Vinyasa III: Hip Healers

10 Sep

This Hip Helping Vinyasa is lovingly dedicated to the talented Matney Cook, a horse & human-healer and musician I am honored to have on my journey, and also in gratitude and dedication to all my beloved teachers, past, present and future.  Namaste.


 

1.Virasana_on_blocksVirasana on Support Please take care to build up your support in this posture by stacking two or three blocks and a blanket to sit on, then slowly removing layers until you are in a comfortable posture. The sensation is felt in the belly of your thigh muscles, never in the knee joints (if you feel strain/stretching in your knee joints, you are doing damage to the body; please come out of the pose and find a higher seat until there is no knee pain). The inner knees touch; the feet are just under or slightly wider than the hips. The spine is tall, sit bones equally rooted, shoulders relaxed, back of neck long. Enjoy at least ten rounds of your choice of pranayama (suggestion: belly breathing) with your palms folded in your lap.

Note: the next series of asanas can be done seated in a chair or squat if your knees do not tolerate Virasana

2.Urdhva_Virasana

To find Virasana with Arms Extended, reach your arms in front of you, level with the floor. Bend your elbows, interlace your fingers, and flip your palms away from your face. Keeping the alignment of your spine (avoid over-arching the back), lift your arms overhead, elbows straight. Breathe fully here. Inhale to lift energetically through the hands and top of the head; exhale to melt any tension down through your legs into the earth.

3.Virasana_Twists

To Twist in Virasana begin by noticing your hip alignment. Notice that the right and left hip bones are level. Inhale, lift through the crown of the head. On your exhale, draw your navel in toward your spine. Keep an expansive inhale and gentle drawing in for the exhale throughout the twist. Inhale, grow tall through your spine. Exhale, lead the twist with your belly button (not your face) and keep your hips square as you twist right. Inhale stay in the depth of your twist, then exhale spiral deeper beginning with the belly, followed by ribcage. You may place your left fingertips on your right knee and your right arm behind you (if you are on height, you may wish to use a block behind you to rest your fingers). Breathe dynamically gently moving deeper with each exhale, keeping chest lifted and shoulders relaxed from your ears. After five to ten breaths, inhale to unwind back to center. Exhale, settle here for a moment. Repeat the twist to the left.

5.Virasana_Side_Bending

Keeping shoulders lowered away from the ears & back of your neck long, inhale your right arm up beside your ear. Exhale, keeping sit bones rooted evenly, arc over to the left, keeping the left side body long. Lift your belly to lift your left arm up on the inhale—both arms extend overhead—and then exhale reach over to the right, side bending and resting your right hand onto the floor or a block. Continue breathing dynamically through Virasana Side Bends, inhaling to lift the arms overhead, exhaling the find a side bend. Feeling the arch in your upper back, space between your side ribs. If you neck feels happy, you may choose to gaze up toward your lifted arm. After five rounds of dynamic side bending, you may choose to hold the side bend expression for a few full, chest- and belly-expansive breaths. Inhale to return to center; exhale rest the arms at your sides and absorb the effects.

 

4.Supta_Virasana

Be mindful of the sensation of the knees in Supta Virasana: your sensation should be felt in the belly of the thighs; not ever in the knee joint. If you feel a pulling or tightness in the knee joint, come out of the pose and try Dhanurasana (an upcoming pose, on your belly) instead. From Virasana, Inhale to lift your chest. Exhale, roll your shoulders back and down away from the ears. Inhale lift through the spine. Exhale, begin to walk your hands back on the floor. Inhale, lift the heart toward the sky. Exhale here. Inhale lift your hips slightly off your block. Exhale, draw your tailbone toward your knees to create more space for your low back. A tendency in this pose is to crunch the lumbar spine, so mindfully keep space for the low, neutral back and find the arch in the upper back. Inhale navel to spine as you return to vertical.

