A New Clamshell

The way we do yoga changes over time. This is often due to the fact we change over time. After all, when we are steadily working at something it is only natural that we become stronger and more flexible. The other thing that changes is that our ability to control our body improves. Today I want to focus on the control in a particular action in yoga.

Hip Abduction

My interest in the pose called the Clamshell began many years ago as I was searching for a way to increase hip power and flexibility. This was not just for me, but for my students as well. One of the areas that typically shows up as weak in the general population is a movement of our hips away from the midline.

Called hip abduction, the movement of our leg away from the middle of the body is an important action in yoga. The action is controlled by three muscles in the outer hip called the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and the tensor fascia latae. Together these muscles balance the inner thigh muscles called hip adductors.

Now if we spent our life walking sideways, like a crab, we would have very well developed hip abductors. Most of us don’t walk that way and based on the muscle assessments when I do fitness assessments, we all need to develop our hip abductor strength. Having weak hip abductors leads to tight inner thigh muscles. It also increases the likelihood of lower back, knee and ankle issues as well.

We use our hip abductors in the yoga pose called side angle to keep our knee properly tracking in line with our hip and ankle. If you have a weak hip abductor you may find your knee pulling toward the middle of your mat in this pose. You might also find your hip jutting out toward the edge of the mat. This makes the side angle pose more unsteady and aggravates knee and ankle problems.

The Clamshell

I have always given guidance on this pose in regards to the proper position of the pelvis and maintaining action in the hip. Recently I began teaching this pose in a new way and I am very pleased with the improved action in the target muscle.

  • Start reclined on your side with your knees bent about 45 degrees.
  • Position your head and neck comfortably, but make sure your body is not tilted forward or backward. You want shoulder over shoulder and hip over hip.
  • Keep your top foot touching your bottom foot at all times.
  • Pull in your lower abdomen to keep your pelvis stable.
  • Slowly lift your upper knee to hip height and pause.
  • Tighten your abdomen and keep your pelvis completely still.
  • Now raise your upper knee a little bit more.
  • Slowly return your knee to the starting position and repeat these actions a comfortable number of times
  • Repeat on your opposite side
  • The main difference in this version of the clamshell and the way I have done it before is the limit of the lift of the knee to just hip level and then pausing before lifting any higher. This eliminates all the momentum of the action. If we lift our knee to the top position without pausing, our unconscious mind will slightly reposition our pelvis to make the action easier. This compensation reduces the effectiveness of the pose. Try it for yourself and let me know what you think.

    Amy Garratt’s Recovery
    One of my reasons for looking at hip based yoga poses has been because of the recent injury Amy Garratt sustained to her hip. She is currently undergoing rehabilitation training and will be using many of the yoga hip actions to help bring her back to the abilities she enjoyed before her accident. To read more about her journey you can check out her GoFundMe campaign here. I update it regularly with her progress.

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