Triangle pose is an iconic posture in yoga that has tremendous benefits for increasing hip range of motion by creating more flexibility of the hamstrings and adductors (inner thigh muscles). There are several potential strength benefits that triangle pose has to offer, however it requires an intentional activation of our muscles, they likely won’t engage on their own. In the video and photo breakdown below I go over my favorite muscle activations for triangle pose. From my experience in practicing triangle pose with teachers across the world I have heard these verbal alignment cues more often than not: “Square your pelvis to the side wall, tuck your tail bone, and place your hand on your shin, block or ground.” When I practice, I try to really do what the teacher asks, but every time I tried this I noticed an immediate pain in my hip that I never get when I approach triangle pose on my own or coming from a posture like side angle pose. I also noticed that if I maintain these alignment cues my hand only goes to my shin at best unless I fall into a deep side bend. Knowing the anatomy of the hip, I assumed that this alignment increased the potential compression at the hip joint, and maybe caused the soft tissue to be pinched. I decided to do some research on Hip FAI (femoralacetabular impingement) or hip impingement.
After much research on Hip FAI (femoralacetabular impingement) I was hoping to bring you conclusive data on how yoga could cause or help hip impingement, however the current research on yoga specifically is minimal and mostly all over the place. It is commonly agreed that range of motion and proper strength training can help prevent hip impingement. It is also commonly agreed that many athletic sports could be the cause of it, as well as childhood development of the bones and joints. There is however an interesting study that showed increased impingement and stress on the hip joint in dancers when performing specific dance positions which include external rotation and posterior titled pelvis. The research doesn’t mention these specific structural alignments, however being the husband of a dancer raised on ballet I was able to confirm my suspicion about these pelvis and femur bone alignments. In ballet you are asked to keep the low back long which is a posterior tilt of the pelvis – often cued as “tuck your tail” in yoga classes. One pose in the research article stood out to me: développé à la seconde, which is essentially standing triangle pose or Utthita Hasta Pandangusthasana B. The photo of my good friend Beau Campbell (@theyogarina) to the right (below on mobile) shows the posture in the study. Food for thought: If this posture is creating compression at the hip, what happens when you add the weight of gravity as we do in triangle pose.
What is Hip Impingement
Hip impingement is the result of increase friction or damage of the soft tissue that makes up the hip joint. The hip joint is where the thigh bone, and pelvis connect. it is a ball and socket joint – the head of the femur (thigh bone) is round “ball” and the pelvis has a “socket” that receives it. There are soft tissues that cover and surround the bones so that the joint becomes slippery and smooth. Articular cartilage covers the two bones, and the labrum is like a gasket that forms a tight seal around the joint. When these soft tissues become inflamed, irritated or damaged it is referred to as hip impingement. Some Hip impingements are the result of the way our bones were formed growing up, and others could be the result of repetitive high impact exercises or sports. A healthy hip joint is one where there is no wear and tear of the soft tissues.
Are there other hip injuries?
Hip impingement is not the only kind of injury around the hip area. The hip is surrounded by Ligaments, muscles, fascia and nerves that can all become injured do to stress, strain or structural miss-alignments. Just because you have hip pain does not mean you have and impinged hip. We are also coming to realize that not all physical pain exists in the body, but can also be stemming from mental or emotional trauma. What should you do if you have hip pain? Don’t freak out, see a specialist to assess where the pain is stemming from so you can take proper action to support your health. It could be a pulled muscles, or as simple as a muscle that is hyper active and causing a myriad of issues. Physical therapy, Accupuncture, and Massage are all great healing modalities to try.
Step 1 - Internal rotation
Rotate the back foot, thigh bone and pelvis inward toward the front leg. No need to overdue this like you would when trying to square the hips in a lunge pose. How much to turn in will depend on you and your structure so go slow and try various angles and observe what you feel. This will increase the amount of possible joint mobility but tight hamstrings might still inhibit range of motion.
Step 3: Glute Activation
From your front buttocks press down into your heal until you feel your pelvis starts to open back toward the sky (the opposite of step 1). Ideally activating both gluteus Maximus, and gluteus medius/minimus as you do so. This likely will all happen when you press down, but if your pelves doesn’t rotate open and your outer hips don’t engage, try pressing your inner heal down and outward.
Step 2: bow at the pelvis
Flex (or bow) at the hip joint to bring your front hand to the block or the ground, I personally avoid asking students to go to the shin as not to put more downward pressure in to the front knee. Personally I come to finger tips as its a bit easier than full palm and still grounded. Press down into your hand for support and activation of your deep core – psoas muscles.
Step 4: Counter Action
Similar to step 1, we are trying to rotate the thigh and hip inward again however the major difference is that in step 4 it is simply an activation of the muscles not an actual movement of the bones. Counter action creates stability, and also helps to prevent going too deep into the end range of motion which could bring you right back to impingement or just an over stretch of the adductors.
Hips: Rock & Unlock 'Em
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