Today's Daily Tip
Standing in chair pose for what seems like hours-legs quivering, arms aching—I'm sweating bullets...er, I mean, "building heat." I'm thinking, "Will this ever end?" and then, "How does this pose help open my hips?" Just then New York City-based yoga teacher Charles Matkin chimes in with his signature brand of humor to take the edge off. "This pose is like eating your spinach," he says. "No one wants to do it, but it's good for you. I call it Yuck-a-tasana."
When I talk to Matkin later about his playful teaching style and his approach to sequencing, it's clear there's a method to his madness. That's why this month's hip-opening series doesn't include any of the usual suspects (think Pigeon Pose, Bound Angle Pose, Lotus ). In Matkin's view, those poses mostly focus on stretching the external rotators (a group of muscles that run along your outer hips and buttocks), overlooking the front of the pelvis and the inner thighs. He favors a more balanced approach to create stability in the entire pelvis, which he defines as the thighbones, hipbones, and sacrum. His sequence works the inner legs and the deep muscles of the lower back and hip flexors (the psoas, for instance).
One way he creates awareness of the pelvis is to forgo the sticky mat (it's like doing yoga while wearing sneakers, he says) and place a blanket underfoot in standing poses. "Doing Warrior II this way strengthens all the muscles around the hip socket," Matkin explains. "You have to pull your legs in by using your inner adductors and internal rotators, which can be sleepy in standing poses."
Matkin also teaches the difference between tilting your pelvis forward and tilting it back. It may seem basic, but gaining this awareness can set the foundation for safe and efficient work in all your poses.
This sequence won't get you into Lotus today, but the last few poses are just as challenging. They demand that you're simultaneously strong and open in your hip flexors, outer hips, hamstrings, and psoas. If they're too difficult for you right now, be patient and credit yourself for a job well done as you move into the finishing sequence. But with a sequence as balanced and complete as this, you may be surprised to find yourself looking regal in Krounchasana (Heron Pose), or floating effortlessly into the Eight-Angle Pose arm balance.
before you beginPelvic Tilts
Stand with your feet as far apart as your sitting bones and put your hands on your hips. Wedge a block between your thighs, as high up as you can. Squeeze the block, bend your knees slightly, and stick your sitting bones out in an exaggerated movement. As the block rolls toward the wall behind you, feel how your thighs rotate in toward each other and how the natural curve in your lower back increases. Since your pelvis is tilting forward, this is aptly called the forward tilt. Come back to a neutral position. Now do the reverse: Keeping your hands on your hips and the block between your thighs, tuck the tailbone forward and round your lower back. The block moves forward, your thighs spin away from each other in external rotation, and your lower back flattens. This is known as—surprise!—the reverse tilt.
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)
1. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose, variation 1
Lift your sitting bones into a forward tilt. Then slowly, creating some resistance, straighten your legs and lift your sitting bones toward the ceiling. Exhale as you push the tops of your thighs back and stretch your heels toward the back of the room. Press the base of your index fingers actively into the floor and roll your upper arms away from your ears.
Inhale as you lift your right leg up, but keep both hips even-don't let the right hip pop up or collapse. Instead of trying to get your back leg high, make your body long. Create one long line of energy from your fingertips through your spine and out through your lifted heel. Where's your pelvis now? (Hint: It should be in a forward tilt with your lifted leg internally rotated.)
2. Adho Mukha Svanasana(Downward-Facing Dog Pose, variation 2)
3. Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)
Now stick your sitting bones back in an exaggerated forward tilt. Actively engage the inner groins by pulling your legs together. Feel your thighs moving toward the back wall? That's a forward tilt, which is a good thing. Keep that action as you press the tailbone forward an—-voilà!—your pelvis is in a neutral position. If you can, place your right hand on the floor behind your right foot.
Spiral your chest up toward the ceiling. Feel your entire spine lift away from the back heel. Reach through the left side of your body and extend your left arm over your ear, with your palm facing the ground. Stay for 5 breaths. To come out, bring both hands to your hips and lift your back heel off the floor. Square your hips to the right so you're in a high lunge. Place your fingertips on either side of the front foot.
4. Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)
From a high lunge, place both hands on the floor to the inside of your right foot. Lower your left knee to the floor. Bring your forearms down onto a block or, if it feels appropriate, to the floor. Bring your pelvis into a reverse tilt (tailbone forward). You'll feel the left side of your belly and the front of your left leg (the psoas and quadriceps muscles) stretching. Stay for 5 to 8 breaths, then place your hands back on the floor, straighten your back leg, and step forward into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). After a few breaths there, bend your knees and roll all the way up to Tadasana. Repeat on the other side.
5. Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
From Tadasana, place your hands on your hips, bend your knees deeply, and stick your bottom out, like a skier. Now do the opposite: Stand back up and press your tailbone forward to a reverse tilt.
Once again, bend your knees and tilt your pelvis forward. Then, keeping the knees bent, imagine standing up to experience the opposite tilt. Don't round your lower back; use your belly strength as you lengthen your spine and draw your shoulders back. (Try not to grip the floor with your toes.) Finish by sweeping your arms up by your ears and reach out through your fingertips. Stay for 5 breaths.
6. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose), variation
Otherwise, begin to back yourself into the wall, leading with your sitting bones. Snuggle your buttocks to the inside of your right foot as you would in Virasana. Look at your left knee and make sure it's directly over your left ankle.
Place your hands on your left thigh and, as you exhale, slowly round up through your spine and bring your back to the wall. Be sure not to jut your ribs forward. Instead, squeeze the inner legs together and tuck your tailbone. Try to release tension and surrender to the pose. But respect your limits. You only have two knees in this lifetime, so take care of them.
Stay for 5 breaths. To come out, bring your fingertips to the floor, lean forward, and move the right leg away from the wall. Do both sides, then come back to the middle of the room.
7. Krounchasana (Heron Pose), variation
8. Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana (Compass Pose)
9. Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose)
10. Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose
11. Eka Pada Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (One-Legged Bridge Pose)
finishing sequenceKnees to Chest
Draw your knees into your chest and press your lower back into the floor. If this feels good, roll around on your sacrum a few times. Circle the knees clockwise for three or four breaths, then counterclockwise.