This week, Jason comes back to Yogaland to answer your questions, specifically:
– Is the cue ‘flatten your tailbone’ correct or outdated?
– Why do yoga teachers tell us to flex the foot in Pigeon Pose? How does it protect the knee?
– Why is sacroiliac pain such a pain in the a$$?
Thank you to all of you who have sent in questions!
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Common wisdom tells you to work daily on the yoga poses that bring up resistance and challenge you. Personally, I’m okay with this sentiment—after all, there’s plenty of value in exploring the edges of your comfort zone. As a practitioner and teacher, though, I tend to emphasize the opposite—I choose to indulge the postures that I love with egregious frequency. I encourage the teachers that I train to do the exact same thing. We love the poses that we love for good reasons: they awaken us, they ground us, they soothe us, they challenge us, and they nurture our mind’s ability to focus and settle down.
These five yoga poses come up time and time again in my classes because I’m shamelessly enthusiastic about them.
5 Favorite Yoga Poses
Urdhva Dhanurasana — It Soothes Me
Yep, that’s right, I find Urdhva Dhanurasana deeply soothing. Yes, I’m aware that everyone and their cousin goes on and on about how uplifting and energizing backbends are. But, honestly, my experience is the opposite. A nice, strong Urdhva Dhanurasana (or 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6) actually cuts through whatever narrative my mind is engaged with, focuses my attention, and burns off whatever anxiety I may be experiencing. Urdhva Dhanurasana is never easy for me, but it’s always settling.
Paschimottanasana — It Humbles Me
Paschimottanasana bums me out. I’m always prattling on about integrity of movement being more important than range of movement. Even though I firmly believe this, the first thought that runs through my head when I practice Paschimottanasana is, “Ugh. Is this really as far as I can go today?” This pose continues to reveal how judgmental I can be toward myself and provides me with the opportunity to let go.
The bittersweet release of Pigeon Pose is undeniable. While the big, tension-busting stretch in the outer hips steals the show, the posture has another component that helps produce a grounding effect: The vast majority of your body is laying on the floor when you do the posture. Sure, it’s intense for many, but the intensity is always local. The majority of the body has the opportunity to drop, release, and let go into the floor.
Handstand — It Balances Me
There’s a saying in England that black tea wakes you up if you’re tired and quiets you if you’re unsettled. My experience of Handstand is the exact same. If I need an uplifting boost of energy, practicing Handstand does the trick. If, on the other hand, I’m overstimulated, a minute or two in Handstand grounds my energy and rebalances my mood.
Oh, the poor side body. It can be challenging to access and rarely gets treated to elongation in day-to-day life. Even in asana practice the side-body rarely gets the TLC that the hips, shoulders, core and spine receive. Thankfully, Parivrtta Janu sirsasana digs deeply into the side-body and wrings out tension. When I do this pose I literally have to will myself to get out of it. I want to stay there, nestle in, and take a nap.
I’d love to hear from you. What postures are keeping you calm, grounded, and sane these days?
Hands down, Pigeon Pose is my favorite backbend. I love the combination of opening my hip flexors, external rotators, chest, spine, and shoulders at the same time. I also love the feeling of doing a big, demanding backbend. But, I’m not going to lie — I need a belt to hold my foot in the pose. And, when my body is being stubborn I put a bolster under my front leg. The drawing in this infographic isn’t from a photo of me. It’s from a photo I took of Charles, my student. A lot of these pose breakdowns are illustrations of me, but we needed Charles to make this one look pretty.
So, my one quick tip is to embrace whatever help your body needs in order to get the benefits of this pose. Some postures are so demanding that you can’t do them unless you’re a freak of nature or you started gymnastics at age 3. Even with props, you just can’t get a feel for certain postures. But, Pigeon is incredibly easy to prop. And, when you’re humble — and smart — enough to take the support that you need, you can get all the benefits of this posture. Although the props aren’t illustrated above, I’ll tell you how to use them in the “How To” section below.
WARM UP FOR PIGEON POSE
It’s important to prepare your entire body for Pigeon Pose. More specifically, you need to stretch your hip flexors, external rotators (of your hip), spine, and shoulders. The best way to do this is to do a full backbending sequence that includes Pigeon Pose toward the end. A good option would be to use my sequence for Urdhva Dhanurasana, adding Pigeon after Urdhva Dhanurasana. If you want to create your own sequence, include several lunges to open the quadriceps and hip-flexors; a progression of backbends that include Cobra, Bow, and Upward Bow; and shoulder openers such as Gomukhasana and Dolphin. You might also want to use my 5 Tips for Better Backbends article to get started.
PIGEON POSE- STEP-BY-STEP
1. It’s important that you’re already familiar with the simple forward bending version of Pigeon Pose before you start practicing the backbend. The forward bending version is much more accessible and teaches you how to align your legs and hips for the pose. So, I’m going to assume that you’re already familiar with the basic alignment of forward bending Pigeon before we proceed.
2. Come into Pigeon Pose with your right leg forward. If you anticipate that you’re going to need some help in the pose, grab a bolster (or two blocks) and a strap.
