Ankle to knee pose is one of the deepest hips openers in the yoga teacher’s toolbox. It is a stretch of the piriformis muscle, one of only two muscles that connect the legs to the spine. Yesterday I wrote about piriformis syndrome, a condition where a piriformis muscle in spasm presses against the sciatic nerve.
I don’t recommend ankle to knee for people suffering from piriformis syndrome—it can actually be counter-productive. In the case of piriformis syndrome it is better to release the piriformis, and ankle to knee is anything but a release.
Many students simply can’t go anywhere in this pose and though ankle to knee is a piriformis stretch there is often limited access due to a tight rectus femoris muscle. Even though I was using yesterdays video to write about piriformis syndrome, ankle to knee backwards will stretch the rectus femoris and give you more ability to go forward after you go backwards. This can be pretty astounding. I’d like to belive that accessing that extra forward bend is like brain food telling you that one day you might be able to get deeper in the pose.
Stacking the shins to create the ankle to knee arrangement asks a great deal of the top of the thigh bone where it meets the pelvis. The top of the femur is a ball that sits into a socket in the hip. A ball and socket joint has a great deal of range of motion if the surrounding muscles allow for it. There are numerous muscles that prevent the rotation that we are looking for and the piriformis is one of them.
Aligning the legs this way is one of the deepest positions we can put the legs in to try and open the hips. You need to be able to bring some semblance of a neutral spine to the pose in order to think about moving forward and extending forward.
As I show in the first segment of the video, some people are better off crossing one ankle over an extended leg because that might be enough to get the desired stretch and going further might not even be possible. If you stretch your hamstring in the first stage, move on to the full ankle to knee, but if you are stretching the hip with the ankle crossed over the extended leg stick with that for a while.