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 week of Eagle Hips!
The mythology of the god Garuda can again give us insight into the valves we often see in Eagle hips: unconscious actions.
In each of the three challenges the great eagle god faced, Garuda observed the situation before him and, without emotion or judgement, determined what actions were needed to overcome his challenge. This is a valuable lesson to keep in mind as we look at the hip actions and potential valves in Eagle pose –and of course off the mat!
In this second week, we’re looking closely at what’s going on in the hips. Gaining awareness here can prepare you to make a conscious choice about whether to take the leg bind and foot wrap or not. (We’ll discuss the details of the legs next week!) The valve or misalignment we commonly see in the hips is the hip hiking and/or pulling forward on the side of the lifted leg.
Unlike the valves we looked at in the shoulders last week that were likely caused by muscular imbalance, the hip valves here tend to be a matter of proprioception (knowledge of where one is in space) and ego. If you are unaware of where your hips are in space or what they should be doing, they will often take the simplest path to achieve what you think you want to do, whether that’s just the leg cross or includes the foot bind. And we see many students attempting the foot wrap because they assume that’s an objective of the pose, likely because they saw a teacher or fellow student doing it easily.
We see things a little differently.
One of the fundamental principles of Structural Yoga (our lineage) is that long term safety and health in a joint is dependant on the ability for each joint to move clearly through individual joint actions. Moreover, one should be able to combine multiple joint actions with full awareness of the all the different movements involved. Most poses include these compound joint actions.
For example, in Eagle, one can move into the hip actions by first lifting the leg into hip flexion, then crossing the leg over into hip adduction, and then, perhaps, turn inward to achieve the foot wrap (if doing this). When we neglect to create all of these joint actions, we are much more likely to allow movement elsewhere, like dumping our weight into the standing hip and causing collapse of the standing knee, which knees don’t love!
Before we share examples for how to teach all of these actions, we want to bring everyone onto the same page with the muscles. It is helpful to know the muscles that create the individual actions, so that you can accurately guide students’ awareness of effort.
The major muscle group pairs for Eagle hip actions are the hip ADductors and hip ABductors and the hip flexors and hip extensors. (We’ll look at hip internal and external rotators next week when we tackle the legs.)
Last week we explained how muscles work in pairs. Need a refresher on the concept? Read our straightforward introduction to muscle actions.
Muscles that need to be strong to keep the hips peaceful in Garudasana
hip ADductors: adductor group
hip flexors: iliopsoas and rectus femoris
Given the location of these muscles, you can enhance your awareness of each action if you draw attention to the inner thigh, top of the thigh, and deep core (at the spine) of the lifted leg.
Muscles that need to be long to keep the hips peaceful in Garudasana
hip ABductors: gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, TFL
hip extensors: gluteus maximus and hamstrings
Given the location of these muscles, you/your students may feel a stretch sensation on the outside (and perhaps the buttocks) of the lifted leg.
Learning what muscles create which joint actions is vitally important if you intend to teach from an anatomically informed place. If you want to give students cues about what they are/might be feeling in their muscles, it’s your responsibility to direct them to the correct muscles! As teachers, we risk adding ignorance to ignorance by sharing false information, especially when we’re not aware that it’s false. We develop our consciousness on the mat and off the mat by owning what we do not yet know and seeking out the knowledge we need!
You can help your students improve hip awareness in this shape by guiding them to enter the pose with clear joint-action by joint action instruction instead of the usual “lift your knee and wrap once or twice around the standing leg.”
Here’s an example of teaching consciousness in the hips
- Start in tadasana. Bring the feet together. Activate the inner legs by drawing them together and reaching up through the spine.
- Take the hands to the hips. It is important to tell your students that the hands are on the hips to help them keep track of where the hips are in space (facing forward). The goal as you guide them through the next movements is to keep the pelvis steady while using the muscles of the hips to move the thigh bone (femur).
- Flex at the right hip to lift the right knee out in front of you until it’s parallel to the earth. Try to keep the thigh parallel, the shin perpendicular and the foot active.
- Without changing the lift in the spine, the flex at the hip or the right angle of the knee: Adduct the right thigh to the left, across the midline of the body. Hold or pulse there to draw awareness to the activity of the inner thighs drawing together.
- Come back to Tadasana. Repeat other side.
Repeat the above for a second set, and this time add on at step 4:
- Keep the lifted thigh moving across the midline as you bend the standing leg, moving the outer shins toward each other. The desire to get the shins to touch will often pull the lifted hip forward, so make sure to encourage students to keep the pelvis steady here and take the leg only as far across as possible before the pelvis needs to shift –which may not be as far they expect!
- Repeat other side.
The objective of this exercise isn’t to attempt to wrap the foot or even worry about how “bound” the lower legs can be, but instead to bring your students into the conversation about what the hips should be doing for efficient movement.
Once you see clarity of action in the hips, you can move into the legs and discuss the bind options. We’ll dive into this next week, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, tell us: have you run into challenges with teaching this pose?
We’d love for you to try the above exercise with some of your students and let us know what you (and they) learn!