Each month we dig into a different asana by looking at common valves in major joints (spine, etc) and asking why do these valves or energy leaks occur? To answer that, we go under the hood and explore the asana’s kinesiology—what the muscles and bones are doing! This information lets us build valve “fixes,” practical teaching ideas you can try in your classes and privates. Each week builds on the next, giving you a month-long outline for how to help your students uncover their variation of the asana.
Happy sunny June, yogis!
This week we continue to build the radiance of ardha chandrasana (half moon pose) by focusing on the lifted leg. Last week we focused on setting up the bottom leg and hip for a strong foundation. From those strong roots, we can expand to our greatest reach!
The valve or energy leak that shows up in the lifted leg often stems from a lack of proprioception: students don’t know where their leg is! They may have a mistaken sense of where in space their leg is. They may never have been taught where it should go. Or they may think that they should just keep reaching as far as they can.
We are challenging the idea that more is always more, an idea that seems to have developed with modern yoga asana. “Go for more flexibility, go further into each shape, go deeper into each bind.” “More” is what we’re after, or so the message seems to be.
We don’t believe this is a useful path.
Where else in yoga are we told to seek the extreme? Nowhere. The teachings and texts tell us to seek equanimity. A balance between attachment and aversion.
Why then would asana be any different, if it too is a means to liberation?
We do not believe that it is. We believe that strength is just as important as flexibility, and that we need both in equal measure to remain pain free. This is not just a whimsy of ours, it is a belief grounded in medical fact. Structure is just as important as flow; one guides and one moves.
By now you may be wondering what this rant has to do with the lifted leg in ardha chandrasana? Let’s wrap it back…
We tend to see the general valve of lack of proprioception show up in a few ways in the lifted leg:
- The leg droops towards the floor; there is no energy moving down from the hip through the leg. This would be an instance of “not enough flow.”
- The leg is lifted well past hip height or it is drifting back behind one’s torso. These are both instances of “not enough structure.”
Ardha chandrasana needs both!
In the classic version of this shape, the lifted leg is an extension of the torso. From the crown of the head through the lifted heel we can see tadasana (mountain pose). By creating the structure that comes with a neutral lifted leg, maintaining it, and then sending power into it, we get true sturdiness. Sturdiness that will allow the arms to expand away from the body and for one to balance with ease.
If the lifted leg does not connect to the power of the torso, the balance will be all but impossible to manage. The slightest puff of wind could blow your half moon over.
Muscularly what do we need to make this happen? What needs to be strong in the lifted leg?
What’s Weak and Needs Strengthening
- Hip ABductors (outside of hip)
- Even though the lifted leg remains in line with its hip, the abductors are working like mad to keep the leg from falling toward the floor.
- Hip external rotators (back of hip)
- There is likely to be some external rotation in the lifted hip to give the appearance of tadasana neutral (toes pointing directly to the side). The external rotators are also helping to keep the lifted leg from falling.
- Hip extensors (back of thigh and hip)
- Also working to keep the leg from falling
- Knee extensors (front of thigh)
- Working to keep the leg straight and balance the work of the back of the leg
That’s a lot of muscles working to keep up the appearance of a tadasana leg, isn’t it?!
But with muscles on the front and back of the leg turned on, there is a clear structure through which to then direct energy to the heel and create a powerful lifted leg!
Ideas to strengthen
How do we address all of these muscle groups in one class?
Try creating simple ways to play with the action of the lifted leg in places other than full ardha chandrasana. Here are a few examples:
- Side plank with one knee down and the straight leg lifted. You could take that same shape to the wall and press the lifted heel into the wall to feel what it’s like to press through the heel.
- Add on to the virabhadrasana II (warrior 2) in-n-outs we talked about last week with “micro lift offs” to feel the action of keeping the lifted leg strong and engaged during take off.
Have your students do these actions in 3 sets of 10 will and they are sure to feel the work!
What else could you do?
What needs to be long in the lifted leg?
For most people, short/tight muscles aren’t as big an issue with the lifted leg as in the standing. When was the last time you were trying to come into this pose and you thought, “man, I feel a stretch in my lifted leg!”? If you can stand with your feet hip’s width apart, muscle length isn’t likely the issue preventing you from getting the lifted leg up.
That said, the full shape does require length in the hip adductors (mostly in the standing leg). How can we work to prepare those prior to our flow?
Ideas to lengthen
How about supta hasta padangustasana (reclined hand to big toe pose) again? SHP version B in which the leg is abducted out to the side shares the same hip actions as ardha chandrasana. It provides a great place to talk about the energy of the lifted leg because students can practice the strong press into the strap on their lifted foot (we assume most are doing this with a strap).
How else could you lengthen the hip adductors at the beginning of class?
Often structure –and “holding on” to it– is treated like a four-letter word, but it is an important part of developing a practice on and off the mat. Ardha chandrasana lets us explore that concept for real!
Now we’d love to hear from you: how does playing with structure help you find freedom in asana? Share your ideas here or on social with the tag #216infrastructure. We’d love to see what you come up with.
Join us again next week as we begin to tackle the upper body in ardha chandrasana!
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