Compass Pose

Variations to Challenge Balance and Flexibility

balance & flexibility


Compass Pose, especially the variations Matt offers today, will challenge you, and not necessarily in the ways you might think. Most obviously, it will challenge you in the lateral flexion of the spine and the extensive amount of shoulder and hamstring flexibility required, but even more than that are all the lifts, drops, and turns, or maybe better said, the articulations and/or actions in the joints, that make it that much more challenging. However, with challenge comes reward. You’ll see that both variations provide an opportunity to deepen your understanding of the posture because of the step-by-step techniques you’ll follow and because of how your body responds within the posture. After reviewing today’s video clip, you’ll be empowered with 2 variations of Compass Pose that will test your ability to stay present while increasing strength, balance, and flexibility.

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Although Compass Pose is a seated posture, it does require balance. After all, one leg is lifted while the other is grounded to the floor. Lifting the top leg requires strength in the outer hip muscles (gluteus medius & minimus).  Because you grab hold of the foot of the top leg, you might argue that Compass Pose is both a passive and an active stretch. A healthy approach to this lifting and opening is to activate those outer hip muscles to create more abduction, rather than relying solely on the flexibility of the adductors and the hamstrings. Next up are your shoulders and back muscles. Gaining access to grabbing hold of the foot requires an engagement of the rhomboids to create more opening in the shoulders. In addition, there are 2 actions that are key to putting it all together.




It’s the 2 additional actions we’ll see now that bring the pose together.

In this variation, the bottom knee is bent. Matt shows you how to “snuggle” into your lifted leg while leaning and putting your weight into the bent (or seated) leg, seting you up for success. Leaning your weight to the side allows for a hike of the hip—the first action. This lifting, along with the activation of the rhomboids to pull your shoulder back, allows you to more easily guide your foot. Matt explains that keeping the hike of the hip means that your pelvis is at an angle in which your leg doesn’t have to fight against the hip joint, ultimately making it easier for shoulder opening. The second action is the internal rotation of the hip as you lift the leg. Internal rotation helps maintain the lift. 

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In this 2nd variation of Compass Pose, the bottom leg is straight and mimics Center Splits early in the setup. Once you’re in the posture, extending the bottom leg all the way out further challenges your balance and flexibility. In order to maintain better balance, you can emphasize internally rotating through both legs for more stability in your base.  

Now, remember when I mentioned that Compass Pose can be viewed as both an active and a passive stretch? In the full class, Matt takes the pose to the next level and offers the option of letting go of the foot and relying on both the active flexion of the hip and the activation of the outer hips. Do these actions remind you of anything?  If you said Vishvamitrasana, then you’re right. So much of what Matt offers here is exactly what you need to prepare for Vishvamitrasana (also known, among other names in English, as Flying Compass Pose).

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The challenges you encounter might be in those finer details (hiking up and internally rotating the hip), or perhaps the inability to balance on one side is preventing you from utilizing the flexibility available to you. If you do find balance, incorporating the internal rotation may either throw off your balance or make it hard to maintain. The truth is that building on one step at a time while honoring the current state of your body will help you reap the rewards over time.  

Matt’s current Splits Immersion will both challenge you and guide you toward the mastery of these techniques.

See you on the mat!

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Article by Trish Curling

Video Extracted From: The Splits


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