Friday, July 10, 2015

Posture of the week - Ankle to Knee/Firelog Pose/Agnistambhasana

I am going to be completely "human" here and admit that despite years of practice, I still have pretty tight hips.  This is partially genetics, and partially because as a little kid I sat like the pic below all the time because crossed legged position was not comfortable to me.  In sitting that way, I exacerbated the tightness or my hips by never stretching or releasing them even when I had a child's malleable body.  And my hip tightness is also not helped by my sitting in front of a computer a lot, nor by my strong leg weight workouts.  :) So I have a lot working "against" my hips getting more open.

How I used to sit as a child. Seriously bad for the knees
and encouraged me to be really knock-kneed and tight hipped
in adulthood.

I have been in many yoga classes where the instructor called out Ankle to Knee pose and said something along the lines of "just stack your shins in front of you..." leaving me and my tight hips to find something else to do.  I think I was not alone in the feeling that ankle to knee is "impossible" for my hips, or that if I managed to wriggle my way into it, it left me feeling pain in my knees or rounded in my low back.  So after years of figuring it out in my own body, I have some ways to modify and work up to it that I would love to share with you!  We'll start from softest on the hips and progress on to harder variations.  NONE of these variations should cause pain or discomfort in your knee joints!  If you feel pain in your knees, back off from whatever variation you are doing.

Single leg modification, elevated:

1 leg at a time is much easier than both! Try this as a modification/replacement for ankle to knee, or use it as a warm up to help prepare your hips for the full posture.

To get into the posture: Sit on a block or a blanket, and extend your left leg straight forward from your hip.  Place a rolled up blanket under your left knee to keep the knee from hyperextending, since you are sitting on the block. Make sure left knee and foot face straight up, and flex your left foot.  Cross your right ankle just past your left knee, and flex the foot strongly to help protect the knee.  Stay upright if you are already feeling enough sensation, or fold forward without rounding the spine to make the release of the right hip a little more intense.  Stay for 5-10 breaths, then repeat on the other side.

For more intensity, fold forward, and possibly grab the foot.
Make sure not to round the spine to fold forward... )
...instead, fold from the hip creases and keep the spine long.

Single leg modification on the floor:

A slightly more intense modification - no props allows the hip to open a bit deeper.

To get into the posture: Set up as the above variation, but sitting on the floor instead of a prop.  If you feel your spine is rounded, go back to the previous variation.  As in the first variation, you can stay upright or fold forward.

Fold forward for more intensity in the posture possibly grabbing your foot.
As in the previous variation, be sure to not round the spine to fold forward...

...instead, keep the spine long.

Two block modification:

Ankle to knee, sitting on one block on the low level, second block under the bottom knee at medium level.

This is my favorite modification/variation, and I made it up myself!  (that's not to say somebody didn't already make it up and "copyright" it before me, but I was excited that I discovered it in my own body.  :)  )

To get into the posture: sit on one of your blocks on its lowest level (or medium level if your hips have a lot of resistance). Bring your left shin parallel to the short side of your mat, and then stack your right shin on top, lining up the heels with the edges of your knees.  Make sure both shins are parallel to the short edge of your mat, and the bottom closer to your hips than your top.  Make sure your ankle isn't sickled; there should be no wrinkling in the skin on the inside of your right ankle, and the ankle should be in a neutral position.  If your left knee is floating off the floor (and it probably is if you are sitting on a block), then place your block diagonally across the knee joint to support it.  It is balanced on the edge so it is a flat surface to rest the knee on rather than an uncomfortable edge.  Make sure the block supports both the shin and the thigh, rather than just one or the other.  Lengthen the spine and sit up tall, or feel free to fold forward without rounding the spine.  Stay for 5-10 breaths, then repeat on the other side.  If you are not able to lengthen the spine and sit up tall, then lean back on your hands.

For more intensity, fold forward any amount, resting hands on the floor.
Make sure not to round the spine to fold forward.  Or if your spine is rounded when trying to sit upright, try the below:

Leaning back on the hands relieves some of the intensity from the hips, and allows the spine to be long instead of rounded.
The block under your knee can be at the high height to make it easier on your hips.
The block under your knee can be on the lowest level for more intensity.

