Ever stumble across a yoga class that’s a little above your pay grade and the teacher says, “Now we’re going to do X position while balancing in Y position?”
Do you ever think, “Wait! How am I supposed to do X when I can’t even do A, B, C, D, E, F or G?”
It’s like watching Olympic gymnasts—they’re so far beyond our usual reference point that we need to master the fifty other hard things they were doing as toddlers before we can dream of emulating them.
Maybe the Gateway Leg Lift is easy for you, or maybe it offers some challenge. Either way, it begins to strengthen your abdominals, expand the range of motion of your hamstrings and hips, and adds a little balance thrown in for good measure… all of which are gateways to the more demanding poses you find at your nearest yoga studio. That’s why it’s called “Gateway Leg Lift.”
Okay, let’s start:
1. Be in a lunge position with your right foot forward, set up between your hands. Stay for two long breaths.
2. Extend out your right knee and fold over the right leg. Keep your back long; avoid rounding it. Stay for three long breaths.
3. Reach with your left hand toward your right foot. Use the thumb, index and middle fingers to grasp your right big toe.
4. Place your right hand slightly farther to the right—just outside of the mat, for instance, for easier balance going into the next stage. Tighten your abdominals, bear down on your right hand and left knee and raise your right leg.
5. Here’s another view of the position. Note that while ideally your back would be straight, while you’re working your way into mastery of this pose, it’s okay to have it rounded and muscularly engaged, just as your abdominals and left arm are engaged. Breathe five slow, steady breaths, release, and repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Strengthens your abdominals, increases your cross-body equilibrium and sets up a gentle but nevertheless dynamic stretch to your hip and hamstring.
Avoid if: The knee supporting you hurts, even when cushioned with a second mat or a pillow. Avoid as well if your back feels like it’s straining. Also, if at first you can only do this position comfortably raising the foot only slightly, then just do that. As your ability increases, so will where you can raise the leg. Lastly, if your hip joints hurt with this position, also skip it—there are many other things you can do to strengthen your abdominals or increase your sense of balance without making your hips hurt.
Final thoughts: Now you have something else to do when that mean yoga teacher says, “Cross your ankles behind your neck, lift your butt, and balance on your hands.” Do the Gateway Leg Lift and you’ll basically be saying to your uber-accomplished classmates, “Sure, no problem. I’d be happy to do that later. But right now I’m busy with this.”
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Ed: Bryonie Wise