’s look at a quick, simple glossary so that you are on point with your terms:

Coxal Joint: This is the anatomical term used to describe the hip joint.

Head of femur: The rounded top of your thighbone that fits into your pelvis. This is the “ball” in the “ball and socket” of your hip.

Acetabulum: The dish-like part of your pelvis that the head of the femur fits into. This is the “socket” in the” ball and socket” of your hip.

Labrum: Fibrocartilaginous tissue that encircles the inside of the acetabulum. The labrum helps the head of your femur sit more deeply into the acetabulum, helps absorb shock, and helps form a seal for the fluid inside the hip joint. It’s made of the same tissue that the meniscus in your knee is made of and provides similar functions.

Ischiofemoral ligament: Located on the back of the hip joint, this ligament connects the ischium to the femur. This ligament helps limit excessive extension and adduction (internal rotation).

Iliofemoral ligament: Running from the front of the pelvis to the femur, this is the strongest ligament in the body. Its’ primary role is to limit excessive extension in your hips.

Pubofemoral ligament: Also running from the front of the pelvis to the femur, this ligament limits excessive extension and abduction (external rotation).

The Front of Your Hips
This simple, clean rendering shows the ball and socket with the ligaments and muscles removed. The head of the femur is colored silver so that you can easily see the nature of the ball and socket joint.

Front of Your Hip Joint

The Back of Your Hips
Another image that shows the ball and socket without the muscles or ligaments. This view is from the back.

Back of Your Hip Joint

The Center of your Hip Joint with the Femur Pulled Away
This illustration shows the interior of the ball and socket. You can see how the head of the femur plugs into the acetabulum and is encircled by the labrum. It reminds us that the hip joint is a full, 360 degree circle and that we want to create strength and flexibility in the entire circumference. This illustration will help you understand how the muscles are laid out in Part 2 of this series!

Center of Hip Joint

Your Acetabulum and Labrum
If you’re familiar with what the meniscus looks like, you’ll see that the labrum is almost visually identical. If you’re not, I’ll be creating a guide to yoga and your knees soon! Notice how the labrum is a horseshoe-shaped to cushion the femur and allow it to glide more smoothly in the socket.

Acetabulum and Labrum

Ligaments on the Front of Your Hip
The ligaments on the front of your hip are strong, powerful tissues that limit excessive hip extension and abduction. This means that these ligaments—if excessively tight—may have a limiting effect on hip extension your backbends or anything that requires your legs to be separated far apart, like Baddha Konasana.

Ligaments on the Front of Your Hip

Ligament on the Back of Your Hip
The Ischiofemoral ligament, which runs from your ischium to your femur, reinforces the back side of your hip joint. It limits excessive internal rotation.

Ligaments on the Back of Your Hip

I hope this illustrated guide gives you insight into your hips and helps you teach your students with greater confidence and clarity. We’ll look at the hip muscles in Part 2 and “best practices” for your hips in Part 3 (coming soon).

In case you missed them, here’s The Illustrated Guide Yoga and Your Core, Part 1 & Part 2.

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