Keep Your Quadriceps Happy
Hiking, biking, running, walking, swimming—summer is the time to get out and enjoy the world around us. As fun as it is to move, it’s easy to push it too far from time to time. Often its the quadriceps, the four long muscles that make up the front thigh compartment, that end up tight and/or achy.
I’m happy to say that yoga has a solution: Anjaneyasana. Named for a mythological half god/half monkey, the pose expresses Anjaneya’s giant leaps in the attempt to capture the sun.
Anjaneyasana combines grounding and expansion. Its skyward reach comes from its earthbound stability. It lengthens the quadriceps and psoas muscles, extends the low back and expands the chest and abdomen. It energizes as it stabilizes balance.
I like to approach Anjaneyasana from Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog pose). Begin on your hands and knees on a nonskid mat. Press your hands into the floor and lift your torso upward until your arms and legs are straight, your body forming an inverted “V” shape, with your sit bones at the apex. Take a few full breaths here.
Bend your knees, letting your weight settle into your feet, as if you’re preparing to jump forward. Spring your right leg forward so that it lands between your hands. If your leg is not feeling especially springy, you may take however many steps you need in order to place your foot even with your hands. Allow your left knee to come to the floor. Make sure your right foot is evenly planted on the floor—heel to toe and inside to outside—and your heel is directly below your knee. Press the right foot and left knee into the floor, then stretch the right knee forward and the left knee back so that the distance between them lengthens. If your left knee feels as if it’s grinding into the floor, you may place a blanket under it for padding.
Take care not to allow your left hip joint to collapse toward the floor. This can irritate the hip flexor tendons and ligaments. Instead, draw the very top of your thigh slightly back toward your back thighs—millimeters—to stabilize your hip joint.
With your hands on the floor, take a few deep breaths, imagining the breath moving all the way down into the left thigh muscles. Again grounding the right foot and left knee, lift the torso to upright, and place your hands on your right thigh. Take a few deep breaths. If you like, you can now extend your arms up vertically, and if your back is willing, tilt your torso back slightly so that your chest is looking skyward. Ground your legs as you reach upward. Take a few full breaths before returning your hands to the floor, returning to Dog Pose and repeating on your other side.
It is helpful to remember that the power to spring skyward originates in a downward, rooting motion through your legs and feet. (Try jumping with straight legs, without first bending your knees and letting your weight sink into the ground.) Grounding the legs also balances the heating and cooling qualities of the pose, protecting us from agitation and overheating as we reach for the sun.
In Anjaneyasana, the grounding of the front foot and back knee stabilizes our balance, and allows for the full flowering of the upper body. It allows us mortal yoga practitioners to soak up the sun’s luminous glow from the sustaining foundation of our own Mother Earth.