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Beginners' Yoga Sequences

6 Deep Hip Openers to Try Instead of Pigeon Pose

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These powerful alternates will help you open your hips in all directions.

Knowing the planes helps us improve range of motion in our hips.

Many of us could use more hip opening. From sitting to standing to walking, our legs are constantly working to support our upper bodies. All this effort can make hip muscles chronically tight, especially when we’re sitting for long periods at desks or in cars. 

Understanding Hip-Opening

The phrase “hip-opening” often creates confusion, as many people assume that it’s similar to opening a door or book, and therefore limited to taking your legs apart. But opening your hips means creating mobility in all directions. 

Hips are ball and socket joints, which are the most mobile joints in your body. The head of each thigh bone (femur bone) forms the “ball’, which sits in the socket (acetabulum) of your pelvis. 

Ball and socket joints also do circumduction, which means moving in all three planes, like when you swing your leg in a circle.

See also From Hypermobility to Stability: What You Need to Know About Open Hips

In order to stretch a particular muscle group, you must take your body in the opposite direction of that group’s movement. For example, if you’ve been sitting for long periods, which is hip flexion (taking thighs toward your chest), you’ll want to extend your hip (taking your thighs back) to release your hip flexors.

Your Hips in All Planes of Movement 

We are three-dimensional beings. We move in space in many different directions. We can go forward and backward, side to side, and inward and outward. And most of the time, we move in some combination of those directions all at once. For example, to set up our front legs in Pigeon, we must both open our legs to the side and rotate our thigh bones outward. 

The anatomical planes of movement help us organize and understand range of motion. They provide a universal language for the body. Imagine going to a different country where their up is down and their left is right! It would make for a fun, albeit confusing trip. Instead, anatomists and body lovers alike use the planes as common vocabulary.

See also This Is How the Planes of Movement Can Help You Identify Imbalances in Your Body

In the sagittal plane we move forward and back. The movements include flexion (forward motion) and extension (backward motion). Flexion at the hip joint means pulling your thigh up to your chest, like when we fold over our thighs in Child’s Pose. Extension is taking the leg back, like when we lift the leg in a downward dog. 

In the coronal plane we move sideways. The movements of the coronal plane at the hip include adduction (bringing the legs together) and abduction (taking them apart). An example of adduction in the coronal plane is Eagle Pose. Abduction would be stepping the legs wide apart, like Prasarita Padottanasnana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend).

See also Basic Anatomy Part II: Understanding Sideways Movement

In the transverse plane we rotate. The movements at the hips are internal rotation (turning the thigh bone in) and external rotation (turning the thigh bone out). For example, when we turn the legs out in Malasana (Garland Pose), the hips are in external rotation. In Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose), our thigh bones roll inward and are in internal rotation. 

Knowing the planes helps us improve range of motion in our hips, and ultimately, balanced hips are open hips!

Try these 6 poses to find balance and range in your hips in all directions. 



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Beginners' Yoga Sequences

Try this Joint-Freeing Series from Jana Long

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Try this practice, which emphasizes joint health and offers movements that can be incorporated into your daily life, to help maintain or improve mobility and stability for healthy aging.

Try this practice, which emphasizes joint health and offers movements that can be incorporated into your daily life, to help maintain or improve mobility and stability for healthy aging.     



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Beginners' Yoga Sequences

6 Yoga Poses for Athletes with Tight Hamstrings

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Improve flexibility and mobility in your hamstrings for better performance and to prevent injuries.

Hamstrings are a group of muscles that run along the back of your thighs, starting at your lower pelvis and attaching to your knee and lower legs. They are often the culprit for various sports injuries and chronic pain due to tightness. Once your hamstrings are tight, it can lead to poor posture, low-back pain, and a variety of other issues. Yoga poses can be critical additions to most training programs since they can help improve flexibility and mobility in your hamstrings and set you up for better movement patterns while running, biking, and playing sports. Here, three key benefits of yoga for athletes, plus six poses to support your sport.

1. Improved Performance and Joint Health

The posterior chain (muscles along the back of your body) is vital in all aspects of athletic performance. Strong and flexible hamstrings can improve running efficiency, agility, and power. Your body will recruit other muscle groups when needing to compensate for tight hamstrings, which will require more energy and can contribute to injuries. A full range of motion will also ensure healthy joints.

