Article originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press (co-authored by Helen Maupin, Candace Propp, Stacy Schroder)
“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.” Bones become dry when restricted mobility reduces the circulation of blood, nutrients and oxygen, which is why physical activity is so important to our health. Daily physical movement necessitates the uniform use of the entire leg including bones, joints as well as muscles. Our muscles connect our bones to each other, and our joints expand our range of motion to allow for fine-tuned and gross motor activity.
One of the safest ways to protect our leg joints (hips, knees and ankles) is to increase the hips’ flexibility. Open, flexible hips free the heads of the femur (thigh) bones allowing them to settle into the back of the hip socket. By creating space in the hip sockets, the heads of the femurs easily move forward and back, externally and internally, as well as toward and away from the mid-line of the body. However, when the hips’ full range of motion is limited, we are prone to osteoarthritis. How many people do you know who have experienced knee and hip replacement surgery? These individuals typically have extreme difficulty with simple actions like bending over to tie their shoes.
To allow ease across all six hip movements, the adjoining muscles (quadriceps and hamstrings) must be flexible and strong. Most people generally favour either one capability or the other. As an example, Candace’s body is more flexible like that of a plant while Helen’s and Stacy’s bodies are stronger and more compact like stone. The asanas (poses) illustrated below focus on lengthening and strengthening two of the larger connecting muscles in the legs — quadriceps and hamstrings. These muscles become shortened from overuse (tight and bulky) or from underuse (tight and cord-like). Overused muscles generally require lengthening and releasing while underused muscles require lengthening and strengthening.
Action: Inhale breath into the belly of the hamstring muscle. As you exhale, imagine the breath broadening and lengthening the muscle. Find the action in both legs.
For more advanced practitioners, repeat this action for the quadricep and calf muscles.
Supta Padangusthasana I (Lying down hamstring stretch I)
Come into Supta Padangusthasana I and straighten both legs. Relax your arms and upper body. Find the action in both legs for 5-10 breaths.
Supta Padangusthasana II (Lying down hamstring stretch II)
From Supta Padangusthasana I (photo 1), externally rotate your leg and release it to the side. For a longer hold, Helen supports the thigh to release the muscles and open the hips. Complete the actions and hold for 5-10 breaths.
Supta Padangusthasana III (Lying down hamstring stretch III)
From pose I, internally rotate the leg and release it even to the hip. Allow the right hip to roll over the left. Helen uses the wall as support. Find the action for 5-10 breaths. Repeat all three positions with the other leg.
For more yoga actions, refer to Helen and Candace’s Creating Space: Yoga Actions for Legs & Knees.
Winnipeggers Helen Maupin and Candace Propp are authors of the Creating Space Yoga Actions series.