In the heels of my Hip-Hamstring Inversion, today’s pose focuses on getting a thorough extension through the muscles at the top of the thighs, the quadriceps.
Many people have tight hips and quads, and while advanced poses will get into the area readily, here’s a good in-between position (not too hard, not too easy) to prepare you for the more advanced stuff. As a bonus, it’s also kind of fun.
Of course, as I often tell my students, your definition of fun may be nowhere near mine.
You need: a yoga block. Preferably two. The illustrations here feature the two yoga blocks, but if the height they impose on your hip feels excessive, step it down to one block.
You can also improvise with a couple of thick books or dictionaries. If you’ve never heard of these, use your grandpa’s desktop computer, turned on its side.
6 easy steps:
1. Sit down. Take 2 blocks: flat, horizontally stacked, just as illustrated.
2. Lie on your back, press on your feet to raise your hip, and slip the blocks (or block, if two feel like too much) under your hip. Please note that only the hip bone should be touching the block, not your low back and not your vertebrae.
3. While you could go from here to the final step, I feel that extending your legs upward gives you a better sense of where your hip bone should be relative to the blocks. If having your legs vertical requires effort, that means that the weight of your legs is not cenetered on the blocks. If so, lower your feet, readjust the blocks, and raise the legs again. Hold the blocks. The position should feel relaxed.
Stay, holding the blocks with relaxed shoulders, for 3 long breaths.
4. Engaging your abdominals, your buttocks and squeezing your ankles together, lean your legs away from your chest as illustrated.
5. Bend your knees, and, one at a time, lower your feet back to where they were in step 2.
6. Gradually slide your feet away, straightening out your knees. In the endpoint of this position, your body is at rest, supported by the blocks. Soften your shoulders and your legs further, so the quadriceps receive the stretch without tension. Breathe 6 long, slow breaths, and then bend your knees again (as in step 5) and remove the blocks from under you to come out.
Benefits: Easy quad stretch, potentially relieving low-back tension from a swayed-back pelvis, plus relaxation of your lumbar spine.
Avoid if: Your lumbar spine hurts anywhere along the 6 above steps. Or if your hips hurt in step 6… or if your neck or upper back become tighter instead of more relaxed when coming out of the position. (As I mentioned in my previous entry, inversions are also usually discouraged for people who have high blood pressure or with macular degeneration. Regardless, please remember that you, and not your yoga teacher, are the ultimate authority on what does and does not feel right for your body, and get to decide, here or in a yoga class, where to take a given position so that it’s right for your body, not so your body is made to suffer to fit a given picture of what a pose “should” look like.)
Final thoughts: Now that your grandpa’s walking around, mumbling “Am I losing my mind, or did someone walk off with my computer?” it’s time to put his outmoded technology back. Leave the web browser open to this page: he might show you some neat yoga tricks to do with his walking cane next time.