My goal toward teaching my students yoga has always been to teach them enough about their bodies and the practice of yoga so that one day, should they every want or need to, they are capable of flowing it out all their own.
This means not only teaching them poses and giving them cues to get them in the right alignment, but teaching them to listen to their bodies so they can feel what poses will balance their life at the moment, the benefits of poses as well as the anatomy of the human body so they can safely and effectively navigate their flow.
Most people have some general knowledge of their bodies and the major muscles groups that are commonly used such as triceps/biceps, quads and hamstrings, abs, calves, etc. So, I choose to go into the more overlooked areas of the body and bring my students awareness to these more subtle muscle groups that play key roles in moving and balancing the body.
One of my favorite groups to hone in on are the adductors, the inner thigh muscles that are responsible for squeezing the thighs together. The entire group of those five muscles are about the same size as your quads or hamstrings.
The adductors are made up of five separate muscles that attach to the pelvis and then run down to the thigh or shin bones. When engaged, they bring the thighs together keeping the pelvis stable. In an extended position they allow the legs to separate and the hips to rotate.
Now we know what and where they are and the general functions, let’s see how we can put this knowledge to use.
Remember when breathing into Warrior II pose and the instructors cue you to roll your thighs externally, or up to the sky? Or perhaps you are trying to square your hips to the front of your mat in Warrior I or III and you hear the teacher tell you to roll your thighs together. These are sneaky ways of telling you either extend or flex your adductors.
If you can imagine standing in Warrior II and wanting those hips to rotate and feeling those inner thighs open up, you will want to extend through the inner thighs, relaxing the adductors.
In a strong, balancing Warrior III we want the pelvis and midsection to be stable so we internally roll the thighs, engaging the adductors and stabilizing the pelvis, keeping the hips strong in place in their sockets.
Not only do your adductors balance and stabilize your standing poses, but they bring that necessary engagement into arm balances such as crow pose.
Those inner thighs need to be strong enough to hug the body and keep your entire weight perched on your hands. If you ever notice your legs starting to slide down your arms—people love to post pictures of their bruises while attempting crow pose—this is the weakness of those adductors.
If you have those strong adductors, they will squeeze the legs together and into the body so that you do not need to rely on the knees pressing into the arms. It is part of what takes your crow pose from a balancing posture to a flying posture. The strength in your body brings that lightness into your practice.
However great for a yoga practice, the adductors have very real world benefits as well—as any muscle group in your body does! Keeping the muscles around your hips flexible allows for more mobility in the joints which will help to keep you nimble and mobile.
The balance of having strong muscles in the legs also keeps the knees in alignment as you walk, run or climb. If you notice that your knees splay outwards while you are climbing a flight of stairs, you may need to strengthen those inner thighs.
Always remember that life is about balancing.
And so as the adductors of the inner thighs are important, so is every single other muscle in your body. Practice noticing, strengthening and lengthening these muscles but please do so in moderation. Never stretch to the point of pain and never work so hard that you can’t even walk the next day.
Yoga will balance your life and your body, but it is a continuing practice and not an immediate fix.
Lastly, from an instructors standpoint, remember that your students will remember more how they feel at the end of your class than anything that you have said to them. So, while I feel it very beneficial to bring to light some key points of anatomy, your students didn’t sign up for school.
Just as we gently coax our students to relax the breath and calming come into powerful poses, we should use this same tact to include that underlying knowledge of the body that is so essential to yoga.
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Assistant Ed: Tawny Sanabria / Ed: Catherine Monkman