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The abductors are the muscles of the outer hips and buttocks that lift the leg away from the body to the side. They include the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and the tensor fascia latae. The abductors contract with every step you take while walking and tend to get overworked in other daily activities. Because of this frequent use, the abductors tend to be much stronger than the inner thigh muscles, the adductors, and they tend to be shortened in comparison. Relief from tension can come from a yoga practice that focuses on balanced action between the inner and outer thigh muscles followed by deep stretching and releasing of the outer thighs.
Balancing with Two Legs
The abductors co-contract with the adductors, the inner thigh muscles, to create a level balance in standing poses. To stand with your weight evenly distributed between both legs in tadasana, mountain pose, can be deceptively difficult. Iyengar Yoga teacher and physical therapist Julie Gudmestad describes how relative weakness in the adductors combined with relative strength and shortness in the abductors can create an adductor-abductor imbalance. Work to balance the strength of the abductors by practicing tadasana with a yoga block squeezed between your thighs to strengthen the inner thighs and balance effort with the outer thighs.
Balancing with One Leg
The inner and outer thighs work together especially in one-legged standing poses like vrksasana, tree pose. Not only is it difficult to balance on one leg if the muscles that support the pelvis are weak, over time the misalignment caused by weak muscles can also cause pain. Gudmestad says that the hip abductors are one of the most important groups of muscles for stabilizing the weight of the body when you stand on one leg. The abductors must contract firmly in one-legged standing poses. When balancing on the right leg, push the left foot into the right thigh and the thigh into the foot to use the abductors for optimal alignment in vrksasana. This contracts both the adductors and the abductors to align the pelvis over the standing leg.
Seated twists like ardha matsyendrasana, half lord of the fishes pose, can be great tools for loosening up tight abductor muscles. Sit on the ground with both legs extended. Bend both knees. Drop the left knee to the ground. Place the left foot under the right leg and to the outside of the right hip. If you have especially tight hips, leave your right foot where it is. Or, place the foot to the outside of the left knee. Place the right hand behind you and wrap the left arm around the right knee. Gudmestad notes that this pose isolates the posterior hip muscles so that they have no choice but to lengthen and stretch. Because the abductors and other hip muscles are strong and accustomed to toning throughout the day, remain in the pose for up to two minutes.
Stretch and Release
A modified version of the Eka pada rajakapotasana, one-legged king pigeon pose, provides a deep stretch of the adductors on the front leg. Reclined eka pada rajakapotasana can be gentler on the knee than the traditional pose and gives your adductors the opportunity to safely surrender and release. Face a wall, lie on your back and place the soles of both feet on the wall. Move close enough to the wall to bend both knees as if you were sitting in a chair. Cross the right ankle over the left knee then extend the left leg up the wall to deepen the stretch. Gradually move deeper into the pose by scooting even closer to the wall, but maintain a stretch that does not cause gripping in the hip muscles. Like ardha matsyendrasana, remain in reclined pigeon for two minutes or more.