Make sure the block supports both the shin and the thigh, unlike the pic above where only the shin is supported...

...or this pic above where only the thigh is supported.

Make sure your heel is all the way to the edge of the knee, unlike above where my heel is farther down my shin.
Also make sure the heel isn't past the knee as above.
Make sure both shins are parallel to the front of your mat, rather than the bottom shin tucked in like above.
Make sure the ankle isn't "sickled" as above.  The ankle should be in a neutral flexed position with the toes the same level as the ankle instead of above the ankle.

Ankle to knee, "cheater variation"

I call it cheater variation because it is one of the ways I "trick" my hips into getting into the full ankle to knee posture. The pressure of the elbow on the arch of the foot seems to get my top hip out of its own way, then when I come forward the hips do not resist as much.

To get into the posture: Sitting on the floor, stack your left shin on top of your right as before in the two block variation.  Rock onto your right sits bone, then twist and fold forward to your right bringing your left elbow into the inside arch of your left foot.  It is okay if your left sits bone lifts, but keep reaching it toward the floor or keep it on the floor if flexibility allows.  If your elbow won't reach the arch of your foot, then use forearm or grab the foot with your left hand.  If you have the flexibility to go deeper place both elbows on the floor as though you are doing forearm plank.  Press the left elbow back into the left knee, and feel how this creates more space in the left hip.  Stay for a few  breaths here.

If the elbow won't come all the way do the arch of your foot, you can put your forearm in the arch of your foot as above...

...or simply press your hand back into your foot as above.

If you have more flexibility, you can fold all the way down until your elbows rest on the floor.

Next, simultaneously bring your left sits bone back down onto the floor and swing the torso around to the front of your mat, so you end up in ankle to knee folding forward! If your right knee lifts off the floor at this point, support it with a blanket or block.  Or if folding forward is still too much, sit upright instead.

If your bottom knee floats off the ground in ankle to knee as above, make sure to support it with a block or blanket.

Ankle to knee with a blanket supporting the bottom knee.

Feel free to support the head or forearms with a block or blanket if you are folding forward.

Ankle to knee leaning forearms on a block.

Ankle to knee with the head supported with a block.

Take 5-10 breaths once you are folded forward, then repeat on the other side.

Ankle to knee: foot press variation (pic pressing on feet)

Ankle to knee, pressing the balls of the feet into the palms of the hands and vice versa, creating resistance to facilitate the release of the hips!

This variation "gets the hips out of their own way" and is a nice way to get deeper into the posture than you would by just stacking the shins.  The foot press can be done in ankle to knee on the floor, or also in the two block variation.

To get into the posture: Stack the shins for ankle to knee either with blocks or without.  Fold forward a bit, then place the palms of your hands onto the balls of your feet.  Press the balls of the feet into the hands as though you are trying to point your toes, but resist with the hands so the feel do not actually move.  Note the space being created in the hips, perhaps allowing you to fold a bit farther forward.  After holding for a few breaths, release the hands from the feet and settle into ankle to knee.  Hold for 5-10 breaths, then repeat on the other side.

Ankle to knee: foot press variation 2

In this variation, only the top foot is touched by the hand.  Hand is under the pinkie toe side of the foot, and press the pinkie toe side of the foot down toward the ground while resisting with the hand.  Do the same press with the bottom foot down into the ground.

This variation is another way to engage the lower legs to get more out of the hips.

To get into the posture: Stack the shins for ankle to knee with the right shin on top, then bring your left hand to the outside edge of your left foot.  Press the outside of the foot down into the hand while resisting with the hand so the foot doesn't actually move.  Do the same motion with the left foot, but pressing into the floor.  Hold for a few breaths, then release the press of the feet and settle in to ankle to knee for 5-10 breaths.


As always, my friendly kitties were around to "help" with the photos.  :)

What are you lookin' at?

Nala judges my form.  :)

Hey Merteuil, down in front!

Riddick says "stop sickling your ankle."

Not a flattering angle.  :)

No comments:

Post a Comment