Watching some yogis put their leg behind their head seems a little bit like watching a circus trick. Attempting to put your own leg behind your head is more like a mysterious journey into the center of your being.
To access the full movement of your hips, the yoga practice presents a series of increasingly difficult hip rotation postures that include many variations of putting your legs behind your head.
Two key principles are needed in order to safely attempt this movement—how to externally rotate your hip joint, and how to relax all of the muscles that surround your hip—neither of the two is as easy as it sounds.
Getting to Know Your Hip Joint
In order to find the deep external rotation needed for most yoga postures, you will need to know your hip joint. Find the trochanter major, which is the outer portion of your thigh bone on the same plane approximately as your pubic bone.
If the trochanter drops out to the side, then the hip joint is beginning to externally rotate. If the trochanter drops out to the side and then spirals back, down, and around, then the hip is rotating fully. Holding a passive stretch for a minimum of 30 breaths and a maximum of 5 minutes allows both the body and the mind to relax.
One other indication that this movement is happening is that the knee points out to the side. Attempting to find this delicate movement while placing your legs behind your head for the first time can be very challenging.
Instead, it might be beneficial to learn the inner anatomy while relaxing in a passive stretch, such as Pigeon Pose. Not only will a passive stretch give you time to feel the alignment and anatomy of your body, it will teach you how to relax the deep muscles around your body.
It is important that you surrender all attachment to the end results in any relaxation based posture. Instead, just practice being exactly where you are, while accepting the experience of your body.
Pigeon Pose to Boost Your Hip Rotation
To enter Pigeon, start off in a comfortable seated position. Then, externally rotate your right hip joint, pointing the right knee to the side. Align the right shin so that it is parallel with pubic bone. Extend the left leg back, orient the pelvis forward, and square your hips.
Exhale as you relax your torso over your right shin and keep the back as straight as possible. After a period of time, repeat on the left side.