Refine your practice and gain a deeper understanding about your body and how to move with intelligence and technique. Yoga is the art of paying attention, here’s one way to bring more focus to your practice.
What’s the discomfort?
Some people may experience a lot of discomfort just underneath the frontal hipbones whenever they move into hip flexed poses such as Virabhadrasana 1 or Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose), in hip flexed and externally rotated poses such as Parsvakonasana and Malasana or other squat-based movements. The sensation is sometimes described as the an intense tightness, squashing or locking sensation within the top of the front thigh as they start moving deeper into the pose.
What could be happening?
In some cases, the experience is a bony issue meaning that it may be the direct result of the way our hip sockets and thigh bones are shaped and move in relation to each other, and in other cases may be a result of some other underlying condition or pathology of the hip socket. In these cases, it is important to consult with a medical professional to ascertain what is actually happening within the hip joint.
On the other hand, the sensation may also be the result of some muscles working excessively to compensate for either a lack of range of movement in an opposing group and/or a lack of coordination with other complementary muscle groups.
As one squats, three major things need to occur: the hip needs to flex, the pelvis needs to anterior tilt and the hip extensors (primarily the glutes as well as hamstrings) need to stretch in order for the full range of movement to occur.
What tends to happen though in most people is that the hip flexors, mainly the illiopsoas and the tensor fascia latae tend to overwork and grip in order to prevent the tightness of the hip extensors from pulling the pelvis into posterior tilt. During the course of this movement negotiation, the erector spinae (iliocostalis, longissimus thoracis and multifidus in particular) relax and allow the pelvis to be pulled by the hip extensors into posterior tilt.
What can you do about it?
STRETCH OUT YOUR FRONT HIP: LOW LUNGE + TWIST
From Downward Dog, step the right foot forward and lower the back knee down onto a thick blanket or cushion, and come upright. Take the time to draw the lower abdomen in to support the lower back, and make adjustments so that the front and back rims of the pelvis are level. Once they are level, reach your arms up on an inhale, and then slowly turn the upper body towards the right, resting the left hand on top of the middle right thigh.
DO: Lengthen your lower back by lifting the frontal hip bones to level your hips.
DON’T: Avoid tipping your frontal hip bones down which cause an anterior tilt.
You may move deeper into the pose by bending deeper into the front knee or making as if you were trying to slide the back knee backwards, as long as you simultaneously lift both front hipbones upwards.
STRENGTHEN YOUR ERECTOR SPINAE: BRIDGE WITH HIP TILTS
Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted into the ground, hip-distance apart. As you exhale, think of drawing your front ribs into the floor, until your back ribs have a strong connection to the floor.
While keeping the back ribs anchored, think of sliding your tailbone towards your feet and then curling it upwards towards the ceiling, and then going the opposite direction by arching your lower back to pull the tailbone in the direction of the floor.
Start focusing more on the work of arching the lower back and how activating these muscles allows you to change the tilt of your pelvis.
STRETCH OUT THE GLUTES AND HAMSTRINGS : PARSVOTTANASANA (PYRAMID POSE)
Have a chair propped up with its seat against the wall so that you can lean your forearms against the chair. Bend your knees as if you were going into Utkatasana or Chair Pose, and then shift most of your weight onto one leg.
Allow the outer hip of the standing leg to curve outwards slightly to loosen gluteus medius, and then initiate a very slow tilting of the pelvis forwards and then backwards. Notice how the anterior tilt of the pelvis allows for deeper strands of gluteus maximus to release.
From the above position, step the standing leg forward and the other leg slightly back into Parsvottanasana.
Think of lifting the back waist towards the shoulder and maintain the soft curve of your lower back as you fold forward in small increments to coax length out of your hamstrings.
Practice by moving into poses like Utkatasana more mindfully:
Start in Tadasana with your feet hip-distance apart.
As you inhale and raise your arms up, start pressing the tops of both your thighs straight back and lift the back waist upwards. Let the upper body tip forward with these last two actions so the arch of your lower back does not feel exaggerated.
Start bending your knees in small increments, letting the weight shift into both heels as you make as if you were going to sit in a chair. With the increasing bend in your knees, pay attention to the amount of arch present in your lower back so that it remains in its graceful, neutral arch the entire way.
DO (photo on left): Keep the muscles on your back working
DON’T (photo on right): Round out your lower back
Find the point where bending the knees any further will feel as if your back waist were beginning to fall, and choose to stay just before that cusp.
Watch this video for a clearer picture on How To Sit in Utkatasana.
Practicing this regularly will help train all the muscles involved to work cooperatively and ensure that the hip flexors do not feel overwhelmed and pressured to hold the posture by themselves.
Marc Macadaeg is co-founder, Faculty Head and senior yoga teacher at Urban Ashram Yoga. His unique style of teaching vinyasa has attracted many practicioners who are looking to deepen their asana practice and their understanding of yoga. He has been a pioneer of the signature FNR (Flexibility Not Required) Program of Urban Ashram Yoga.