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Stretch your piriformis while enjoying the challenge of Tree pose.
The piriformis is one of six external hip rotators deep in your buttocks that turns your leg outward from the hip. Oftentimes, this muscle compresses and irritates the sciatic nerve that runs beneath the piriformis, causing pain in one side of your hips. By stretching this muscle using various yoga poses, you can prevent hip pain while enjoying other benefits yoga provides.
Standing Forward Bend with Hip Abduction
When the gluteus maximus is weak, the piriformis tends to take over and works overtime to compensate the lack of gluteal engagement. Strengthen your glutes and reduce neural activity in your piriformis by doing Standing Forward Bend with a slight difference. This exercise engages your glutes to work while getting out of the habit of hanging your torso from your piriformis, says Doug Keller, who is a contributing writer for Yoga Journal. As you stand with your feet about hip-distance apart, bend your knees slightly and draw your thighs and knees away from each other with your feet planted on the floor. This slight movement widens your hips and activates your glutes. Exhale as you bend your torso forward and touch your ankles or toes, pushing your buttocks behind you and rounding your lower spine. Keep pushing your thighs away from each while you hold this position. This releases the piriformis and other hip rotators.
Tree pose strengthens the piriformis to stabilize the sacroiliac joint that holds the pelvis together while using the glutes of the standing leg to hold the pose. Meanwhile, the opposite glute muscles contract and open the hip joint, teaching you not to overuse the piriformis by tucking your tailbone beneath your pelvis, says Keller. Stand about a foot away from a wall on on your left side with your feet about hip-distance apart, and turn your right foot out slightly to get better balance and activate your piriformis. Shift your weight to your right foot and lift your left foot to place it on your right inner thigh. Bring your left heel as close to your groin as possible with your left knee pointing to your left. Your left knee touches the wall to help you balance. Keep your pelvis and torso facing forward. Press your right thigh and left foot against each other to prevent excessive external rotation of your right leg. Once you are in a comfortable position and standing still, press your palms together in front of your heart, and hold this position for a desired duration.
If either of the previous poses are too difficult for you, try Pigeon pose where you passively rotate your hips externally on the floor. Sit on the floor and extend your left leg behind you so that your left thigh and foot is resting on the floor. Bring your right outer thigh, outer calf and knee on the floor in front of you with your right knee bent at about 90 degrees. You should feel a stretch in your right glutes. Extend your spine and lean your torso forward slightly to increase the stretch.
Holding the Pose
There are no limits or numbers indicating how long you should hold each pose. The duration depends on your fitness level, goals, mental state and the pose that you're doing, according to Internet Yoga Studio. Rather than counting seconds, count the number of breaths you use for each pose. Start with a duration of five breaths, and you can challenge yourself by holding up to 10 breaths. A challenging pose, such as Tree pose, may last between one to three breaths, while a more relaxing pose, like Pigeon pose, can last more than 10 breaths. Consult with a qualified yoga teacher if you are new to yoga.