 

6.Trianga_Mukhaikapada_Paschimottanasana_Variation

From Virasana, extend your right leg out in front of you for Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana Variation. Find that the sit bones are even; you may need to adjust your block or add a blanket or second block to help level the hips. Lift tall through your spine. Lasso the ball mounds of the feet with your strap and walk your arms forward on the strap so your elbows are straight, without rounding your spine or shoulders forward. Inhale and lift tall through the heart and crown. Having your leg outstretched like this may create a strong sensation in your hamstring: if so, breathe here into the space of tension. Engage your quadriceps muscles at the front of your thighs and feel equal weight in right and left sit bones. Inhale to extend tall, and exhale—if you have space, can keep your spine neutral and knee straight—hinge forward at the hips, drawing your shoulders back and leading with your heart for a slight forward bend in the pose (if your knee bends or your spine rounds, avoid bending forward and instead breathe and keep the spine tall). Stay in your expression of the pose for five to ten breaths. Inhale to lift back to neutral. Gently bend your right knee to place your leg back in Virasana, extend your left leg and repeat on the left side.

 

7.Supta_TMP

Begin in Virasana with one leg forward, lifting tall through the crown. Exhale, begin to walk the arms back behind the body. Pause a moment to lift the hips slightly and draw the tailbone toward the knees. Each inhale lengthens the spine, and each exhale moves you deeper into the posture. Breathe in this Supta Virasana Variation, feeling the inner thighs rolling in and down, for five to ten breaths. Extend your neck long, shoulders down away from ears. Inhale to lift up with the strength of your arms. Change legs and repeat on the opposite side.

 

7.Urdhva_Prasarita_Padasana

Urdhva Prasarita Padasana begins on the back with knees bend, feet on the floor. Draw your knees into your chest on an inhale, and exhale to extend your feet up toward the sky. Lasso the ball mounds of both feet and walk your arms up your strap until the elbows are straight and the shoulders are lifted slightly away from the mat. Straighten your knees and engage your quadriceps—this may mean lowering the legs toward the floor until your knees can be straight. Feel the sacrum balanced on the floor; internally rotate your thighs; the tops of your thighs away from your torso. Observe the alignment of your knees, ankles, and feet. Keep the navel drawn back toward the earth. Soft face. This can be a very strong pose, so practice here with a strap, creating space in the hips and low back by pressing the tops of the thighs away, extending through the heels.

 

8.Supta_Padangusthasana

Transition to Supta Padangusthasana from UPP (above) by removing the left foot from the strap and placing the foot on the floor (knee bent to start). Check in with the hip alignment. On an exhale, extend the left leg to the floor, flexing the toes toward the knee and drawing the inner thigh down toward the earth. Soften your face, root the top of the left thigh down and feel the low back lengthen. Keep both quadriceps engaged to help release the hamstring muscles. Remain here for at least 30 seconds—up to two minutes—so that your body’s stretch reflex lets go and you can truly help the hamstring muscles to lengthen. Inhale, return to UPP by placing the left foot up into the strap. Exhale, lower the right foot to the floor and repeat on the right side.

 

9.Iliotibial_Band_Stretch

From Supta Padangusthasana with the left leg lifted, place both straps in your right hand, extending your left arm on the floor in T, palm face up. Plug your left hip into the floor (see arrow); keeping your hip in contact with the floor, move your left foot toward midline (to the right). Inhale pause. Exhale, move the leg maybe a centimeter to the right. Exhale to pause. Here you will find an Iliotibial Band Stretch, but if you go to far across the midline, you will miss the stretch. Lengthen your left side body long (the hip tends to hike toward the ear, so balance your hips side to side). Breathe here for at least five to ten breaths. Inhale, lift the leg back up to straight. Mindfully switch sides, and repeat with the right foot lifted, moving across toward the left.

