The hamstrings are the gateway to the hips and they are one of the easiest areas of the body to open. A relatively simple external rotation such as a seated forward bend is often approachable even for the beginner. With dedicated practice and healthy technique, most students will eventually discover their Padmasana, or Lotus Posture.
But when you venture into the uncharted territory of deep hip rotation, you enter a forbidden zone in the body that requires courage and intelligent muscular action. Postures like placing one leg (or two) behind the head are challenging, even for dedicated practitioners of yoga. If you push too hard, or too quickly, or with too much bravado, you risk injuring a vulnerable area of the body.
For whatever reason, my body always found placing the legs behind the head easier than a full straddle. Sometimes called, front splits, box splits or Chinese splits, the full straddle is my nemesis. It's my final frontier, the dark unexplored space in my inner body.
One very important tool that helps me face stuck, stubborn, or scary movements is passive stretching with a meditative mind. If the body can be passive and let go of unnecessary effort, then the mind can remain equanimous and clear. When attempting this passive stretch for the inner thighs and a deep straddle, remember to remain calm, focused
Start off in an easy reclining position, such as constructive rest posture, lift your legs directly up and straighten your legs. Align the base of the big toes with each other and the gently press the thighs together.
Be sure that your sacrum is comfortably resting on the ground. Do not overarch the spine. Use this as a neutral starting point.
Allow your mind to be relaxed, open and calm. Inhale deeply and as you exhale simply allow the legs to open as much as possible. Do not force or kick the legs out to the side. Instead just gently let gravity naturally open the legs when you leg go of the effort it takes to hold the legs up in the air. Let of all engagement in the hips while keeping the pelvic floor lightly engaged.
Close your eyes if it helps you relax. After a few breaths to get comfortable, point your toes and reach actively through the toes. If you feel any pressure on the knee, place your hands under the knees for support. If you are ready to go a little deeper, place your hands on your inner thighs and apply a soft pressure. Start for between 10 and 50 breaths. When you are ready to exit the posture you may find it difficult to adduct your thighs. If necessary, place your hands on the outer edges of your thighs and assist the movement of the legs back towards the center.
Once the legs reach the center line stay for a few breaths with the base of the big toes touching and the thighs pressing together. Exhale and bend your knees and return to constructive rest position. Either exhale and lie all the way down or bring your knees into your chest, roll over to the right side and return to a comfortable seated position.
This reclining straddle will help you reach the next level of hip opening. Releasing the inner thighs is crucial for deep external hip rotation, so students who have a hard time placing the legs behind the head will benefit from this posture.
If you integrate this stretch into your daily practice, remember to be patient, relaxed and calm while attempting. And most importantly, be courageous if any dark emotions get stirred while you are exploring the deep inner space.
Photo Credit: Omar Guillen