“. . . according to the Yoga Sutra (3.1), the term [Bandha] refers to the ‘binding’ of consciousness to a particular object or locus (desha), which is the very essence of concentration.”
Georg Feuerstein

Friday, July 1, 2011

Using the TFL to Refine Utthita Parsvakonasana

Many of the standing poses have a lunge component; that is, the forward hip and knee flex while the back hip and knee extend. It is not unusual in these types of asanas for the forward knee to drift inward, with the pelvis moving in the opposite direction. An example of this is Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Lateral Angle Pose).

Positioning the knee over the ankle aligns the leg bones, especially the femur and tibia. This brings the anatomic and mechanical axes closer together, so that support in the pose is derived more from the strength of the bones than from muscular effort. Additionally, allowing the knee to drift inward can place stress on the lateral compartment of the joint. Adjusting the position of the femur and the tibia aids to distribute the joint reaction forces over a greater surface area.

tensor fascia lata
Click for larger image.
Here’s the Anatomy . . . 


The tensor fascia lata (TFL) originates from the front part of the outer surface of the iliac crest and the anterior superior iliac spine. It inserts onto the fascia lata (iliotibial band). The fascia lata continues down the thigh to insert onto the front outside of the upper tibia at Gerdy’s tubercle. The TFL abducts, flexes, and internally rotates the hip joint. It can also synergize the quadriceps to extend the knee when it is flexing less than 30 degrees. If the knee is flexing greater than 30 degrees, then the TFL can act as a knee flexor.

tensor fascia lata and triceps

gluteus maximus and TFL on the back leg
Here’s the Cue

In my personal practice, I achieve this alignment by engaging the tensor fascia lata on the bent leg. To activate this muscle I straighten the elbow and then gently press the outside of the knee against the arm, as shown. This abducts the thigh at the hip joint. Because the arm keeps the knee from moving backwards, the abduction component of the TFL has the biomechanical effect of drawing the pelvis forward. This helps to open the front of the body in the asana. Additionally, activating the tensor fascia lata synergizes the psoas in flexing the hip and tilting the pelvis. Tilting the pelvis forward in this manner laterally flexes the trunk and helps to turn the torso efficiently in the pose. The gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, and gluteus maximus muscles all contribute to these actions.

I follow-up contracting the TFL with gently engaging the back-leg gluteus maximus to extend and externally rotate the hip. These combined movements aid to stabilize the pelvis and lengthen the adductor muscles.

antagonists of the pose stretching

Click here to see the TFL in action in Downward Facing Dog.

Practicing with cues that engage muscle groups enhances the mind—body connection created by the pose. I use Tadasana as a barometer to gauge this awakening by returning to it between the individual asanas.

Always, in your particular case, consult your health care provider before practicing yoga or any other exercise program. Always practice yoga under the direct supervision of a qualified instructor. See full disclaimer here.

Thanks for stopping by. Check back next week when we'll go over working with the TFL and its contributors in other poses. Be sure to download our free interactive eBook. Also, don’t forget to tell your friends about our blog and to visit us on Facebook for your free chakra poster (we ask that you pay shipping and handling :)).

Namasté,

Ray and Chris

7 comments:

  1. Hi and thanks for the above post.

    Question: I'm trying to imagine how the TFL can help abduct the front knee to keep it in line with the front foot. Because the hip is flexed so deeply, wouldn't the TFL be in a state of passive insufficiency? Also, because the foot is fixed, wouldn't the action of pressing the knee laterally be more of an action of lateral rotation of the thigh at the hip, which is the opposite of what the TFL does?

    In my practice and teaching, I usually cue the Gluteus Medius (lateral and posterior fibers) and even Gluteus Maximus (superior fibers) to help keep the knee over the heel, and also cue people not to turn the pelvis so hard to the side that bony compression between the acetabulum and femoral head causes the femur to swing medially.

    Would be great to hear your thoughts on the above.

    Best,

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  2. Hi Jason,

    Although not at optimal length for contraction, TFL still can contribute to action of abduction (with the glut med). The movement probably has a component of external rotation, but having external rotation does not mean an abductor that also internally rotates the hip cannot still be active.
    When hip is flexed, like in this pose, glut max and posterior glut med are likely also insufficient (or contracting very eccentrically). The key to this post is the cue of pressing the side of the knee into the arm. This engages several muscles that have the effect of aligning the knee over the ankle. I do not say to turn the pelvis "hard". Note that I "gently" press the knee into my arm. The synergy of turning the pelvis results from engaging the hip flexors. The net result is the pelvis contributes to the lateral flexing of the trunk, rather than it coming primarily from the spine. If I am teaching this technique, I always have students "ease in" to all of the engagements and if they have any discomfort, to ease out.

    Thanks for posting--good to hear from you.

    Best,

    Ray

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  3. Hi and Thanks for the wonderful anatomy. Definitely it helps in correcting the postures. Me specifically have undergone 2 accidents, yet by His grace has good flexibility.Yoga and naturopathy blended with spirituality and positive attitude has helped me to be successful.I appreciate your presentation with good graphics which is easily understandable.Thanks again.

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  4. Thanks Gayatri. All the Best~Ray

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  5. passing this along to folks in my class, great stuff, thanks!

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  6. Thanks Adan--good to see you.

    Ray

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