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gardenyoga2010-07-05 10:09:25 +0000 #1

I have been in many classes where the teacher says that pigeon pose stretches the piriformis. It seems to me that it stretches the gluteus medius and minimus, but not the piriformis. To stretch the piriformis you would have to have internal rotation of the hip, adduction of the hip and flexion of the hip. In Pigeon, there is external rotation of the hip which is the action of the piriformis and not the lengthening position of the muscle.

So I have two questions:

Does the pigeon posture focus on lengthening the glut medius/minimus or the piriformis.

Secondly, what asana would focus on lengthening the piriforms?

Thank you so much for your time in answering this question!
Mukunda2010-07-05 10:12:09 +0000 #2
Forgive me if i address this question to a wider audience so that those without formal anatomy & kinesiology study can benefit. I enjoy these types of questions as we have the opportunity to see how prevalent mispereception is and how it can color our interpretation of the subjective experience that is inner asana. I am developing a workshop on this topic Asana Kinesiology & Yoga Therapy - Understanding what you are feeling. The difficulty lies in the fact of not seeking clear feedback from the body as to where exactly it is feeling the stretch in muscle language and not clearly understanding the rationale of antagonist motions. To do this we must go between right and left brain without being lost in the differences.

As with all asanas, kinesiology analysis such as this is theoretical. The most accurate assessment is achieved by the teacher finding out what the student is actually doing and then asking the student what they feel. This will show that sometimes the teacher sees something as tight that the student is not feeling. In my experience students are usually correct at reporting what they feel; though hopefully the teacher can see the motions and make a good guess at understanding what is happening.

In the process of learnign the subjective art of yoga, I encourage students to learn living anatomy by observing that they not only feel the stretch where the muscle is but learn the difference between stretch and tone sensations as they can be mistaken easily.

Your anatomy is good but you seem to be lacking clarity in kinesiology (analysis of motion - functional anatomy). First let us begin with what the piriformis does when contracting. It is primarily an external hip rotator (being deep to the gluteus maximus, minimus and medius) and does horizontal abduction (once the hip has been brought into flexion with the thigh is at a right angle to the torso). In contrast the gluteus maximus is contracted in hip extension - locust; gluteus medius and minimus do vertical hip abduction (from standing moving the thigh straight out to the side; in addition they share internal hip rotation; while the gl. medius also does external rotation. Reference The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey (an excellent mid level reference - although it shows a commonly given piriformis stretch that really isn't. One done by lying on the back with one knee bent out to the side in half lotus then pullling the supportive leg towards the chest).

Often this pose is given to stretch the piriformis for those with sciatica due to piriformis contracting around the nerve. There are 3 differet causes to sciatica this being fairly common. However one should not that some people 10% are built differently and the sciatic nerve runs through the muscle not above it. For these people and also for those with an inflammation of the nerve stretching is contraindicated, as it aggravates pitta. Best in such cases to rest rather than stretch.

In assessing the pidgeon pose we need to think of the kinesiology names for each joints motions (the contracting muscles) - the forward hip is in flexion, neutral with regards to abduction or adduction and external rotation. By thinking of the antagonists of these motions we come up with the motions being stretched - the hip extensors - gluteus maximus and hamstrings - and internal rotators - tensor fascia lata, gluteus minimus, and anterior fibers of the gluteus medius. Many students will not be neutral but rather in abduction so that will create a stretch of the adductors. So most of its affect is on the gluteus maximus and medius.

So to stretch the piriformis one should do all its movements in reverse - that is primarily hip internal rotation with some adduction - eagle pose (garudasana) for instance. Another option is to do ardha matsyendrasana by pulling the knee vertical to ankle a stretch is felt in the piriformis and other deep external hip rotators.

namaste mukunda
gardenyoga2010-07-05 10:24:04 +0000 #3

Thank you for your answer. I was taken a little aback by your comment that I did not have clarity in the field of kinesiology for two reasons. One- I am a masters level trained physical therapist. Two- your answer confirmed what I said in my question

you said- "So to stretch the piriformis one should do all its movements in reverse - that is primarily hip internal rotation with some adduction"

I said "To stretch the piriformis you would have to have internal rotation of the hip, adduction of the hip and flexion of the hip".

I am glad we are in agreement that the pigeon focuses more on gluts than the piriformis and want to thank you for the suggestion of garudasana and ardha matsyendrasana. I do enjoy your forum and your expertise and hope to continue learning from you.




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