 

10.Supta_Kapotasana

Staying on your back, feet on the floor with knees bent, cross your right ankle over your left thigh for Supta Eka Pada Utkatasana (Figure Four). Be very mindful of hip alignment in this posture, as it is easy for one side of the hip to creep up toward the ears. Keep length in both side bodies and slowly, on an inhale, lift your left thigh toward your torso. You may place a strap behind the left thigh or if your arms reach, clasp your hands behind your left thigh. Check back in with hip alignment; shift your weight slightly toward the left side. Keep both those flexed toward your knees to prevent knee strain. Big inhale, slow, complete exhale to melt any tension out of your hips. Stay here for up to ten breaths, softening the face and incrementally, gently, drawing the left thigh closer toward the torso, gently accessing the stretch of the right piriformis. On an exhale, slowly release the left thigh and lower the foot to the earth, followed by the right. With feet as wide as your mat, inhale, and exhale to lower the knees to the right. Inhale through center, and exhale lower the knees to the right. Repeat as many times as feels great for your body before finding Figure Four on the opposite side.

 

12.Dhanurasana_Variation

Roll onto your belly and fold your blanket to the hot dog orientation, placing it under your forehead. Keeping your forehead on the floor, catch your ankles with your strap and flex your toes toward your knees. Notice the stretch in the quadriceps, forehead still on the floor. Root the pubic bone down into the floor to protect the low back from compression. If the sensation in your thighs is intense, stay here and breathe deeply, melting tension one ach exhale. This may be your work for some time until the quadriceps can let go. To progress to Dhanurasana Knees Down Variation, the knees and pubic bone stay grounded for the rest of our work in this pose. Inhale, roll your shoulders back and down away from ears; exhale, pressing your ankles into the strap to lift the chest then forehead off the floor. The arms are not doing the work, except for holding onto the strap. Find the lift of the torso from the strength in the legs. Inhale, broaden your chest; exhale, root the pubic bone down into the earth and press the legs away from the body. Exhale, lower down, release your strap, let the head rest on the blanket and feet on the floor. Breathe deeply into the space of the low back.

 

11.Dhanurasana_Variation

Catch your ankles with your strap, floint (flex and point) the toes, and press the feet into the strap. Keep the feet hip wide apart, knees hip wide apart. Root the pubic bone into the earth, and notice the stretch in the quadriceps. If this sensation is intense, stay here and breathe, inviting your quadriceps muscles to let go with each exhale. This may be where you work for awhile until your quad muscles lengthen and you can easily keep the pubic bone touching the earth.

To progress, connect with your core; rooting your pubic bone down into the earth, lengthening the small of your back. Keep your head comfortably resting on the blanket for Dhanurasana ~ Knees Up Variation. On an inhale, roll shoulders back and away from ears. Exhale, press feet strongly into your strap, keeping the knees hip wide apart (they will want to splay apart). Continue pressing the feet into the strap, and perhaps you will find that the knees are able to lift a centimeter off the floor (this takes a good amount of hip extension, so if this is not possible for you, don’t be concerned; Anjaneyasana and the variation of this pose described above are great work for you to practice). Exhale, lower the knees back to the earth for a resting breath. Inhale, repeat, pressing the feet into the strap to lift the knees, keeping the pubic bone rooted and the low back neutral. Exhale, release the knees down. Repeat lifting on the inhale and releasing on the exhale. When you are ready, lower feet to the earth, placing the strap to one side. Invite at least three full belly breaths into the space of your low back, inflating so that your back lifts away from the earth.

Please find Bhaktasana (devotional), Balasana (child’s pose) or Puppy Pose as a counter pose before moving on to the next postures.

 

13.Mermaid_Flips

Lay on your side with either a block covered by a blanket for your head or holding your head in your arm for neck support. Bend both knees, stacking the ankles. Place your hand on your hip and notice if the top hip creeps toward your ear. Lengthen both sides of the body. Keeping the knees together, inhale to lift the top foot up, leading with the heel (toes point toward the earth) as you internally rotate your thigh slightly without shifting your hip alignment. Exhale, slowly lower your foot back down, taking your time and using the entire duration of your out-breath. Continue Mermaid Flips for at least ten rounds of breath, feeling some warmth in your hips and core from this gentle yet strong work. Smile. You can progress to the next two postures before switching sides.

