Happy Hips are Strong Hips

May 28, 2019

As the story goes with Visvamitra, he was born into the warrior and ruler caste (Kshatriya) and climbed his way to that of a rishi (Brahmin).

As the warrior king of Kanyakubja, Visvamitra went out hunting and came upon the Cow of Plenty, Kamadhenu, at the sage Vashistha’s hermitage and thought it ought to be nice to have it for himself. Vashistha refused to give up his cow and this enraged Visvamitra. He tried to use force but ultimately was defeated and outwitted by the sage. Leaving without the cow, Visvamitra returned home with a bruised ego and intrigued by the power possessed by the Brahmin sage. He set his sights on the unthinkable, changing castes and becoming a Brahmarsi. Ordinarily changing castes is unthinkable since it is a right given by your parents upon your birth but within mythology lies are often told in pursuit of greater truth.

In my opinion, what makes this story fascinating is what happens next. After Vishvamitra performs the arduous rigor of devotion to grant him a level up and new title, he isn’t content until the sage Vashistha recognizes this in him. He’s celebrated for his penance and austerities but malcontent until the sage who redirected his greed acknowledges all his tapas to be granted the title Brahmarsi.

The takeaway? Yoga poses have names that carry weight and can be symbolic of our own inner struggles that have been mapped out through an iconography that spans 330,000+1. If you’ve tackled it there’s a story personified somewhere. Asana tends to save the names for pinnacle postures. Case in point- Natarajasana, Virabhadrasana, Matsyendrasana, Vashisthasana, and Visvamitrasana. Sorry lizard pose, you didn’t make the cut.

Let’s take a look at some strategies for making Visvamitrasana accessible and along the way build strong hips.

Compare the similarities of all the shapes the body makes Trikonasana (triangle pose) to the last block of Vishvamitrasana. They are nearly identical! Making the leap from Trikonasana to Vishvamitrasana requires greater range of motion and strength for the hip on the bottom leg.

Block 1
turn in to turn out
Begin with the postures in Block 1 on the left. Spend time in the top left where the feet are parallel or slightly turned in, bending a knee and sitting way back as you lean your hips to the bent knee side. This will start opening the inner thigh adductor muscles and medial hamstring set. Perform on both right and left sides a few times.

Next, try Down Dog Lunge in the middle image. Turn both inner leg lines back behind you, internally rotating both thighs. This will lift the hips and broaden them significantly. After you’ve turned the legs in, turn the front leg out to re-bend the knee. Perform on both right and left sides.

Inward rotation of the thighs makes turning the legs out easier. It’s a key action I call “turn in to turn out”. This key action adjusts the whole body from the pelvis outward (down into the legs and up through the spine).

Layer the “turn in to turn out” method for approaching a modified Parsvakonasana (side angle pose). Repeat in Trikonasana. Hopefully you find that your spine is easier to elongate and rotate after you’ve begun “turn in to turn out” in the pelvis.

Block 2
hip strength
Here the work is to strengthen the posterior and lateral hip. Uber Utkatasana keeps the hips as low as the knees, knees forward, sitting back for a more vertical shin.

Vashistasana (yes, the other sage in the story) is side plank pose. Work here to lift the bottom hip away from the ground by hugging in. Press the standing arm hand down and drag isometrically toward the straight leg foot so help boost the ribcage up and rotate open. This will be key in our peak pose, Vishvamitrasana.

Lastly, practice rounds of Locust pose with level hips, pressing pubic bone down as each leg lifts.

Block 3
shape study
Pictured above is an inner thigh stretch, triangle pose, side plank and standing big toe to the side pose. If you take Parsva Utthita Padangustasana, standing big toe to the side pose, and trace backwards the other 3 postures it might make more sense.

Side plank is for the standing leg hip. The exercise is to stabilize the outer hip just as needed of the standing leg of Padangustasana. Side plank teaches you not to drop the hip while standing and strengthens the outer hip.

Trikonasana shares the work of the lifted leg turning out as in Parsva Padangustasana. Lastly, the inner thigh stretch on the top left stretches the groin while turning the legs out.

Block 4
flex, extend, abduct
Block 4 is focusing on strengthening the hips through the posterior leg, hip and inner thigh.

Start in modified pyramid pose. The work is to root the tops of the thighs back at the front of the hip and elongate a neutral spine. It also lengthens the hamstrings. Repeat this pose right and left before laying supine to engage the posterior.

Reading the images on the right from top to bottom:
-Bridge prep 1 leg up stacked over hip
-Exhale, lift hips by pushing down and dragging back with the bottom foot. Firm the buttocks of the bottom leg and drive shoulders back against the floor to help turn on bigger back muscles.
-Repeat this 3-9x on the right. Repeat on left.
Last 2 images are the same pose just different views.
-Repeat instructions for above and once hips are up abduct the lifted leg. Repeat 3x and then repeat all on opposite side.

Block 5
hamstrings and hip adductors
The deep hip flexion and external rotation of the front leg of our peak pose can not be ignored. This block of poses is addressing the need to lengthen the inner thighs from a variety of angles to not only target adductors but also the medial hamstrings all with an outward turn of the leg.

Up top on the left stand wide with feet turned out. Bend one knee and lean back in that direction. Repeat side to side. This targets the inner thighs lengthening.

Next is Ardha Samakonasana Prep. Squat to one side and turn the straight leg out.

In the bottom image start in a Runner’s Lunge. From there externally rotate the leg.

Last is Urdhva Prasaritaika Padasana, standing split in a less traditional modification. Hug the arm and standing leg against each other to rotate the trunk out. Work hard on externally rotating and hugging in the standing leg.

Block 6
engage engage engage
As we come to the final steps toward Vishvamitrasana note that we are attempting to perform this pose WITHOUT the aid of holding the foot with the top arm. Instead one must dramatically squeeze the lifted leg up against the arm. Strong and supple inner thighs are a requirement to proceed.

In a side plank stagger the feet with the top in front on big toe edge and bottom in back on outer edge of foot. Exhale and adduct the back leg (see the 2nd image for detail). It won’t be a big movement. Just looking to use the inner thigh to hold the leg up.

Next, deeply fold inside the front leg of a lunge with the back foot angled in slightly. Hug the leg against the shoulder. Repeat on right and left.

Top right is actually come from an image unseen here- Trikonasana with hand on a block outside of front leg. From there adduct the front leg as see in the image. Repeat right and left.

Lastly, come back into the deep fold seen in bottom left, place hand down, hug thigh against the arm and straighten the leg while you press the shoulder back against the leg and rotate the spine turning the belly and chest open. Hug top arm against the side body. Repeat on opposite side.


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