2. A Healthy Spine

Tight hamstrings reduce the mobility of your pelvis, which in turn increases strain and pressure on your lower back. Your hamstrings are an essential part of your knees, pelvis, and spine health. Flexibility in this area will support a proper upright posture. Everyday movement patterns like walking, running, sitting lead to shortening and tightening of your hamstring muscles. Consistent stretches to increase flexibility in this area will counter and bring them back to a balanced and healthy state.

3. Lower Risk of Injuries

If your hamstrings are tight, it can cause the posterior (rear) tilt of your pelvis and lead to strain and weakness in your low back, often resulting in chronic pain and injuries. Other muscles will compensate for tight hamstrings. Muscle imbalances and poor recruitment patterns can lead to many problems. Knee pain in runners is also a common issue due the strain caused by tight hamstrings.

In addition, there are many good reasons to focus on hamstring flexibility even if you are not an active athlete or runner. You may just find that you have resolved the cause of your chronic lower-back or knee pain and rediscovered freedom of movement.

Incorporate these six poses into your routine to achieve your fitness goals and maintain a healthy and balanced body.

6 Yoga Poses for Athletes with Tight Hamstrings 

Click here to read more about Downward Facing Dog Pose

Downward Facing Dog Pose

Start in a Plank position, hands under your shoulders and feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees and lift your hips up and back, moving into a triangular shape with your hips being the apex of the pose. Root all corners of your hands, knuckles and finger pads evenly down, and energetically lift your shoulders away from your hands, and your hips away from your shoulders to extend the spine. Starting with your knees bent, press your upper thighs back and away from your torso and gradually work toward straightening your legs as your heels reach down toward the ground. Stay here for 5-7 breaths

Click here to read more about Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose

Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose

Lie down with your legs extended on the ground. Hug one knee into your chest, keeping both corners of your hips grounded and leveled. Wrap a yoga strap around the ball of your foot holding either end of the strap with each hand, or hook your big toe with your index and middle fingers. Press through the ball of your foot and extend your leg up toward the ceiling and your torso. Ground and center your shoulders and your hips as you make the transition. Take 5-7 breaths, release mindfully, then switch sides

Click here to read more about Intense Side Stretch Pose

Intense Side Stretch Pose

Stand with your feet 3-4 feet apart, aligning heel to heel. Point your front foot straight forward and turn your back foot out to 30-45 degree angle. Hinging at your hips, fold forward and place your hands onto blocks on either side of your front foot with your knees bent to create more space in your hamstrings and pelvis. Square your hips to the front corners of your mat and elongate all sides of your torso. Gradually extend your legs toward straight without changing the position of your hips in space. Ground the outside edge of your back foot and root down through the big toe mound of your front foot. Take 5-7 breaths and switch sides.

Click here to read more about Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend

Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend

Stand with your feet wide apart (about 3-4 feet) and parallel to each other. Hinge at your hips and fold with an elongated spine. Place your hands to the blocks or to the ground directly under your shoulders. To deepen the stretch in your hamstrings, bend your elbows back and walk your hands toward the space between your feet. Be sure to deepen the fold from your hips and not by rounding your spine. Root firmly through the 4 corners of your feet, continue to engage your quads, brace your core, and elongate your spine. Take 5-7 breaths, then reverse your way all the way up to stand and release the pose.

Half Splits

Start in a runner’s lunge position with your left leg forward and your hands on the blocks on either side of your leg. Glide your hips back to stack over your right leg. Straighten your left leg and (dorsi) flex at the ankle joint so that your left toes move toward your left shin. Square your hips toward the front edge of your mat and maintain a long spine; hinge at your hips and fold forward to deepen the hamstring stretch. Maintain your legs in a neutral (not rotated) position since the rotation of your legs will lead to the turning of your hips. Take 5-7 breaths and release the pose. Switch sides.

Learn more about Triangle Pose

Triangle Pose

Stand with your feet wide (3-4 feet) apart facing a long edge of your mat and parallel to your feet. Spin your left heel in and your toes out so that your left foot is now parallel to the long edge of your mat. Hinge deeply in the corner of your left hip and fold laterally over your left leg. Place your right hand on a block on the outside of your right foot and reach your left hand directly over and in line with your left shoulder. Maintain a long spine from its base to the crown of your head. Spiral the left side of your torso away from the ground. Root the big toe mound of left foot firmly as you lift the inner arch. Activate your quadricep and brace your core to find stability. Take 5-7 breaths and release the pose. Switch sides.



