Yin Yoga – Shoelace pose and its many variations
If you’ve ever been in a Yin yoga class and seen someone literally tying themself up in a knot, seemingly flopping effortlessly over their legs to then proceed to hold the pose for a mear 5 minutes on each side!!!!, then it’s very likely that you’ve witnessed a super bendy person in Shoelace pose. Now if your thoughts when witnessing said human pretzel in action were to look for the closest escape exit from the yoga studio then the good news is: firstly you’re not alone in your reaction; and secondly in Yin yoga there is no expectation for you to recreate the shape of Mr or Mrs bendy butt. And I use the butt pun here because that’s exactly the area that this pose is targeting in its stretch, the glutes (aka your butt) and the IT band (that bit that can feel really tight down the outside of your leg from your outer hip to outer knee): for those of you interested in the Eastern roots of Yin yoga, which stems from the ancient Philosophy of Taoism combined with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), these target areas correspond with the energy along your Gallbladder meridian.
And there’s even more good news! There are loads of ways to get around your inability to recreate the deep gluteal stretch that Bendy Butt is getting without having to look in the slightest bit like them. For what it’s worth its the unique anatomical makeup of the hips and thigh bone of Bendy that allows them to make this shape. Just because you can’t recreate the human pretzel makes you no better or worse than them, simply anatomically differently built. Phew! So now that we’ve cleared that up let’s begin to break these differences down and look at some of the ways in which we can make this pose work for us.
In this version of Shoelace you have your knees stacked and your heels pulled in either side of your buttocks. Both hips are externally rotated (inner part of thigh bones turning up towards the sky). If you need a deeper stretch then you may feel it more intensely in your glutes/IT band if you fold forward in this pose, which has the added benefit of stretching your lower back out. Just remember that you’re going to be here a while in Yin yoga, so make sure you come to you’re appropriate edge and not beyond. Time and gravity will pull you deeper, trust me! Just let them do their thing.
This is the same set up as Tight Shoelace only this time your shins are more or less in line with your hips. The only difference between this and Tight Shoelace is that you’ve increased the external rotation of the thigh bone in the hip joint, which may suit people with naturally more outwardly rotated hips better than the version before.
Here you stack your feet and knees, keeping the same degree of external rotation as Wide Shoelace, but this time taking your knees even further out to the side away from the midline (abduction).
If the thought of all this external rotation is making you dizzy then the good news is that this version keeps the distance that you’re legs are apart from each other (the abduction) the same as Loose Shoelace, but this version allows you to begin to internally rotate your legs back to something closer to a neutral sitting position. If none of the above 3 options are available to you but you just don’t feel Untied Shoelace enough in the target areas sitting up in this pose, then remember you can always fold forward over your legs and experiment with walking your hands more to the left or right.
Finally there may be some of you out there for whom doing this pose with one leg extended out in front and internally rotated back to wherever your leg naturally lies when stretched out, may offer you all the stretch in the target area that you require.
The final thing to add here is that props can really be your friend when you’re setting yourself up for the long hold time of a Yin pose. Experiment with using props like blocks, cushions or rolled up blankets; in the gaps between your knees/hips, under your knees/hips, as support for your head on either your lap or the floor, or to decrease the angle of hip flexion (so the angle between your body and legs is bigger) and help to lower your knees, by sitting on a block. And remember we are looking for function over form in the pose so it really doesn’t matter which of the above poses, or many other variations within these 5 poses that you take; If you’re feeling it in your glute/IT area then you’re doing it right!