How to prep for compass: stretches for the hamstrings, hips, and side

  Compass is one of my favorite poses. I have a thing for poses like compass, eagle, and eight-angle, which involve several different parts of the body converging in an unexpectedly harmonious way. If I can be at peace all tangled up in these poses, I figure I can be at peace when stress causes my stomach to be in knots, or when I’m struggling to bring harmony to all the moving parts of my life.

Because the pose requires a great deal of flexibility in multiple areas of the body, compass can take some getting used to. A deep hamstring stretcher, compass also requires open hips and a flexible side body. A bit of focused stretching, especially after a few body-warming rounds of sun salutations and standing postures, can help prepare the body for this challenging pose.

Even if compass is nowhere on your radar (ha, ha — see what I did there?), you can use these preparatory poses to release muscles and tension in your legs and sides. 

Be sure to check back here Wednesday, when I’ll post a tutorial on compass. Until then, find opening with the poses below. Namaste!


Yogi Squat
  
Use this pose to open the inner thighs and to access the hip flexors, which you’ll activate in compass.

  1. Stand with your feet mat-width apart.
  2. Angle your toes out 45 degrees.
  3. Bend your knees and lower into a squat. If your heels lift, place a folded blanket or mat underneath them.
  4. Place your palms together, touching your thumbs toward your sternum.
  5. To deepen the stretch, use your triceps or elbows to further open your inner thighs. Remain here for three to five breaths.


Titibasana (Firefly) Prep
  
I find that this variation of a squat offers even more opening for the hamstrings and inner thighs than yogi squat. To intensify the stretch, use your arms to press your thighs further open.

  1. Stand with your feet mat-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees and place your palms on the floor behind your feet, with your fingertips facing forward. If your palms don’t reach, use a block under each palm or come to your fingertips.
  3. Walk your feet a bit closer together. Lower your hips as much as possible, coming into a squat. Remain here for three to five breaths.

Straddle Forward Fold
 

I’ve been gravitating toward this pose a lot lately; I love that I can stretch my hamstrings and inner thighs simultaneously. With a block or two stacked under the forehead, this pose can be downright restorative.

  1. Begin seated with your feet as far apart as is comfortable. Ensure your knees and big toes are facing the ceiling.
  2. Engage the low belly and keep a flat back as you hinge at the waist to fold forward.
  3. Walk your hands forward. If possible, come to rest on your forearms or bring your belly all the way to the floor. 
  4. Hold for five to ten breaths.


Half Seated Forward Fold

  

This seated fold variation helps prepare the hamstrings and side body for the opening that takes place in compass. It’s also just a comforting, stress-melting pose I come to again and again.

  1. Begin with both legs extended in front of you. 
  2. Bend your left leg and bring the sole of your left foot to your inner right thigh, opening your left hip and thigh. 
  3. Reach your right hand for your right foot or shin. 
  4. Exhale as you bring your right ribs toward your right thigh, reaching your left arm overhead and then toward your right leg.
  5. Hold for five to ten breaths and then switch sides.

Marichyasana A
 

Marichyasana A has helped me develop flexibility in my hips, inner thighs, and hamstrings. The pose has also taught me how to engage my hip flexors and abdominal muscles — both of which are required to keep me from falling all over the place in Marichyasana A, and to keep me stable in compass.

  1. Begin with both legs extended in front of you. 
  2. Bend your right knee and bring your right heel toward your right hip; ensure that your right knee is pointing straight up rather than bowing inward or outward. Your right hip may lift an inch or so from the ground — don’t force it down, since doing so may strain your sacroiliac joint.
  3. Shift your torso to the left and reach your right arm toward your left foot. Square your chest over your left leg. If possible, reach your right tricep to your inner right thigh. 
  4. If your right elbow extends past your right shin, try for a half bind, reaching your right hand around your right leg toward the small of your back. You can also try a full bind, allowing the left hand to meet the right at the small of the back.
  5. Hold your variation of the pose for five breaths before switching sides.
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