Wouldn’t it be great if all of life’s problems could be solved by lying down and taking it easy?
The good news is that some of them can.
Take tight outer hips, for example.
This might be one of your problems if you cycle, run, do weight training, spend a lot of time sitting, or are simply getting older – which covers almost all of us.
Tight outer hips leads to numerous ills, including sore knees, sore backs and sciatica – a bolt of pain running from your buttock down your thigh, which can be caused by the sciatic nerve encountering a tight piriformis muscle.
(To see how the muscles of the outer hip work, and why a tight piriformis can cause sciatica, take a look at this very clear short video.)
Seated cow-face pose is a good way to stretch your hip rotators, including piriformis. That’s why you’ll find it recommended in books such as Mary Pullig Schatz’s excellent Back Care Basics: A Doctor’s Gentle Yoga Program for Back and Neck Pain Relief.
But if your hips are very tight, you’ll have to prop yourself up on a stack of blankets or chip foams to sit in this pretzel pose. Even then, you may not be able to find a comfortable stretch.
Stay in a painful position, and you’ll irritate instead of relaxing your muscles. If you already have sciatic pain, you’ll make it worse.
The solution? This week’s Five-Minute Yoga Challenge:
Lie down, cross your legs, and rest a spell.
With no props, except possibly a blanket or chip foam block behind your head, you can get a good stretch in your outer hips, just by changing your relationship to gravity.
It works because when you lie on your back, the weight of your upper body is no longer dropping into your pelvis, as it does when you’re sitting. Because the hips aren’t pinned to the ground, they have more freedom to move.
When you’re lying down, no matter how tight your hips may be, you can stay, breathe, explore, relax and smile. You can find your right, moderate stretch, stay with it long enough to make a difference, and return to it willingly every day.
Why not just do the better known “thread-the-needle”pose?
By crossing your knees, you’ll bring the stretch to the centre of your top-leg buttock, which is a more effective piriformis stretch.
Naturally, you could always do both.
Here’s how to rest your cow:
Lie down on your back, with your knees bent.
Rotate your inner left thigh strongly inward, and lengthen your left leg.
Rotate your right thigh inward, and bring your right thigh over your left thigh.
Then draw both knees toward your chest.
Continue rotating your inner thighs towards each other.
You should feel an intense and yet pleasant stretch, deep inside your right buttock.
(If you feel pinching in your inner groins, undo your legs and rotate your thighs more strongly inward as you come into the pose.)
Draw your knees closer, hands behind the knees, until you find your ideal stretch.
At first your calves will line up beside each other. After a few breaths, bring them out to the sides, as they would be in the seated version of cow-faced pose.
If you can go deeper, reach out to hold your feet, and pull your knees closer to your chest.
Stay for at least 90 seconds, then change the cross of your legs.
Photo via Flickr, with thanks to Meneer Zjeroen.
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