Using the TFL to Refine Utthita Parsvakonasana

By Ray Long

Many of the standing poses have a lunge component; that is, the forward hip and knee flex while the back hip and knee extend. It is not unusual in these types of asanas for the forward knee to drift inward, with the pelvis moving in the opposite direction. An example of this is Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Lateral Angle Pose).

Positioning the knee over the ankle aligns the leg bones, especially the femur and tibia. This brings the anatomic and mechanical axes closer together, so that support in the pose is derived more from the strength of the bones than from muscular effort. Additionally, allowing the knee to drift inward can place stress on the lateral compartment of the joint. Adjusting the position of the femur and the tibia aids to distribute the joint reaction forces over a greater surface area

Here’s the Anatomy . . .

The tensor fascia lata (TFL) originates from the front part of the outer surface of the iliac crest and the anterior superior iliac spine. It inserts onto the fascia lata (iliotibial band). The fascia lata continues down the thigh to insert onto the front outside of the upper tibia at Gerdy’s tubercle. The TFL abducts, flexes, and internally rotates the hip joint. It can also synergize the quadriceps to extend the knee when it is flexing less than 30 degrees. If the knee is flexing greater than 30 degrees, then the TFL can act as a knee flexor.

Here’s the Cue

I achieve this alignment by engaging the tensor fascia lata on the bent leg. To activate this muscle I straighten the elbow and then gently press the outside of the knee against the arm, as shown. This abducts the thigh at the hip joint. Because the arm keeps the knee from moving backwards, the abduction component of the TFL has the biomechanical effect of drawing the pelvis forward. This helps to open the front of the body in the asana. Additionally, activating the tensor fascia lata synergizes the psoas in flexing the hip and tilting the pelvis. Tilting the pelvis forward in this manner laterally flexes the trunk and helps to turn the torso efficiently in the pose. The gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, and gluteus maximus muscles all contribute to these actions.I follow-up contracting the TFL with gently engaging the back-leg gluteus maximus to extend and externally rotate the hip. These combined movements aid to stabilize the pelvis and lengthen the adductor muscles.

Practicing with cues that engage muscle groups enhances the mind—body connection created by the pose. I use Tadasana as a barometer to gauge this awakening by returning to it between the individual asanas.Always, in your particular case, consult your health care provider before practicing yoga or any other exercise program. Always practice yoga under the direct supervision of a qualified instructor. See full disclaimer here. .

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5 Responses

  1. Lily says:

    I love your books. Our library system (in Seattle) has them and I’ve been checking them out as often as I am able. I was in a yoga teacher training until March of 2013 and I got the idea in February, that I needed to make paintings of every asana I’ve learned, highlighting what’s being stretched, what’s being strengthened and what the optimal bony alignment could be(accepting anatomical constraints). My mentor and the head of the studio/program, both asked if I really needed to do all of that work right then, or if I couldn’t content myself to look at the work that other people have done, such as yourself, and perhaps eventually make my own referential drawings over time, in a more relaxed manner, based on research of work such as yours. Thank you for creating such amazing information and for presenting it with such clarity. This is such an incredible gift that you’ve given to the study of yoga(and therefore the study of the human condition) and I’m sure that my gratitude is just a fraction of the gratitude that exists, for the knowledge and the wisdom you are sharing. Thank you!

  2. Lily says:

    oh. oops. I see, this site publishes many people’s writings. Please pardon me. I meant to say, that I’m very grateful for Ray Long’s and Chris Macivor’s books. I am sure that many other people here have wonderful books too, but those are the ones I refer to above. Eek. Sorry. If you want to remove these comments and have a way to do so, that would be fine with me. Or, if you want to leave them as an example of human fallibility, I guess that is also fine with me. May we all be well, happy and free!

    • Ray Long says:

      Hi Lily,
      Many thanks for your comment on our work. I apologize for the delay in responding, however I just saw it. I’m honored and delighted to see your appreciation of Chris and my efforts! Hopefully we will meet in person at some point, perhaps when we make it to the Northeast for workshops. Wishing you all the Best in your practice, teaching and exploration of the amazing art form of yoga. Ray

  3. stu says:

    Hey Lily, nice words for Ray, I hope he sees them. The soon to be properly opened Caffe Moksha will feature art. Why don’t you gat a collection together and we can up them on display. Or even better/ or as well write an article on how you create the images and how it helps you understand the postures better. I aslo have just been conacted by someone who needs an anatomical artist for some posts they are writing. We like to get visitors involved here : ) All the best Stu

  4. Hi Ray,

    I have one question: if the TFL contracts when we abduct, flex or internally rotate the hip, what happens in Utthita Parsvakonasana if the thigh is abducted and flexed, but rotated externally? Would the TFL contract from abducting and flexing but stretch from rotating laterally? What happens with the stretching element if other movements contract?Thank you!

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