Hip Opening Can Be Blissful, Even for the Tight-Hipped
Normal people see a flexi-hipped yogi do Agnistambhasana or Firelog Pose and copy it at some point down the road. It can be such an effective hip opener! With deep release of the outer hip muscles (or external rotators), one may be rewarded with the benefits of relief from insomnia, release of emotional tension, and renewed creative energy. Too often, however, this pose is misunderstood.
The preponderance of chair sitting (combined with no targeted yoga exercises) makes most of us tight-hipped. I hope to empower you to approach this pose intelligently, effectively and “yogically” (my newly coined word).
I address the prop-free approach first and then educate through pictures how to experience the “yoga” of this pose with blankets, a block and a chair.
Know that there’s a way to experience this pose with deep relaxation and release, even for the tight-hipped! It is to be experienced and I hope you will take the time and trouble for yourself. (If in doubt, seek the guidance of a teacher schooled in alignment.)
Here’s how to get unstuck.
This picture shows someone in the typical tight hip position where stress is being placed on the ankle and knee and, in fact, little or no hip release is occurring. The poor pose is rendered practically useless for the doer, usually unbeknownst to them.
Nevertheless. the mother daughter connection is touching!
Agnistambhasana (Firelog Pose)
To set up the pose as correctly as possible without props: cross the shins in the middle (where the midway point of each shin makes an “X”.) Move each foot away from the hips such that each foot is under the opposite knee. See that the weight is slightly forward on the sitting bones facilitating an upward length to the lumbar spine (lower back).
Now, place the hands on the ground and, from the push of the hands down, lift up along the side waist and into the front of the armpit/chest area.
Keep the ankle joint balanced by maintaining a flex to each foot. To intensify the hip opening and experience Firelog pose, place one foot on top of the opposite knee.
Review the previous directions of positioning the pelvis with an upright lift and using the arms to lift into the chest.
Now, this pose makes more sense!
To come forward in firelog pose takes very open hips. Better to return the foot under the knee (back in Sukhasana, Simple Crossed Legs) and get assistance with the upward length.
This partner pose helps create better understanding in the opening of the hips. The standing helper locks forearms with the doer and gives them gentle upward extension while slightly leaning backwards.
Both the helper and doer should remain for 30 seconds to 1 minute while focusing on their breath, particularly the exhalation.
The learning comes when the doer can feel the release of the hips and relief in the spine as a result of the upward traction of the spine.
This pose feels so much better with props! What once was slightly uncomfortable becomes easy and free.
Yogis believe meditation and a deeply peaceful state cannot occur without the natural length of the spine. Tight hips prevent the spine from being able to lengthen, usually reversing the natural curve in the lower back. Alas, props are the remedy.
Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
Stack neatly folded blankets so that the front edge is composed of all the folded sides. Use enough blankets such that the knees lower to the height of the hips when seated in Sukhasana, or Simple Crossed Legs.
The same directions apply: shins crossed at the mid-way point and feet away from body under the opposite knee. Flex the feet such that the ankle joint does not bend to the side.
In this picture, we placed a long rolled up blanket under the ankles for support. Push down into the arms to create length in the torso.
Once in position, breathe and take in the cross currents of energy through the hips and legs, the opening through the inner and outer groins, and the length upwards through the spine and outwards from the the thighs into the knees.
Adho Mukha Sukhasana (Easy Pose Forward Bend)
Next comes the bliss of forward bending with head support. Maintain the length of the front spine when folding forward to initiate the fold at the groins. If you lower too much, the bend will concentrate in one part of the posterior spine. Fetch the prop(s) to create the height that accommodates your body such that there is even roundness along the entire spine.
In this picture, we added a foam half block on the seat of the chair under her forehead which helped even the roundness along the back of her cervical (neck) region. In the final pose, the forehead has a place to rest. Place the arms up onto the seat of the chair to continue with the element of extension of the front spine.
This was the first time our model experienced this pose. Her reaction? “This feels so good!” Need we say more?
Adho Mukha Agnistambhasana (Firelog Pose Forward Bend)
You, or your student, may be able to fold deeper while maintaining the even rounding of the spine. A more open student, in fact, may be able to return to Firelog pose (with one foot placed on top of the opposite knee) before folding forward.
In this picture, a foam block on the middle height was the best support for the forehead in bending forward with even roundness.
Once this pose is experienced with better alignment and deeper release, there’s no going back! Happy Hip Openers and keep practicing!