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Hip to Be Square

The hip adductors create stability in inversions and arm balances as well as in standing poses. Here's a primer on these little-known muscles.

By Julie Gudmestad

Throughout the body, two antagonists (muscles or muscle groups having opposite actions) often work together like this, co-contracting to help stabilize a joint. Other examples of this phenomenon include the wrist flexors and extensors in Handstand, and the abdominals (which flex the spine, curling it forward) and the erector spinae (the back muscles that extend the spine, arching it back) when you are standing upright.

The stabilizing function of the hip adductors and abductors is vitally important in many standing poses. When you are practicing a one-legged standing asana like Vrksasana (Tree Pose), it can make an enormous difference in your balance and your endurance in the pose. If you are standing on your left leg in Vrksasana, press your right foot firmly into your upper left thigh and simultaneously press your inner left thigh into your foot, just as if it were the block you used in Tadasana. Notice how strong these actions make your foundation.

Similarly, you can improve your stability in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) by eliciting a co-contraction of the adductors and abductors. As you stand on your left leg and lift your right leg forward and up—holding your right foot with your hand or a strap, or resting it on a chair or ledge—bring your awareness to your left leg. Recall the feel of the block touching your inner thighs in Tadasana, and press your left thigh into the imaginary block just enough to bring a sense of strength and groundedness to the standing leg.

In both these poses, be careful not to press too hard with the left leg; if you do, the right side of your pelvis will probably rise. Remember, one of the goals in both Vrksasana and Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana is to have a level pelvis.

Balancing Strength and Stretch
Although the adductors need to be active and strong in some yoga poses, in others—especially forward bends—they need to relax and lengthen. In poses like Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) and Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend), flexible adductors can make the difference between for- ward bending deeply into the pose and struggling just to sit upright. If you struggle in Baddha Konasana, chances are that your knees are higher than your hips, which causes your pelvis to tip back and your spine to slump. To remove the struggle and help your spine lift, sit on a firm cushion or one or two folded blankets; create enough height so that your knees are no longer higher than your hips. Or you can roll a blanket, place it near a wall, and sit with your sitting bones on the blanket and your back supported by the wall. Putting height under your hips and using the wall for support can also help you be more at ease in Upavistha Konasana. You may want to prepare your legs for that pose by practicing Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) while lying parallel to a wall. Stretch your leg nearest the wall up so it's perpendicular to the floor, then open your leg out to the side. Adjust your distance from the wall so your foot is supported by the wall and you feel a moderate stretch in your adductors. (The distance of your foot from the floor is a good indicator of your adductor flexibility.)

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