Main event: Hanumanasana, forward split

This week we have been moving towards Hanumanasana, or the forward split, during practice. This fantastic pose requires both forward bending action at the front leg/hip interface, and back-bending action at the back leg/hip interface, along with suppleness in the hamstrings.

(Note that in class, we add many additional poses before trying hanumanasana, so go slowly if you are trying this on your own, and above all, be gentle with your body – the hamstrings tend to be vulnerable to tearing if pushed too quickly into a stretch.)

But first, as we continue to explore hip biomechanics, it is important to examine the “duck” and “tuck” action of the hips – or, referred to in a more scholarly manner, the anterior and poster tilt of the pelvis (see photos below). Neither extreme is helpful in yoga poses, as too much the anterior tilt compresses the lower back vertebrae and discs, and too much posterior tilt rounds the upper back and strains the lower back muscles and ligaments.

Utkatasana (fierce pose) demonstrating the duck (anterior tilt) and tuck (posterior tilt) of the pelvis.

Being able to isolate these movements in various asanas will give one a better sense of one’s patterns – whether one tends towards lordosis (over-arching the lower back = anterior tilt) or kyphosis (over-rounding the lower and upper back = posterior tilt). These patterns tend to show up in all other poses, so being aware of them allows one to correct them. In addition, the patterns will show up in riding as well, with anterior tilt leading to a stiff lower back that cannot follow a horse’s movement, and posterior tilt leading to extremely tight hip flexors and rounded shoulders, again leading to an inability to elegantly follow a horse’s movement.

Some good poses in which to try both extremes of duck and tuck and then find the “happy medium” follow. These poses also allow one to explore more hip action and also lead to our main event pose.

Start with Supta padanghustasana (lying down hand-to-big-toe pose) and Anjaneyasana (lunge) variations from last week’s practice. Think about how your pelvic tilt changes as you practice these poses.

Supta padanghustasana: Press the foot into the strap with the same pressure as you pull on the strap. Keep bottom of extended leg moving toward floor.
Bending and straightening the leg can help in finding space in the hip socket
Turn foot and knee out at the same angle starting at the hip joint. Keep hip bones even on floor – do not be tempted to go too far at the expense of alignment.
You can allow the leg to cross all the way over the body for this twist. Draw the upper hip away from the shoulder and keep pinky side of foot drawn back/flexed.

Anjayenasana, or high and low lunge poses, provide nice counterposes throughout the practice – throw in this pose anytime you feel like you’d like to stretch out the hip flexors to rebalance the body during the sequence.

Anjaneyasana – high lunge: Counter pose to forward folds
Anjaneyasana – low lunge: Arms can be raised above shoulders for additional stretching of hip flexors. Press top of back foot into ground for stability; pad under back knee with blanket if uncomfortable.

Then move onto Prasarita padottanasana (wide legged forward fold) variations below.

Prasarita padottanasana starting variation, with hips over ankles and spine extended. Note that feet are parallel to each other.
Prasarita padottanasana variation with knees bent and long spine helps one access the hinge at the hips, which will be necessary for the next variation of the pose.
Prasarita padottanasana variation with head moving towards floor. Hands are between feet and front spine is long – the bend comes at the crease of the leg/hip interface, not at the waist. Weight is shifting slightly toward balls of feet. Think “duck” to lift seat-bones here.
Prasarita padottanasana with arms clasped being back. Note what happens to the lower back when you first bring the arms together behind your back – likely a “duck” anterior tilt. Correct this by drawing your lowest ribs together and your abdominal wall up towards the ribcage.

Next, practice Utthita padangusthasana, standing hand-to-big-toe pose variations. It’s like the earlier hand-to-big-toe pose, except standing – how is it a different experience for you now that the orientation of your body to gravity has changed? Note that forward folding poses progress in difficulty from supine (lying back, least difficult) < standing < seated (most difficult).

Utthita padangusthasana with leg forward and to the side. Explore pelvic tilt even in this pose.

Parsvottanasana, intense side stretch (as pose that looks nothing like it’s English name, in my opinion!) really asks the hamstrings to extend. Again, please be gentle with yourselves, and only go to about a 6 or 7/10 intensity level on this pose at first.

Parsvottanasana preparation – one can also put one’s hands on blocks to help keep the front of the spine long
Parsvottanasana intensified – the belly, then the lowest ribs touch down on the extended front leg.

Next is Upavistha konasana, or wide legged seated forward fold. Note that a posterior tilt (tuck) is very common here, as is rounding the back – resist both by placing a folded blanket under your seat and bringing the belly down first.

Upavistha konasana. Keep the knees and toes pointing straight up towards the ceiling, even as you move deeper into the pose. The front of the spine remains long.

Finally, move into Lizard pose (no Sanskrit name that I know of!). Start with the hands down, then bring the forearms onto a block or the floor. Hug the arm with the front knee (which will want to splay out). The back knee on the floor or a blanket makes the pose a little more accessible; lifting the back knee adds intensity.

