My favorite mat, courtesy of Manduka.
Ankle-to-Knee Pose (Double Pigeon/Firelog) has always been an effective hip-opener for my body. I typically work with some degree of tension from compensatory patterns related to muscle weakness and what I suspect are structural variations of my hip joints. It’s definitely not an easy pose for me, even after almost twenty years of practice, but it has taught me so much about acceptance, patience, and compassion.
I employ two manual self-adjustments in Ankle-to-Knee pose that have helped me cultivate more sensitivity and specificity in the pose. Both assists are appropriate for students who can find (relative) ease in the pose despite perhaps a not so subtle stretch in the outer hips! Also, students with considerable range of motion in their hips might find more integration in Ankle-to-Knee with these subtle adjustments.
Hands On the Soles of My Feet
Once in the pose, I place the palms of my hands on the soles of my feet and I press my heels out into my hands. This action of adduction creates a sensation of space in my hips, which may be the result of a lateral gliding of my femoral heads in my hip sockets, thus allowing for more external rotation.
Pressing the soles of the feet into the hands also closes the chain. “By giving the feet something to press into, the articulating surfaces of the hip joint (the ball-shaped head of the femur bone and the cup-shaped socket of the pelvic bone) approximate. This puts the soft tissues—the joint capsule and surrounding ligaments and tendons—on slack thus allowing for more passive range of motion at the joint,” explains Laurel Beversdorf, a yoga and anatomy educator in NYC. Perhaps this explains why I feel a sense of release and space in my hips when I give myself this manual adjustment.
Thumbs On Inner Heel and Inner Knee
I learned this adjustment from Rodney Yee. I place one thumb on the space between my inner ankle bone and the base of my inner heel. I wedge my other thumb into the crease of my inner knee. Both thumbs then pull away from each other in the effort to lengthen the inner leg. I find that by lengthening the skin on my inner heel, I encourage the compactness of my outer ankle bone. This action is supported by the contraction of the muscles along my lateral leg (the peroneal muscles: fibularis longus and fibularis brevis), the result of which I can feel traveling all the way up to my outer hip. It gives me a feeling of stability and containment into which I can release. I think this is an important action in Ankle-to-Knee because, for many of us, there’s a tendency to leak into the outer ankle as a means of compensating for limited range of motion in the hip joint. In extreme cases, I see students whose top ankles are completely sickled, the effects of which are potentially injurious to both the ligaments of the outer ankle and the knee.
As I pull my inner knee wide, I’m also rotating my thigh bone externally—my thumb is in the crease of my knee but the rest of my hand wraps around the distal thigh, giving me the grip I need to turn my thigh gently open. I can feel the effects of this small adjustment all the way up in my hip joints.
My personal experience of these manual self-assists is that they offer me space and congruency in my hip joints. I’ve gained more clarity in my hip-opening practice—a connection to the origin of action and a specificity that has helped me navigate my personal compensatory patterns. I hope they spark compassionate inquiry in your practice.