In The Key Muscles of Yoga, I point out that athletes experience improved performance and fewer injuries when they have a fundamental knowledge of their anatomy and biomechanics. For this reason, I recommend that you add The Daily Bandha to your favorites and return every day or so to review one or two of the concepts presented here. This will allow you to integrate these tools into your yoga practice. After just a few sessions, you’ll begin to apply the techniques unconsciously, improving your poses and aiding to prevent injuries.
In our last post, we discussed the concepts of joint congruency and joint reaction forces as related to yoga. These are among the most important principles to understand for both practitioners and teachers, because many poses can take the articulations to the limits of their range of motion. Take a moment to review this post and look at the new video which shows these concepts in action in Padmasana (Lotus Pose).
Now, on to releasing the internal rotators of the hip . . .
The main muscles that internally rotate the femur at the hip are the tensor fascia lata (TFL) and gluteus medius. The gluteus minimus contributes to this action when the hip is flexed. Conversely, when the internal rotators are tight, they can limit external rotation of the joint, a key component in poses like Lotus. Practicing this asana without releasing the TFL and gluteus medius can lead to excessive joint reaction forces in the knee. This is because the rotational component of the pose is directed into the knee. The key is to use the hip (which is a ball and socket joint) to do the rotation, while protecting the knee by maintaining it as a hinge.
To release the TFL and gluteus medius, I use a technique called the “cradle stretch.” In it we lift the lower leg, as shown here. This action externally rotates the hip. Do not allow the knee to sag forward away from the body—this is important. Cradle it in the crook of the elbow so that the knee is maintained as a hinge. Place the outer edge of the foot into the crook of the other elbow and engage the peroneus longus and brevis muscles at the outside of the lower leg to evert the foot. Extending the toes also helps. This aids to maintain the congruency of the knee joint and helps to protect it from injury.
Take the leg to a point where you feel a moderate stretch in the muscles at the outside of the hip—the TFL and gluteus medius. Hold this position by contracting the biceps, pectoralis major, and latissimus dorsi (shown in blue). Then gradually start to press the edge of the foot into the forearm, as if you were trying to bring it away from the body. This activates the stretching TFL and gluteus medius (shown in red). Build the contraction of these muscles slowly to about 20 percent of your maximum force (or less). Take four to five smooth deep breaths, and then stop pressing the foot into the forearm. At this point you will have elicited the relaxation response through stimulating the Golgi tendon organ at the muscle-tendon junction. Then “take up the slack” by gradually lifting the foot a little higher and drawing the knee a bit further across the body. Hold this new position for a few breaths. Continue to protect the knee as you take it out to the side, bend it, and place it on the floor. Feel the difference between the two hips. Repeat on the other side. Contracting and releasing the stretching muscles uses PNF to lengthen the hip internal rotators.
|Cradle stretch with inset of peronei contracting to evert foot.|
If you are unable to cradle the leg as shown, don’t despair, and don’t force it. Use the variation illustrated here with the mannequin. Protect the knee with one hand and press the edge of the foot into the other hand. Work like this for as many sessions as necessary until the TFL and gluteus medius have released enough to move into the full cradle. The lower back can tend to collapse into flexion when practicing this stretch. Engaging the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum muscles (extensors of the lumbar spine) will help to protect against this. Note how slightly extending the lumbar also accentuates the stretch of the TFL and gluteus medius.
Remember to go slowly with PNF. Allow about 48 hours for recovery before repeating the technique on any given muscle group. It takes a few sessions for the new length to be ingrained in the body, so don’t get discouraged if you feel a bit tight again when you come back to this position.
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We’ll see you for the next post when we’ll talk about how to lower the knees closer to the floor in Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose).
Ray and Chris