Lizard pose – note that the foot is outside the hand.

And finally – Hanumanasana, or forward split pose. It is vital to keep the back leg from turning out in the hip socket by continuing to turn the knee towards the floor, and drawing the back leg’s hip forward, while the front leg’s hip draws back.

Hanumanasana. Use blocks and the breath to help yourself ease into the pose – and don’t get overly ambitious!
Hanumanasana-ahhhhhhh 🙂

Happy practicing and ~namaste!

Sylvia

Main Event: Eka hasta bhujasana (leg over shoulder pose)

Our Spring 2018 yoga courses are focusing on the varying biomechanics of yoga poses through “main event” poses – end starting with forward folds. The first week’s pose is aka hasta bhujasana, leg over shoulder pose, which requires the practitioner to have full range of motion in the ball-and-socket hip joint and pliable hamstrings. The poses below will help you on the journey to the pose – the journey might not end next week, next month, or even next year, but it’s well worth it to nurture “well-oiled” hips (and lower back as an incidental positive effect). Happy practicing! ~namaste, Sylvia

Supta padanghustasana: Press the foot into the strap with the same pressure as you pull on the strap. Keep bottom of extended leg moving toward floor.
Bending and straightening the leg can help in finding space in the hip socket
Turn foot and knee out at the same angle starting at the hip joint. Keep hip bones even on floor – do not be tempted to go too far at the expense of alignment.
You can allow the leg to cross all the way over the body for this twist. Draw the upper hip away from the shoulder and keep pinky side of foot drawn back/flexed.
Anjaneyasana – high lunge: Counter pose to forward folds
Anjaneyasana – low lunge: Arms can be raised above shoulders for additional stretching of hip flexors. Press top of back foot into ground for stability; pad under back knee with blanket if uncomfortable.
Half pigeon pose extending forward: Flex the foot of the bent leg, and place the bent knee far to the right (if right leg bent). Keep the weight evenly distributed on both hips. Keep the front of the body long.
Flex the back foot, draw the heel back enough for the knee to leave the ground, encourage the hip on the same side to move forward – this stretches the hip flexors.
For a bigger stretch of the hip flexors and front of the thigh, draw hip of back leg forward.
Rocking the leg in the hip socket 1: Sit with spine upright – a blanket under the hips will assist in this
Rocking the leg in the hip socket 2
Cradling the leg: The preparatory pose prior to moving into full leg over shoulder pose
Eka hasta bhujasana – leg over shoulder pose: Place the leg as high up on the back of the shoulder as possible, and press the upper arm into the leg to encourage it to move further back. Keep chest lifted.

PS: Our asana practice is followed by philosophical readings from TKV Desikachar‘s The Heart of Yoga to set the context for physical practice – if you practice with us remotely, please join us in reading this lucid, guiding text, and leave your thoughts below!

 

 

Sidedness

In this week’s classes, we focused on examining how the left and right sides of our bodies feel different – what is tighter? what is stronger? what is looser? what is more flexible? We are all one-sided to an extend, as are our horses, and this is not inherently “bad” – it just is, just as our internal organs are not all symmetrically distributed inside our bodies. Nonetheless, riding, and especially dressage, does require symmetry, and it is something with which many riders struggle.

It is much easier to identify and begin to undo one’s sidedness when on a yoga mat, rather than when riding one’s horse – who himself has sidedness to a lesser or greater extent. As long as one takes an approach of curiosity, rather than obsessiveness, to exploring one’s sidedness, it can be fun to figure out what is us and what is the horse when we have difficulty while tracking to a particular side! Then, using our yoga practice as a tool, we can come to more symmetry, balance, and happiness all around.

Sidedness often originates in the hips, with uneven psoas or piriformis muscles, although there are other causes too, of course. One hip may be higher than the other, or one side may be further forward than the other; often, both imbalances are present, and they have a ripple effect through the body. The pictures below demonstrate – in exaggerated form – these misalignments.  Once you have identified what is going on with your hips – itself a process of awareness and exploration – you can use asana practice to rebalance the sides.

These are exaggerated examples of one hip higher than the other (top row) and a torque in the hips (bottom row). Often, both misalignments occur together.

I usually suggest to students that they begin with the side that needs help first, then do the asana on the other side, and then return to the first side – hence repeating the asana twice on the more challenging side. For example, of your right psoas is tight, hold a lunge with the right leg back first, then switch to the other side, and then return to the first side, with right leg back.

If you have identified a torque in your hips, then the variations of the Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana) below can be useful. The first photo is the classic way to do the pose, opening the hip crest up and back. The second photo is not how the pose is usually taught, but helps re-align the torque in the hip. In both variations, be aware of not allowing the knee to fall in toward the center of the mat.

If your left hip torques forward (first photo of this post, lower left corner), then roll the right seat bone under and the left hip up and back.
If your left hip torques back (first photo of this post, lower right picture), then draw the crest of the rim down and forward.

Happy exploring and happy practicing!

~namaste