 

14.Clamshells

In the same orientation as Mermaid Flips, this time keep the feet married as you inhale to lift the top knee up toward the sky. Exhale, slowly lower your top knee to meet the bottom. Use the entire duration of your breath to inhale open, exhale close your hip for Clamshells.  Mindful of your hip alignment, your breath, and keeping the top hip from rolling back as you inhale. These postures may not look glorious, but they are doing good work on your deep stabilizing muscles, so be loving and precise with these movements.

 

15.Iliotibial_Strengthener

Continuing in the same orientation as Clamshells, extend your bottom leg straight out, knee extended, heel flexing toward your body. You may keep your top hand on the hip for added challenge (pictured) or place your fingertips on the floor in front of your body for stability. Bend your top knee and place your foot on the floor. Check in with hip alignment. Inhale, lead with the heel to lift your bottom, extended leg an inch or so off the floor. Exhale to lower. Repeat with breath for five repetitions, gradually increasing to ten, then thirty, with practice. Whale Fins strengthen the adductors as well as the glutes and hips, so breathe deeply and have a soft, happy face as you practice.

To progress, you may wish to inhale, lift the heel and hold for a few breaths, then lower slowly down. Maintain the alignment of the knee and see that the heel is elevated higher than the toes.

 

16.Anjaneyasana_Chair

Transition slowly through hands and knees, making your way to standing with a chair nearby. Here we will find Anjaneyasana on a Chair, emphasizing the alignment of the hips and extension of the back leg. Begin with your right thigh resting on the chair. Step your left leg back, tucking your toes under. Hands on your hips, walk the toes back and extend back through the heel, lifting the inner left thigh up toward the sky. Plug the right hip back and draw the front of the left hip forward. This action lengthens the left leg in both directions, while protecting the hip joint. Lift your front ribs up and back, side body long as you inhale your arms forward, 90 degrees. Exhale, plug your shoulders back. Inhale to lift the arms up and overhead, without arching the low back. Keep drawing the tailbone down toward the earth, extending back through the heel, lifting the arms up. Your body is extending in all directions here, from a strong core center. Exhale, lower the arms down to the hips, and mindfully step your left leg forward. Transition to the other side.

 

17.Virabhadrasana_Chair

Setup for Virabhadrasana I on a Chair is similar to Anjaneyasana. Here, angle the heel toward the middle of the mat slightly as you plant the foot down onto the floor. This requires slightly greater openness in the back of the legs. Press down through the outer edge of the foot, lifting the inner arch. Same process to lift the arms overhead. Cactus arms are also an option. Keep drawing the hips square—right hip plugs back as the left hip draws forward, pressing out through the back leg. Exhale to return the hands to hips, stepping the back leg forward. Transition to the opposite side.

 

18.Adho_Mukha_Svanasana_Chair

Adho Mukha Svanasana Variation on Chair (Down Dog) or at the wall helps us to find a neutral spine while using the support of a chair or the wall. With the chair at the front edge of your mat, stack one forearm on top of the other on the back of the chair—palms resting on elbows. Step your feet back and bend your knees as you lower your chest and torso level with the earth. Keep the knees bent as you inhale, lengthen your spine back through your tailbone. Exhale, draw your belly button toward your backbone, creating a slight concave belly. Find length in the side body, a gentle stretch in the shoulders. Keep the knees bent as you hone in on the beautiful length of the spine that can be experienced in this supportive Dog pose. If you are able to keep the neutrality of your spine, you may choose to begin, on each exhale, to draw the inner knees / inner thighs back as you straighten your knees. Keep the tops of the thighs moving back, length to the spine, space between the torso and hips. Breathe in your expression of the pose. To come out, bend your knees, gaze forward, and step one foot at a time toward your chair to stand up. You may also practice at the wall with arms extended, palms flat on the wall shoulder wide apart.

