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Thigh Master

Work the small muscles of your inner thighs—often overlooked in yoga— and find ease in all sorts of poses.

By Julie Gudmestad

Squeezes for Strength

Fortunately, there a few simple exercises you can do to help strengthen your -adductors. First, find a firm inflated ball about six inches in diameter or a towel or pillow rolled to that dimension. If you struggle to bring your thighs together in inversions, start by lying on your back with the inner edges of your feet together and your soles against the wall. Or stand in Tadasana, with your feet together or nearly so. From either position, place the ball between your thighs, press in against it, and hold for 10 or 15 seconds. Do this a few times during each practice, and over the next several weeks, gradually increase the holding times. If you can squeeze and hold the ball for one minute, you should be able to hold your legs together in -Sirsasana for a minimum of that amount of time.

When you're ready to make the ball squeezing more challenging, lie on your back with your legs on the floor—but this time, don't put your feet against the wall. In this position the adductors will have to work harder to hold the legs together as well as to compress the ball. For the greatest challenge, however, have someone place the ball between your thighs while you're in an inversion. Exert a steady, moderate pressure to build strength and endurance in these muscles.

Strengthening the adductors with your hips extended can help your inversions and your backbends. Try squeezing a block between your thighs in Bridge Pose. Eventually, this can help correct the unwanted tendency of the feet to turn out and knees to splay. See that your feet are parallel when you place the block between your knees (the long side between the knees if you have wide hips). As the adductors work to squeeze the block, the knees stay in place. As an added bonus, this technique may help to resolve any knee pain you might have experienced in Bridge Pose.

You also need adductor strength in poses that flex the hips, like Bakasana and Tittibhasana> (Firefly Pose). This time, place your ball or even a block between your thighs while sitting in a chair, feet flat on the floor, and work on squeezing it to build endurance. You can train the adductors with the abdominals—a useful combination for arm balances—by practicing Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose) with a block between the thighs. If Paripurna Navasana on its own is challenging for you, start by keeping the block in place but doing the pose with bent knees.

Here are a few final tips for strengthening your adductors. Using a block can give you valuable feedback about whether you're pressing evenly with left and right adductors; you want to develop balanced strength. You can elicit a strong adductor contraction when your feet are off the ground (in inversions and arm balances) or when you're lying on your back, by pressing evenly through the base of your big toes and your inner heels simultaneously. This action can really help you "get a grip" in Bakasana and other arm balances in which your legs grip your arms. Remember, as you build isometric strength by increasing the time you hold the contraction, don't hold your breath.

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