Pose of the Month: Upavistha Konasana
When I think about expanding to the edge of my limits, I think about my earliest days in this practice. Before I understood the depth of Yoga practice, it was all about the stretch for me. I would push my body at all costs, reaching for the “perfection” that only a hyper mobile body and youth can bring. And, invariably I learned a lot of painful lessons, and fell short of learning the one’s with any real meaning. Sure, I had the “yoga” high that so many do after pushing beyond my physical and sometimes mental boundaries, but I didn’t have the strength or foundation to maintain that expansive feeling off my mat. Now, after a fair share of time coupled with many humbling experiences, I approach asana differently. I give equal amounts of focus and attention to the foundation and the strength need to make expansion sustainable just as I do in a really deep stretch. I believe that when practiced with full awareness, Upavista Konasana (Seated Angle) can teach us how to reach to the very edge of our limits through strength and groundedness, so that the feeling of expansion can reach well beyond our mats and into our lives.
Upavista Konasana challenges us to expand to our fullest. In respecting our foundation and our strength, we are able to stretch to the very limits of our experience while continuing to respect and honor our boundaries. Two experiences which can be so synergistic, but so difficult to achieve simultaneously. Often when we seek to expand the limits of our experience, we push beyond the edge of comfort or even intensity and into the danger zone of pain beyond the realm of safety or consciousness. It is easy to do in the experience of Upavista Konanasa, to reach for our toes or our chest on the floor without any support from the core or at the cost of losing our ground. On one dimension, it may seem to be a great gain, but truly experience sustainability and contentment, we seek an experience that is opening without leading us down the path of danger.
To explore the edges of our boundaries and even to expand beyond them requires us to develop a difficult but powerful ability to stay rooted to our foundation and connected to our center. If we push or retract from the experience of intensity, as we often encounter in a pose like Upavista Konasana, then we arrive at an impasse. But instead of moving forward at all costs or running away, we can cultivate the strength of our core and our connection to the ground to assist our experience. As we open in this pose, as in life, we may feel vulnerable and exposed. Instead of retracting in fear, we can guide ourselves to stay present every step of the way, and move more slowly. Then, we can us this awareness to move from the strength deep in the core of our body, rather than flop haphazardly without consciousness. In this way, we gain confidence and even more willingness to open.
As often happens in striving for an external goal, we can push ourselves to achieve instead of rooting in our foundation to expand. In Upavista Konasana both in myself and in countless students, it is common to see a very deep stretch and expansion without any foundation. As our sitting bones disconnect from the earth beneath us, we do find more space, but we lose our strength and sustainability in this asana; we miss the point. We start expanding so much that we forget the roots from which we started and easily can become lost or hurt. To support our connection to the ground, again we turn toward the strength in our center and keep our base connected to the earth from which we all rise open to the sun.
When practiced with full awareness, Upavista Konasana can be an exploration of the bliss (sattwa) of synergy. We can stretch ourselves to our limits and even beyond in if we stay aware of the importance of our center and our foundation, and in the process open more fully to the potentiality contained within us and circulating all around us.
Upavista Konasana (Seated Angle) focuses on opening our adductors. The adductors help us to connect with the center of our bodies, our core. By engaging the adductors, it becomes more accessible to engage the pelvic floor muscles that contribute to pelvis and Sacroiliac stability. By learning to relax and open the adductors we can begin to relax our core.
Upavista Konasana differs from other adductor opening postures in many ways. In the pose the hips are externally rotated, abducted and flexed. The stretch is focused on all the adductors because of this external rotation and abduction of the hips. When you bend forward in this posture the stretch moves into the Adductor Magnus. Because the knees are straight, it includes a stretch of the Gracilis, something you do not get with a similar pose, Baddha Konasana. In another similar pose, Prasarita Padottanasana the hips are internally rotated and abducted, which decreases the stretch because you are not stretching in all planes of motion and because the feet are on the ground some people will be limited by the calf muscles.
There are five adductor muscles: Adductor Brevis, Adductor Longus, Adductor Magnus, Pectineus and Gracilis. The adductor muscles play an important role in the alignment of the pelvis and the knee. These muscles run from the pubic bone to the inner femur and in the case of the Gracilis to the tibia. Tightness of the adductors may contribute to adduction and internal rotation of the thighs causing an increased angle in the alignment of the hip to knee to foot. Weakness of the adductors may contribute to altered mechanics of the patella in relation to the femur. It is important to note here that muscles can be tight and weak. A common dysfunction is to have increased internal rotation and adduction of the knee with lateral patellar tracking (a result partially of weak and tight adductor muscles). Dysfunction of the adductors is a common source of hip pain, knee pain and low back pain.
To move into this posture, start with the legs out in abduction with a neutral to slight anterior pelvic tilt. Keep the normal spinal curves. The width of the legs will depend on being able to maintain this neutral pelvic and spinal position. Using a blanket to sit on may help with this pelvic alignment. Lengthen the spine by engaging the pelvic floor and transverse abdominals and then begin to fold forward at the hip joint. Engaging the hip external rotators (i.e. Piriformis) and Quadriceps will help to keep the position of the legs and will help relax the Hamstrings and Adductors. If you do not reach the ground you can use a bolster under your torso, or keeping your hands on the ground pull yourself forward with a natural spinal position.
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