Refining the Pelvis in Twisting Standing Poses
Yoga poses are “kinetic keys” that unlock and open the mind/body connection. Precise and accurate renditions of the asanas are more effective for unlocking the doors to the yoga experience. For example, we draw the front knee back and the pelvis forward in Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) by pressing the outside of the knee into the arm. This engages the abductor muscles of the hip and brings the pelvis, knee, and ankle into alignment while stabilizing the pose. It also aids to open the front of the body and is an example of using a constraint (the knee against the arm) to create freedom.
Just as the knee tends to drift inward in Utthita Parsvakonasana and Virabhadrasana I and II (Warrior Poses I and II), so the pelvis tends to drift away from the midline in Parvrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose). In this post, we explore connecting the upper and lower extremities while simultaneously engaging the hip abductors to draw the pelvis into alignment with the legs.
Here’s the Anatomy
The upper appendicular skeleton is composed of the shoulder girdle and arms. The lower appendicular skeleton comprises the pelvic girdle and legs. The axial skeleton is made up of the pelvic girdle, spine, ribcage, and skull. Consequently, connecting the upper and lower extremities (the hand to the foot or elbow to the knee) can be used to influence the position of the trunk.
How to Practice Standing Twists
- Always warm up first to acclimate the stretch receptors within the muscles and lengthen the myofascial connective tissue. I use five Sun Salutations or Surya Namaskaras A, but you can also do several Adho Mukha Svanasanas (Downward Facing Dog Poses) in succession.
- Then I practice some standing poses that have the pelvis facing forward—such as Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) and Virabhadrasana II—followed by an asana that turns the pelvis, such as Virabhadrasana I.
- Warming up in this manner prepares the body for turning poses like Parvrtta Trikonasana. Get a feel for rotating the trunk by bringing the opposite hand to the knee or lower leg in an intermediate variation of the pose. This connects the upper and lower appendicular skeletons.
( view of the oblique abdominals )
4. Engage the abdominals to turn the torso. This involves activating the lower-side internal oblique and upper-side external oblique muscles. Flex the forward hip by contracting the front-leg psoas and its synergists. The cue I use for this is to gently draw the trunk toward the thigh and imagine lifting the leg toward the trunk. Co-activating the psoas and oblique abdominals flexes the hips and trunk and turns the body from the core. These muscles also work with the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum to stabilize the lumbar spine.
( view of the psoas and tensor fascia lata )
5. With the core muscles engaging, the next step is to gently press the hand against the outer side of the foot, ankle, or knee by contracting the triceps and forearm muscles as shown.
6. At the same time, I press the front foot into the mat and gently attempt to drag it towards the hand. This combination forms a lock between the upper and lower extremities. Because the foot is constrained to the mat, the force of engaging the abductor muscles is transmitted to the pelvis, drawing it toward the midline.
7. Finally, I attempt to drag the back foot toward the midline. My foot won’t move, but this cue engages the adductor muscles of the back leg, further drawing the pelvis towards the center of the body.
( engaging the abductors and adductors )
Always, in your particular case, consult your health care provider before practicing yoga or any other exercise program. Always practice yoga under the direct supervision of a qualified instructor.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Bandha.
Illustrations by the Daily Bandha.
Author Ray Long MD, FRCSC is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga. Ray graduated from The University of Michigan Medical School with post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, The University of Montreal and Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over twenty years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters.
3d Graphic Designer / Illustrator Chris Macivor has been involved in the field of digital content creation for well over ten years. He is a graduate of Etobicoke School of the Arts, Sheridan College and Seneca College. Chris considers himself to be equally artistic and technical in nature. As such his work has spanned many genres from film and television to video games and underwater imagery.