One of the most fruitful areas for a new yoga practitioner to explore is something I call television yoga.
It’s not a formal practice. You don’t have to put on special clothes, roll out a mat or light a candle. And if you watch TV, talk on the phone, or sit and listen to music, you’ve don’t even have to make time for it. You just have to be willing to devote some of your sitting-down time to gentle, intelligent work with your body.
Any seated hip opener will do. But if you’d like to stretch your front thighs, it’s hard to beat half-hero pose (Virasana).
Here’s how: sit on the floor with some chip-foam yoga blocks, or a stack of books, at your side. Bend one leg back in hero pose (Virasana). Bend the other knee and rest your foot on the floor.
Put as many blocks, or books, under your buttocks as you need to sit comfortably. Unbreakable rule: you should have no pain in your bent knee. Even if what you feel is just a small electrical pulse running across the front of your knee, sit higher. Check that your bent knee faces directly forward, and that your inner ankle draws toward the foam blocks.
Now lean back, supporting yourself with your hands. Curl your tailbone toward your pubic bone. On the bent knee side, draw your thighbone deeper into your hip socket.
Find an intense but still pleasant stretch in your front thigh muscles.
Hold it for at least a minute, preferably longer. Then change sides.
For most of us, one front thigh is noticeably tighter than the other. Once you know which is which, start on your tight side, alternate with the easier side, then give the tight side an extra minute or two of stretch.
As your front thighs begin to loosen, you will need fewer blocks. Eventually you may be able to lie down with one leg in Virasana.
Benefits: Do this as television yoga, and you’ll have the joy of knowing that you’re not just vegging, you’re helping your body gain some flexibility. Do it daily for at least five-minutes and the next time you do Warrior I in class, you’ll find a different, more open pose.
The quads are the strongest muscles in your body. Keeping them strong but flexible helps prevent knee injuries. And as you move more deeply into your yoga practice, flexible front thighs will give your backbends more freedom.
Sequence: Any time you’re sitting down and relaxing you have an opportunity to stretch your front thighs in half-hero. In a longer practice, half-hero is especially helpful before lunges and backbends. If your practice includes Supta Virasana (lying down hero pose) working one leg at a time as a preparation will help you move more easily into the full pose.
Ouch: If your front thighs are tight, go slowly. As you lean back, find the first place you feel a stretch. Stay there and breathe. Resist the temptation to push into pain.
• If the front of your ankle hurts, put a rolled- up facecloth under the ankle joint.
• If the back of your bent knee feels compressed, come up to kneeling and put a folded yoga strap, or a folded sock or facecloth deep into the knee joint at the back of your knee. If you can’t get a good front thigh stretch without compressing your knee, don’t work with this position. Talk to your teacher about alternatives.
Sanskrit Corner: Say veer-AHS-anna. “Vira” means hero. “Asana” means pose.