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.
Welcome to a new month of asana INfrastructure, yogis!
This June, we’re delving into the joy of ardha chandrasana.
I remember very clearly the first time I practiced half moon pose in a vinyasa class. I remember thinking, wow, if I can do this pose someday, then I’ll be a “real yogi”!
Oh, how little I knew back then.
Looking back now, I see that what I was responding to was the challenge of an open-hip, axially elongated, one-legged balance pose; that’s a lot to manage all at once!
A decade later, practicing this shape brings me a feeling of expansion and joy like almost no other shape.
This month we will break it down valve by valve and see if we can’t find some of that joy for our students as we help them find their version of the shape.
This first week we examine the base of the pose: the standing leg and hip. As the old saying goes, “try to build a house on a poorly built foundation and your house won’t stay up very long or very well.”
It is the same thing with the standing leg in ardha chandrasana. If we sacrifice the joints of the base leg in favor of what we think the lifted leg and torso should be doing we will find either that we can’t get up, that we can’t stay up for any length of time, or that we start to feel pain in the standing leg joints (as a result of misuse).
How can you see if your student is suffering from this valve of misusing the standing leg joints?
An ardha chandrasana standing leg should look like a tadasana leg (picture on the left): toes forward, foot arch lifted, knee in line with second toe and not hyperextended (this allows you to use muscles to support the knee). Often, you will instead see toes pointed inward (medially), foot arches collapsed, and knee hyperextended (picture on the right).
This can happen through a combination of lack of proprioception and a lack of sufficient strength and length in the muscles of the three hip actions in ardha chandrasana standing hip. (Do you see a pattern from previous weeks?)
Many of our students were never taught how to do asana. They learned by watching those around them and the teacher. Unfortunately that can lead to mimicking through guesswork instead of moving through understanding.
Our students see that this pose means opening both hips, while lifting the back leg and trying to keep the torso open faced… all while seeking to balance.
What they don’t know is that to open the hips away from the standing leg completely requires at least 30 degrees more ROM in external rotation than the average person has. Thus, in an effort to achieve what is for many students an extreme range of motion in the hips and lift the top leg, students borrow mobility from places that should be stable –like the standing leg. Unfortunately, when the stability of the foundation is threatened, so is its integrity or safety.
Moreover, without a strong base to lift from, joy and expansion are probably not what our students are feeling in this shape.
What’s the alternative?
We think a great alternative is helping our students discover how much external rotation they currently have in the standing leg hip and hold firmly there. Holding where they are able to maintain strength will allow them to grow stronger and possibly open up more ROM, if it’s needed. From a place of safe external rotation in the standing leg hip, we can add external rotation of the lifted hip to bring the leg and foot parallel to the earth while still maintaining safety and stability (more on the lifted leg next week!).
For now, let’s move on to the nitty gritty of what the muscles are doing in the standing hip of ardha chandrasana, so we can give our students a firm knowledge of a firm foundation (pun intended!).
What’s Tight and Needs Lengthening
What might be tight in that standing leg preventing the safe external rotation we seek?
- Hip extensors (back of thigh and hip)
- Hip ADductors (inside of thigh and hip)
Ideas to lengthen
This is a great place to play with the A, B, and C series for supta hasta padangustasana (reclined hand to big toe pose). Not only will this series address all of the muscles needing length, but it also gives your students a more favorable relationship to gravity to build awareness of the lower limbs and hip ROM.
It’s also fun to note that uttihta hasta padangusthasana B and supta hasta padangusthasana B (with the leg abducted, i.e., opened away from the body) are basically ardha chandrasana rotated in space! This can be a great place to talk about the valve, especially if it’s already present here.
What’s Weak and Needs Strengthening
What might be weak in the standing leg preventing the safe external rotation we seek?
- Hip flexors (front of thigh and hip)
- Hip external rotators (back of hip)
- Hip ABductors (outside of hip)
Idea to strengthen
I love a good “in ‘n’ out” here. What’s an “in ‘n’ out” you ask?
It’s a phrase I use when I repeat a small section of a transition over and over as a way to build strength, heat, and awareness.
For example: for this week’s valve, I might have students come into virabhadrasana II (warrior II) and observe the tracking of the front leg joints. Once they are aligned properly, I would have them lengthen the front leg (think prep for trikonasana (triangle pose)) and then re-bend using the correct tracking for the joints. I would do three sets of up to twenty each (depending on the students).
During the first set, I would ask students to use the front knee as a drishti so that they watch what they are doing. This enables them to set new patterns if need be.
During the second two sets, I would ask them to move the gaze to the more traditional place for warrior II and attempt to feel that they are still tracking correctly. This encourages the exploration of proprioception and advances their learning.
Where Can Proprioception be Enhanced?
Where do students need to increase proprioception to aid in eliminating this week’s valve?
- Joint stacking of the lower limbs in poses with external rotation at the hip (such as warrior II, triangle, and parsvakonasana (extended side angle)).
Ideas to increase proprioception
Both the strengthening and lengthening ideas from above are also simultaneously increasing proprioception. It helps greatly if the asana and action we choose to sequence into class are in line with the principles and proprioception we are trying to teach. That way, every moment can be an opportunity for awakening!
How would you increase proprioception of joint stacking while also working on lengthening/strengthening needs?
Let us know in the comments below!
Or share your ideas on social with the tag #216infrastructure. We’d love to see what you come up with.
And of course, join us next Thursday when we add the lifted leg to the conversation, and help our students find a sense of lightness!
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