Establishing Stability on One Leg

Abduction in Tree Pose 300x168“Focusing on one spot in front of you” is a common instruction for one-legged standing pose. That is not easy to do and, unfortunately, is not enough to stabilize the pose. The key is to hold your pelvis leveled and keep your standing leg neutrally rotated. You can accomplish this by enlist the aid of your hip muscles or the gluteals.

Finding the Middle Ground

When standing in Mountain Pose – Tadasana you may find yourself somewhere in between two extremes; anterior tilt and posterior tilt of the pelvis. You may find yourself arching the back inward, hardening the groins and pushing the hips back when you habitually tilt the pelvis anteriorly. If you tailbone curled, groins pushed forward and feet started to turn out, you are doing posterior tilt of the pelvis. Both of them can damage the lower back, sacroiliac joints, sacral ligament, sciatic nerve, to name but a few. Tilting forward will shorten the hip flexors and overarch the lumbar spine at the same time leave the sacral joints unsupported. Tilting the pelvis back will tighten the piriformis muscles and compress the sacroiliac joints.

To practice finding the neutral pelvis in Tadasana, stand with your feet hip-width apart, slightly bend the knees to soften the groins and tilt the pelvis a little forward. Shift the hips back slightly to transfer some more of the weight to the back part of the feet. Then you slowly straighten the legs and, simultaneously, drop the tailbone as you lift the pubic bones up toward your navel. This will tilt the pelvis back to neutral. Keep the thigh muscles engaged, lower abdomen lifted and tailbone heavy to maintain the well balanced pelvis. Notice the sense of stability down your two legs and around your hip joints and sacrum.

Level Your Pelvis

Image from http://www.halfmoondenver.com

One-legged standing pose like Tree Pose – Vrksasana is the same story, but with third player adding. Neutral pelvis is one thing. But when you are balancing on one leg, chances are pelvis tipping sideway. Our third player who comes to aid is the gluteal muscles.

Gluteals are a group of three muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. The function of gluteals we focus on is the abduction. Anatomically, abduction in legs and hips refers to moving the leg out sideway, away from the midline of the body.

What would happen if the standing leg of Tree Pose is abducted? Well, because it is one-legged standing pose, the leg cannot really move. Therefore, it performs abduction isometrically, the muscles work the same way as when the leg is lifted out sideway but the leg is not really lifted. The result of this isometric action is to level the pelvis and stabilize the hip joint.

Root It down

The general rule of thumb that always works best in standing pose is to keep the knees and toes pointing the same direction. Avoid locking the knee of the standing leg until you can have it pointed to the same line as the second toe. As long as they are facing the same way, your knee is safe. Spread the toes wide and balance your weight evenly through the four corners underneath your foot. Then you can start contracting the thigh muscle to extend the standing leg.

As you are rooting the leg down into the earth, activate the gluteals by hugging the outer hip in to level your pelvis. Notice that this is different from scooping the tailbone which will destabilize the sacrum by tilting it backward and tighten the sacral ligament. You still want to have neutral pelvis. So find the middle ground by getting the tailbone heavy and progressively lifting the pubic bone up toward the navel.

Firm your thigh muscle of the standing leg against the sole of the other foot. At the same time, press the foot into the inner thigh actively to prevent it from excessively external rotation. With the neutrally rotated standing leg and gluteals abducted isometrically to leveling pelvis, sacral joint is stabilized and supported.

Then comes the last instruction – “Focusing on one spot in front of you.”

Model: Pom in Vrksasana