Every pose tells a story, and every story is comprised of subplots. Break Pasasana down into its component parts—the subplots of the main story. Then reconstruct these parts into the whole. See how each subplot contributes to the final pose. Yoga reveals the interrelationships between all parts of the body. This is one characteristic that distinguishes yoga from practices such as Western physical therapy, which tend to focus on specific regions (such as a painful shoulder or knee). Yoga looks at the whole. Nevertheless, we can learn from focusing on individual parts of a pose and then integrate this knowledge into the final posture. In Pasasana, for example, there are several specific actions that take place.
First look at the lower legs. The calf muscles stretch from dorsiflexing the feet and ankles. This stretch differs somewhat from that in Dog Pose. In the latter, the calves lengthen more in the region of the knees. Here the stretch is concentrated in the distal part of the muscle, where it blends into the Achilles tendon, which attaches to the heel. Actively dorsiflexing the ankle joint engages the tibialis anterior muscle at the front of the lower leg. At the same time, this signals the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles—antagonists of the tibialis anterior—to relax via reciprocal inhibition.
Next, look at the pelvis and hips. The hip that you twist toward flexes relatively more than the other hip. This leads to the knees being uneven. Balance this by extending the forward-leg hip (with the gluteus maximus) and flexing the back-leg hip (with the psoas). Note how this brings the knees even with each other. Lock this position by squeezing the knees together (with the adductor group). This creates a bandha in the pelvis, stabilizing the pose.
Finally, look at the shoulder girdle. Use the muscles of the shoulders and arms to gently leverage and rotate the upper body in the opposite direction of the lower, stretching the muscles of the trunk and back.
Basic Joint Positions
- The hips flex and adduct.
- The knees flex.
- The ankles dorsiflex.
- The trunk flexes and rotates.
- The shoulders internally rotate and extend.
- The elbows extend and the forearms pronate.
- The held wrist extends.
Use Downward Facing Dog Pose to stretch the calf muscles as a warm-up. Although the stretch of Downward Dog has a slightly different focus than Pasasana, it is still useful to gain length in the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles at the backs of the lower legs. Place the heels on a block in the beginning to aid in balance and to compensate for tightness in the calves. Actively engage the muscles at the fronts of the lower legs to bring the heels toward the floor (through dorsiflexion of the ankles).
Prepare the arms for internal rotation with reverse namasté (Paschima Namaskarasana) or Gomukhasana. Practice Marichyasana III to prepare the torso for the twist. If you can’t link the arms behind the back, use a belt. Alternatively, try the chair twist shown here. Work toward placing the heels and soles of the feet onto the mat. Then brace the abdominals and carefully release the pose. You will see that the knees are uneven when you go into the twist. Follow the steps outlined below…
Step 1. There is a tendency in Pasasana to flex the knees using only the body weight and gravity. Instead, make it an active pose by contracting the hamstrings to bend the knees. This produces reciprocal inhibition of the quadriceps, allowing them to relax into the stretch.
Dorsiflex the ankles to lower the heels. Do this by drawing the tops of the feet toward the fronts of the shins. This activates the tibialis anterior muscles at the fronts of the lower legs, at the same time signalling the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles to relax (reciprocal inhibition).
Step 2. Laterally flex and turn the torso by engaging the lower-side oblique abdominals. Add to this lateral flexion by contracting the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum. The cue for this is to gently arch the back.
Step 3. The knees will tend to be uneven due to the turned pelvis. Work toward bringing them together. Note that the hip you are turning toward is flexing more than the other hip. Balance this with extension by contracting the gluteus maximus (squeezing the buttocks) on this side. The other hip contributes to the unevenness because it is more extended. Address this by engaging the psoas (the main hip flexor) to bring the knees in line with each other. A cue for contracting this muscle is to squeeze the thigh upwards against the torso. Co-activating these two muscles creates a “wringing” effect across the pelvis and tightens the sacroiliac ligaments (ligamentotaxis). The result is a bandha that stabilizes the pose.
Step 4. Once you have brought the knees in line with each other by engaging the muscles described in Step 3, lock them in place by contracting the adductor group on the insides of the thighs to squeeze the knees together. Then press the balls of the feet into the mat by activating the peroneus longus and brevis muscles at the sides of the lower legs. Balance this action by contracting the tibialis posterior to slightly invert the ankles and lift the arches of the feet. This aids to distribute the weight evenly across the soles.
Step 5. Engage the pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, and subscapularis muscles to internally rotate the shoulders. A cue for this is to imagine lifting the hands off the lower back.
Pasasana stretches the upper-side oblique abdominals, as well as the transversus abdominis. The front-leg hip abductors (the gluteus medius and tensor fascia latae) also stretch through adduction of the thighs. Bending the knees lengthens the quadriceps, and dorsiflexing the ankles stretches the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of the calves. Internally rotating the shoulders stretches the infraspinatus, teres minor, and posterior deltoid muscles.
Always, in your particular case, consult your health care provider and obtain full medical clearance before practicing yoga or any other exercise program. Yoga must always be practiced under the direct supervision of a qualified instructor. Practicing under the direct supervision and guidance of a qualified instructor may reduce the risk of injuries. Not all yoga poses are suitable for all persons. Practicing under the direct supervision and guidance of a qualified instructor, in addition to the direction of your health care provider, can also help determine what poses are suitable for your particular case. The information provided in the blog, website, books, and other materials is strictly for reference only and is not in any manner a substitute for medical advice or direct guidance of a qualified yoga instructor. The author, illustrators, editors, publishers, and distributors assume no responsibility or liability for any injuries or losses that may result from practicing yoga or any other exercise program. The author, editors, illustrators, publishers, and distributors all make no representations or warranties with regards to the completeness or accuracy of information on this website, any linked websites, books, DVDs, or other products represented herein.