—Leanna Hildebrand, Oktoks, Alberta, Canada
Aadil Palkhivala's reply:
The piriformis is one of the external rotators of the femur, along with the gluteus maximus, the obturators set, the quadratus femoris, and the gemellus set. Any or all of these could be responsible for tension in the buttock region.
You can stretch the piriformis as well as the other rotators by doing poses that require external rotation of the femur (thighbones), such as Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose), Raja Kapotasana (King Pigeon Pose) forward bend, or Ankle-to-Knee Pose. For Ankle-to-Knee Pose, start in Dandasana (Staff Pose), bend the knees, and stack the right shinbone directly on top of left shinbone. The right ankle will be on top of the left knee and vice versa. If this feels like an adequate stretch, stay here for 1 to 3 minutes. If you want to come further into the pose, walk your hands forward on the ground into a forward bend. Be sure to do both sides.
You can also stretch the muscles deeply by internally rotating the femurs while lying down. Lie on your back in the presence of your teacher. Bend both knees, placing your feet on the floor. Step the right foot to the right approximately one shinbone length. Slowly and carefully bring the right knee toward the left ankle, keeping the right foot flexed. Stay for a few breaths and then return to lying down. Repeat on other side. Stay a little longer on the side where it hurts more. There should be no pain in the inner knee while doing this. If there is pain, place a rolled blanket or brick under the knee and press into the brick.
The best way to release the hip flexors is by doing backbends or Eka Pada Supta Virasana (One Leg Reclined Hero Pose). I am assuming that you are not doing a deep practice of aligned backbends, for it would have already relieved your pain. Try Eka Pada Supta Virasana in the presence of a knowledgeable teacher who can check your alignment.
Lie on your back in the presence of your teacher. Bend both knees and place your feet on the floor. Slowly take the right leg to Virasana. Avoid distortion of the pelvis by keeping the left foot on the floor with the knee bent and the shin perpendicular to the floor. Keep the right thigh parallel to the median plane. Press the right thighbone away from the navel and into the floor, while pulling the right side of the belly toward your head. Place your right hand on your right heel and push the heel away from your right shoulder to enhance the stretch. If you find this pose too painful or impossible, place a bolster under your spine lengthwise. An experienced teacher will be able to demonstrate the many prop options available to modify this pose and make it possible even for the stiffest practitioner.
Recognized as one of the world's top yoga teachers, Aadil Palkhivala began studying yoga at the age of seven with B.K.S. Iyengar and was introduced to Sri Aurobindo's yoga three years later. He received the Advanced Yoga Teacher's Certificate at the age of 22 and is the founder-director of internationally renowned Yoga Centers™ in Bellevue, Washington. Aadil is also a federally certified Naturopath, a certified <a href="/health/ayurveda">Ayurvedic Health Science Practitioner, a clinical hypnotherapist, a certified Shiatsu and Swedish bodywork therapist, a lawyer, and an internationally sponsored public speaker on the mind-body-energy connection.