IT Band Stretch - Eye of the Needle Pose
Many students come to yoga looking for an IT band stretch. The IT band, or iliotibial band, or tract, is a section of fascial tissue that runs along the outer thigh, from the iliac crest - the outer edge of the pelvis, to the top of the tibia - one of the two bones of the lower leg. Many people complain of tightness in the IT band, which can be caused by many and varied factors. IT band discomfort can be associated with high levels of activity, including biking, running and hiking, as well as low levels of activity combined with high levels of desk or car sitting, which can lead to weakness of the surrounding muscles and resulting inflammation of the band and its connecting tissues.
It can be challenging to create a good IT band stretch. It's a bit like scratching an itch at the center of the back - you need to be positioned just so to reach it, and then hold that position as you scratch. Eye of the needle pose can be effective because, performed with good alignment, it gently stimulates and opens the fascia of the IT band, while also strengthening and stretching the gluteal muscles and the tensor fasciae latae. These are the powerful muscles of the buttocks and outer hips, whose relative strength and flexibility wield powerful influence over the health and happiness of the IT band.
Behind the IT Band Strecth
The Secret Life of the Outer Hips
It is said we hold or store our emotional experiences in the hips. Held emotions are not fully understood by western science, but there is a growing knowledge about cell memory that backs up yoga's claim that the stories of our lives are written in our bodies.
The fact is that emotional releases associated with poses that open the hips are one of the more common phenomena of the yoga practice. Students may feel unexplained anger or grief, sometimes accompanied by crying, or may have surges of memories from emotionally charged situations in their pasts. I myself have experienced sudden tightening in the outer hips and buttocks and IT band during periods of powerful emotional stress where no physical reason for that tightness could be found. Doing IT band stretches and other hip openers allowed me to move smoothly through those times.
Not every IT band stretch has such dramatic outcome. Most times the release is ease-full and pleasurable. You can think of the the outer hips, which are the masters of the IT band, as guardians for our emotional experiences, holding them until we are ready to feel them fully. It's like the body fortifies the container that holds the deepest belly, and the emotional core. Are you ready to soften the walls of the fortress and make peace with your feelings? Of course you are. You wouldn't be here if you weren't.
Doing the Pose
While these can be very therapeutic stretches for sciatica, low back pain, and so on, proper alignment is important to avoid injury.
1) Begin by lying on your back on a yoga mat, clean towel or clean spot of carpet on the floor. Bend both knees so that your feet are flat on the floor in front of your sitting bones.
2) Go through the fundamental steps of any yoga pose, first softening, and then drawing in. Let the breath lengthen the sides of your torso, and fill you up and expand you on all sides. The touch of the floor beneath you can help you to feel whether the breath is expanding in your back body.
3) Place your right ankle in front of your left knee, as you might rest it there if you were sitting in a chair. The knee and lower leg will be pointing out to the right, perpendicular to the lines of the left leg. Flex the foot and make the ankle strong. Let the foot be in standing position, or tadasana foot, with the toes active and spreading. Proper action of the foot and ankle here are crucial to the safety of the knee joint.
4) Keeping the steady action of your feet and ankles, especially on the right side, draw your left knee gently towards your chest. Reach your left hand around the outside of your left leg, and thread your right hand through the space between your two thighs. This is the eye of the needle. Clasp your hands around the left knee, at the top of the shin bone. If you cant hold the shin bone and place your shoulders back on the floor, hold your hamstring - the back of the thigh just above the knee.
5) Go through step one again, gently, even lovingly, hugging in around the expansion of your inner body. Create a safe container for what you are asking your hips to let go of. Then, press the left knee or thigh firmly into the resistance of your hands as you draw your knee slowly toward your chest. The moment that the tension in your hips begins to compromise the action of the ankles and feet, back off one smidge, and hold the pose, and breathe. Soften your jaw. Remember the fundamentals. Maintain the push pull resistance of your hands and left knee throughout. (This is what creates the IT band stretch.)
6) Breathe slowly, through your nose. Deepen the pose by maintaining the steady action of the ankle while moving your right knee away from your right shoulder.
After performing the instructions for the right side, repeat for the left.
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