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Beginners' Yoga Sequences

Try This Sequence to Confront Your Fears and Unleash Your Inner Warrior

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I always felt that yoga offered more than a great stretch or workout. It gave me a way to connect with others and myself at the same time. You can find a bit of that feeling in this sequence.

Jivana Heyman

Do you ever find yourself clenching your jaw waiting for something bad to happen? Or waking up in the morning with a sense of dread? Whether they come in small doses or huge heart-stopping moments of panic, these feelings can be traced back to fear, which can be debilitating, producing a gnawing anxiety that sucks the joy out of life.

In my life, one particularly fearful time stands out: leading up to the moment I told my mother I was gay. I was 17 and confused. I’d found myself living a secret life and not sharing it with her. Speaking my truth was a major victory, and it made me understand even more how fear had been ruling my life.

Those of us who are marginalized tend to internalize our oppression, which can manifest as fear. During this time in my life, I was scared of being different and of being excluded from society—tossed out like garbage. Mostly, I feared disappointing my mother. My self-worth was so intimately tied to what she thought of me.

See also 5 Poses to Help You Own Your Worth

It wasn’t until I began practicing yoga regularly that I recognized I was living in a constant state of fear, even after coming out to my mother. A mild panic was always boiling just below the surface. Savasana (Corpse Pose) gave it away. I remember getting very quiet, maybe for the first time ever without the help of alcohol or drugs. I jerked awake as if I had fallen asleep too quickly. But I wasn’t asleep. My nervous system was just reacting to its first opportunity to unwind the tension it had been storing up for years­—in an effort to protect me. It had saved my life by giving me the quick reflexes I needed to duck when some drunk, homophobic man threw a beer bottle at my head. But it was also killing me slowly with stress and anxiety.

Yoga became my refuge, helping me undo a lot of the hidden tension in my body. I realized that so many people carry similar burdens—knots of anxiety in our jaws and necks. I started teaching yoga, sharing it with the HIV/AIDS community in the early ’90s and I saw the practice’s power to offer relief from the fear that silently engulfs us.

See also Jacoby Ballard: Personal Transformation + Healing Yoga

In our shared suffering, I also saw the possibility of salvation. The strength of a group “Om” echoed in my heart louder than when I chanted it alone. In yoga, I found the possibility of overcoming fear through community. Those of us who look different, move differently, and love differently need to support one another and hold each other in strong embrace. That initial yoga community I discovered through teaching was the birthplace of Accessible Yoga, the organization I founded to support teachers like me, who are bringing the practice to communities that are underserved and underrepresented in yoga spaces.

I always felt that yoga offered more than a great stretch or workout. It gave me a way to connect with others and myself at the same time. It’s a great paradox—when I turn within, I find you there. It is in the presence of community that I’m able to release my fear. I feel carried and cared for. I feel like I have a special place in the world and that I belong. You can find a bit of that feeling in this sequence.

Sequence: The Antidote to Fear

Yoga can offer an unbridled calmness and gentle confidence. This can be realized in multiple ways: through an asana practice that releases physical tension, breathing practices that increase energy and soothe the nervous system, and guided meditations that build trust and faith. Fear isn’t something to simply overcome, it must be understood and worked through. Yoga allows us to decipher the messages that come from our spirit in the form of emotions like fear.

Are you afraid to practice yoga? Do you feel like you don’t have a yoga body? It’s important to remember that the overarching goal of yoga is discovering peace of mind, and it’s fair to say that there is no correlation between physical ability and peace of mind. It doesn’t matter if you practice on a mat or in a chair, or what the pose looks like from the outside.

See also Liz Arch’s Mantra for Courage in Challenge Poses and in Life

Learn more: Find a video version of this practice at yogajournal.com/accessibleyoga.

About the author

Jivana Heyman is the founder and director of Accessible Yoga, a non-profit dedicated to increasing access to yoga teachings. He’s the author of the upcoming book Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body (Shambhala Publications), co-owner of the Santa Barbara Yoga Center, and an Integral Yoga minister. Learn more at accessibleyoga.org

About the models

Carole “Kalyani” Baral has been an Integral Yoga teacher for more than 40 years. She is co-author, with her teacher Swami Satchidananda, of The Yoga Way—a guide to a vegan lifestyle. 

Natalie Dunbar is a hatha yoga teacher. She is a community partner of the Yoga & Body Image Coalition and an Accessible Yoga ambassador. Learn more at theroadomyoga.com.



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