I recently went hiking/trail running with a buddy of mine who had been hitting the trail pretty hard over the course of a couple of weeks. He’s never been big on stretching and was starting to feel it. Prior to our hike, he mentioned needing to find some stretches he could do to open up his hips a little bit. I suggested a couple of things and quickly walked him through a simple sequence to help relieve some of the muscle tension he’d built up in his legs and bring some flexibility back into the hip joints. That morning I introduced him to variations of Anjaneyasana (The Low Lunge) known as the Dragon Pose.
Putting it to practice…
Now I’ll walk you through the sequence. This is a great short sequence for stretching leg muscles and opening the hips before or after a long hike. As always, you should start in a relaxed position (either seated or standing) and practice proper Yoga breathing until your mind is calm, focused and present. You can actually use the beginning of the Sun Salutation sequence to get into position and I often do two or three sequences of Sun Salutation before attempting the Dragon Pose:
- When ready, bring your palms together at your chest, thumbs resting against your sternum (Mountain Pose). Exhale.
- Inhale and raise your arms stretched above your head, shoulders back and pelvis forward (slight backward bend in your spine) (Forward Salute Pose).
- Exhale and bend your knees slightly, bending at the waist and keeping your back straight, lower your hands to touch the mat on either side of your feet (Forward Fold Position).
- Inhale and move your right foot back, knee touching the floor (Lunge). – (THIS IS OUR STARTING POSITION).
- Make sure your left knee is aligned with the big toe of your left foot and your knee is directly above the ankle. Point your right foot so that your right knee and the top of your right foot are resting on the ground (you may need additional padding under your knee).
- Exhale and slide your foot back as far as you can comfortably go while allowing your pelvis to drop toward the floor. You should feel the stretch in your hips and groin. Make sure to keep your hips squared to the front of your mat, don’t let your torso twist as you reach back with your right foot.
- Continue breathing in this position and with each exhale, try to drop your pelvis more toward the floor and deepen the stretch in your hips. You really don’t want to hold this pose for much more than 2 or 3 minutes, but for now we want to shoot for about 10 to 15 breaths. To advance the pose:
- Inhale and lift your torso bringing the back straight and chest out, shoulders back. You can either rest your hands at your side, or rest your hands on your left thigh using them to help support the position and take some of the strain off your left knee and quad. To deepen the position even more, you can raise your hands above your head (similar to Warrior I Pose), fingers toward the sky, while keeping your back straight, chest out and shoulders back. Once finding your position, hold for 10-15 breaths.
- Exhale and lower your torso to your left thigh and bring your hands to the ground supporting your body.
- Inhale and slide your right knee forward slightly then curl your toes under your foot.
- Exhale and straighten both legs, raising your tailbone, rolling your weight to your toes and the ball of your foot then push your right heel to the ground.
- This position offers a great stretch of the left hamstring. Keep your hips squared to your mat, flex the right quad and push your weight toward the right heel. Maintain your left foot on the ground and push into your big toe. Straightening the left leg can be difficult in this position if your hamstrings are tight, stretch as much as is comfortable and breathe.
- When ready, Exhale and bring your left foot back to join your right foot in Down-ward Dog, pushing your tailbone to the sky and feeling the stretch.
- Inhale and swing your right leg into lunge position and repeat the sequence with the other leg.
There are more variations to the Dragon that I will discuss in a future post. For now, enjoy the freedom gained from this liberating stretch and don’t forget to Breathe!
Here are further variations on the Dragon I found at YinYoga.com. I especially like Winged Dragon and Fire-Breathing Dragon for a good hip stretch.
- The first alternative pose is a simple low lunge called Baby Dragon, as shown in the picture at the top of the page. If you like, you can rest your hands on blocks.
- The next option is to rest the arms or hands on the front thigh and lift the chest, increasing the weight over the hips. This is called Dragon Flying High.
- A deeper option, Dragon Flying Low, is to place both hands inside the front foot and walk hands forward, lowering the hips. For more depth, come down on the elbows or rest them on a bolster or block.
- In Twisted Dragon, one hand pushes the front knee to the side, while the chest rotates to the sky.
- In Winged Dragon, with hands on the floor, wing out the knee a few times, rolling onto the outside edge of that foot and then stay there with the knee low. You could come down on the elbows or rest them on a block or bolster.
- Overstepping Dragon exercises the ankle. From Baby Dragon, allow the front knee to come far forward and/or slide the heel backward, until the heel is just about to lift off the ground.
- Dragon Splits offers the deepest stretch for hip flexors. Straighten both legs into the splits. Support the front hip with a bolster under the buttock for balance and to release weight; this relaxes the muscles. Sit up tall or fold forward for different sensations.
- For Fire-Breathing Dragon, in any of the above variations, tuck the back toe under and lift the knee up, lengthening the leg. This puts more weight into the hips, increasing the stretch.