So. Having looked at the anatomy of some main hip abductor muscles, now is the time when it makes sense to detail some gentler abductor stretches — ones that would be suitable for lots of people to include toward the beginning of an asana practice.
And I know a lot of practices end this way, but for the outer hips, I think a nice place to start is with a lying spinal twist of some sort. For one, gravity is doing most of the work in them. Two, they’re relatively easy to prop. Three, there are a few variations that are also pretty easy to swap out for one another, depending on the relative needs of an individual’s hips.
But backing up a bit, to a bit of overall explanation: If the “working” action of the hip abductors is to pull the leg sideways away from the midline of the body, then the stretching action is adduction — moving the leg toward or even across the midline of the body. The amount of adduction necessary for an effective but safe stretch is going to vary according to the particular hips involved. From my own experience, I’d say this goes even beyond “from person to person” and may well apply “from hip to hip.” That is, I’m very different on my left and right sides here, to the extent I may prop one side more than the other — or I might choose a different variation on the second side.
And I have a sneaking suspicion that hips are just like that.
So. The first variation — the one with the smallest amount of hip adduction — along with a possible prop option:
[Nora Forziati instructing for Expert Village. Video via YouTube.]
A couple of points:
- The leg we’re looking at for abductor stretching is the top leg. In this variation, it probably doesn’t move too far past the midline of the body, on account of there is the bottom leg underneath and all.
- The “block under the bottom knee” idea works for this variation as well as the other variations in this post.
- If a single yoga block feels like there is either not enough surface area and/or too many right angles, one can substitute folded blankets, bolsters, or pillows.
Technically, one can also substitute small dogs for the block too, but I realize that not all small dogs are as accommodating as is Casey.
If that variation isn’t quite doing it for you in the abductor-stretching department, there is the option to twist with the bottom leg extended:
[Video uploaded by massagenerd via YouTube.]
Because the bottom leg is extended straight, rather than running directly underneath the top leg, there’s a little more room for the top leg to continue its midline-crossing path. For me, the difference is substantial, and this variation is typically as deep as I like to go early on in my practice.
That said, I’m sure there are people who have hip abductors that are more flexible than mine — which are maybe “average” on the overall spectrum? — or who are thinking, “Hey, those lying spinal twists look awesome for ending my practice!”
And when that is true, I am a fan of having this variation in my toolbox:
[Video by Expert Village via YouTube.]
Crossing the top leg over the bottom leg moves that top leg past the midline — and therefore moving toward a stretch in the abductor muscles — even before the twist portion of the position is initiated. When the twist is added, the result can be a more intense stretch for the top hip’s abductor muscles. On account of that, I am more likely to need a prop for my bottom knee here, even if it comes at the end of my practice.
Next on the abductor list: a standing balance or a straddle?