 

19.VirabhadrasanaIII_Chair

Virabhadrasana III at the chair begins in Adho Mukha Svanasana as above. It is absolutely okay to practice this posture with the standing knee bent. Most important is the alignment and protection of the neutral spine in this pose. With the belly lifted toward the spine to protect the low back, inhale to extend the left leg straight up and back. It does not have to come level with the floor (as shown); if your foot hovers a few feet off the floor that is great. More important than how high the leg floats up is the action of the hips: draw the inner left thigh up toward the ceiling so the flexed toes point down ot the earth. You can move dynamically here, inhaling to lift and exhaling to lower the leg. Notice the alignment of the hips; move slowly and mindfully with breath.

If you are feeling very strong and balanced here, you may choose to inhale, lift the leg and exhale hold the lift, extending out through the heel and out through the arms, belly lifted and strong. Notice hip alignment, keeping the hips level with the floor. Exhale lower the foot and repeat on the opposite side.

Uttanasana at Wall (forward fold, not pictured) begins standing with the hips resting at the wall, feet hip wide apart. Inhale, extend up through he crown of the head, engage the quads and draw your inner thighs back. Exhale, navel to spine as you hinge forward from the hips, lowering your torso between your thighs. You may bend your knees or keep them straight, making sure to keep the belly lifted to protect the back. Place your hands on a block or catch your elbows. Allow the head to hang. Shake your head side to side; nod your head; draw your chin toward your chest; release. Breathe deeply into the entire back body, finding length and release. Be sure to have the knees bent if you are feeling a stretch in the base of the pelvis (sits bones area) or in the knee joints; finding the stretch in the belly of the muscles. Inhale, draw the belly strongly toward the spine, hands come to the hips, lengthen through the crown of the head as you come halfway up. Exhale re-activate the belly, inhale rise all the way up so your back is against the wall.

Find your way onto the floor for supported Supta Baddha Konasana (supine bound angle). Draw the bottoms of both feet together and place a block beneath each knee. Lay back onto the floor, tucking the shoulders under to lift and broaden the chest. Enjoy this posture for ten full breaths. To come out, use the hands to pull your knees together. Transition to Savasana.

 

20.Savasana_Bolster_Knees

Settle into Savasana Variation with the legs elevated on a stack of blocks and a rolled up blanket to nourish the low back. Roll the shoulders back and down, lifting the chest gently. Lengthen the back of the neck. Settle in. Make any modifications so that you can surrender completely here. Soften all muscles, all thoughts, even the breath. Watch the activity of the mind, the breath, as an observer, for at least ten minutes as you fully integrate all the benefits from your practice.

 


 

Enjoy your yoga journey! Our bodies have so much to teach us. Be patient, soften, persist, and practice. Let your body be your guide.

The highest potential in me honors the highest potential in you.
Namaste.


Here are some useful resources for more work with the hips & lower extremities:

  • from Wikipedia

    For some quick relief from knee pain (and a slightly different approach to the Iliotibial Stretch that we have in the above vinyasa), you may consider trying a foam roller on your IT band.  Here is a link to a video by Dr. Peggy Malone that explains how to roll your IT band.  Note that strengthening the hips and glutes will help the root cause of IT band tightness, so keep doing your clamshells and mermaid flips!

  • Gain a deeper understanding of the hip anatomy by reading this article by Julie Gudmestad, a Physical Therapist in Portland, OR (she currently sees patients and treats them all exclusively with yoga!), called Hip to be Square.
  • It is important to understand the anatomy of the knee joint if you are practicing Virasana, so please take a moment to read Keep the Knees Healthy by Roger Cole, PhD.
  • For those of us who spend time at a desk or seated, take 20 minutes to integrate this sweet, gentle chair yoga sequence into your seated time!  You can pick bits and pieces and practice whenever you think to.
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