It’s a mega-autumn day today in my island home. I know it’s technically still summer but the sunniest and calmest of the weather is behind us now. It’s just been rain and winds for days, causing the leaves to be ripped off the trees instead of being able to turn those stereotypical autumn colours and gently fall at the more appropriate autumnal time.
Anyway weather report aside I wanted to do a little anatomy-lite post today. Ever since I started yoga I’ve been fascinated with anatomy but don’t actually know too much about it technically. I try not to worry, I’m sure it’ll come.
One of my little body quirks and personal struggles in yoga is with sitting cross-legged: sukhasana (easy pose), ardha padmasana (half lotus) and especially padmasana (lotus) were impossibilities for me in my pre-yoga days. I hadn’t been able to sit cross legged in any way for most of my life up until this point. I was so stiff! This is quite incredible thinking about it because the general assumption is that all children are flexible. Well I wasn’t, I hated sitting on the floor. I was more of a lounge-on-a-sofa kinda girl. I wasn’t made to sit cross legged I decided.
Then enter yoga at age 22 and I realised I was wrong! I could improve my flexibility so I could sit cross legged! This realisation (and, you know, not wanting to be so miserable and depressed all the time) drove my early yoga practice. I didn’t have to be stiff anymore! I’d always had painful knees and this stopped me doing much physical activity growing up (a blessing for me mostly at that time!) It soon became apparent that this pain was partly due to the incredible inflexibility around my hips. Because there was no give, no movement in my hips the stiffness would travel, if you excuse my crudeness, down to my knees causing intense pain whenever I jumped, or tried to run. This was a fantastic discovery! Now not only would I be able to sit on the floor like a nimble little pixie but I’d be able to live knee-pain free! It’s 3 years later and I’m glad to say that I can jump and run and I do often. The knees are only sore if it’s exceptionally cold out and I haven’t warmed up.
So after much research, and thanks to Paul Grilley’s anatomy dvd I gleaned some information about my hips: they are more keen to internally rotate than to externally rotate. My job now was to stretch good and to stretch often. Which I did with gusto. Any pose which had any kind of external rotation of the legs in it, or which stretched my inner thighs was in my daily practice. Warrior 2, triangle, wide legged forward bends, pigeon, lord of the fishes twist, etc. etc. made up the bulk of my practice and a couple of years my external rotation was no longer the torture it once was.
But I still couldn’t sit cross legged. Here’s some visuals. This is me trying half lotus.
I assumed for a long time that it was my hips causing this stiffness. I couldn’t externally rotate my femurs enough. But look at me in pigeon.
I remember the first time I realised I could get my leg parallel after many months in the under-the-hip limbo it was all a bit well helllllo toes! I’d never seen my toes so close up before. Anyway it’s pretty clear here that this is not a hip problem. My second yoga teacher stopped the class one week to poke me. She discovered it’s not my hips, it’s my ankles!
Ah! It all makes sense now! The reason my knees are halfway to the moon whenever I sit cross legged is because my ankles are too stiff, there’s no give at all. So my job now is to improve the flexibility of my ankle. Gently. Too much and it hurts my precious knees. I think that’s the reason I didn’t improve the flexibility of my ankles earlier: I was trying to protect my knees.
So I can’t do lotus (or half lotus) and I can’t do headstand… yet. It’s a good job that I don’t have much of an ego. I can’t imagine how tough it must be for some people going to an ‘advanced’ yoga class and sitting out both lotus pose and headstand. No for me it’s the long haul, it’s the process. And I love learning, and I love yoga.