3. The first thing to do if you’re using a prop is to elevate your front hip and thigh. (In this case, your right hip and thigh.) Putting a bolster or a block under you hip alone won’t help. In fact, this might even tilt your pelvis the forward — which is the wrong direction for a backbend. Instead, put a bolster under your right hip, thigh, and knee so that they’re all elevated. If you’re using blocks, put one block under your right sitting bone and one block under your thigh close to your knee. Raising your hip and thigh will decrease the amount of flexibility that is required in your hip-flexors and external rotators to do the pose. It will give you a little boost.
3. The second thing to do if you’re using a prop is to make a loop in your strap, wrap it around the arch of your foot, and tighten the strap snugly. The long tail of the belt will give you something to hold onto if you’re not able to hold your foot.
4. Whether you’re using props or not, walk your hands toward your hips and press your finger tips into the floor. Press your front shin and the top of your back foot into the floor. Lengthen your spine and lift your chest. Take a deep breath as you prepare to connect your hands with your back foot.
5. Bend your back knee, reach back with your right arm and take hold of your inner arch (or your strap). If you’re flexible enough to forego the belt, bend your elbow and rotate it toward the ceiling. Also, change the grip on your foot so you’re holding your big toe or the outside of your foot. If you’re using a belt, bend your elbow and allow some of the strap to slide through your hand. Allow enough of the belt to slide through your hand so that you can bend your elbow and rotate it toward the ceiling.
6. Reach your left arm overhead, bend your elbow, and take hold of your foot (or the strap). Now, that you’ve connected both hands to your right foot (or strap), you’re there. Take a few breaths and refine the posture by having a friend read the instructions in the infographic.
7. Take a moment or two after the pose to appreciate what you’ve done. Even if you needed some help, the pose is worth trying — and, worth savoring.
WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT ANATOMY, SEQUENCING, AND ADVANCED YOGA TEACHER TRAINING?
I offer both online trainings and live, in-the-flesh ones around the world. Here are a few of the courses that are currently open. (For a full schedule, go to my Schedule page.):
These are, hands down, my 15 favorite hip opening yoga poses.
Creating a balanced, effective hip-opening sequence is simple if you know how the hip muscles are laid out. When you don’t have for a map for their hips, you’re at a higher risk for overstretching your hamstrings and external rotators compared to your hip flexors and adductors. Teachers make this mistake in their sequencing regularly and, as a result, hamstring insertion injuries are one of the most prevalent injuries in modern yoga.
If you haven’t read them already, start with Yoga and Your Hips, Part I and Part II . The model of the “5 Muscular Compartments of Your Hips” in Parts I & II is the same approach that I take when I teach anatomy live and online. (And If you want to learn even more about yoga anatomy and yoga sequencing, you can join me in my yoga anatomy course or yoga sequencing course.)
The sequence here contains my three of favorite postures for each compartment of your hip. I practice this sequence several times a week and I still love the feeling of space and mobility it gives me. I hope it helps you feel good in your body, too!
One quick thing before the sequence breakdown: If you’d like to be among the first to know about our new posts, sign up for our newsletter. As a thank you, we’ll send you a free arm balance guide, plus 5 sequences that are not on the blog!
15 Hip Opening Yoga Poses
Hip Compartment #1: Hip Flexors
Pose 1: Anjaneyasana
Keep your back thigh vertical here. Why? Because keeping your back thigh vertical and stacking your pelvis and spine directly over your thigh helps stretch your quadriceps and hip flexors.
Pose 2: Anjaneyasana
Lower your hips forward and down to isolate and stretch your hip flexors, especially your rectus femoris.
Pose 3: Anjaneyasana
Leaning into the side bend from Anjaneyasana helps stretch your obliques and quadratus lumborum along with your hip flexors.
Hip Compartment #2: Adductors
Pose 1: Malasana
Malasana provides a thorough, inner leg stretch while also flexing the knees and hips deeply.
Pose 2: Prasarita Padottanasana with bent knee
Bending one knee and pressing your forearm against your thigh allows you to create a deep, sustained stretch on the entire adductor group.
Pose 3: Bound Side Angle
The action of binding in this posture provides you with a shoulder opener in addition to the adductor stretch.
Hip Compartment #3: Hamstrings
Pose 1: Parsvottanasana
This foundational standing pose allows you to focus on stretching one set of hamstrings at a time. This may be more effective for students with tight hamstrings than stretching both sets of hamstrings at time like you do in Uttanasana.
Pose 2: Prasarita Padottanasana
In addition to stretching your hamstrings, this pose also stretches your adductors.
Pose 3: Standing Split / Warrior III Hybrid
While similar to Parsvottanasana, this one-legged standing posture provides a deep, isolated hamstring stretch.
Hip Compartment #4: External Rotators
Pose 1: Pigeon Pose
This bittersweet posture uses the weight of your entire body to stretch your external rotators.
Pose 2: Ankle-to-Knee
Placing one ankle on the opposite inner knee externally rotates your thighs even more deeply than Pigeon Pose.
Pose 3: Reclined Pigeon
Clasping your leg and reclining in Pigeon Pose stretches your glutes, external rotators, and abductors.
Hip Compartment #5: Abductors
Pose 1: Reclined Gomukhasana
Reclining in Gomukhasana allows your entire body to relax and settle, while providing you with a deep abductor stretch.
Pose 2: Gomukhasana
This classic seated posture provides efficient leverage for opening your abductors.
Pose 3: Gomukhasana with sidebend
Including a sidebend in this posture gives you a deep abductor stretch while also releasing tension in your obliques and quadratus lumborum.