It wouldn’t be a new year if there weren’t resolutions to get fit, lean and healthy. So, why not start in the rear? Aside from “curve appeal” there are a number of benefits to strengthening and stretching the muscles in your tush. Advantages include decreasing your risk for injury in the knees, lower back, hamstrings and groin. Plus, you’ll improve your posture with a pert posterior.
Conversely, if you have a weak gluteus maximus, you may experience an imbalance in your hips which can increase strain on the low back, and increase your likelihood to strain muscles in your groin, hamstrings and knees. It’s not all about tightening, though. It’s important to regularly stretch the synergist and antagonist muscles supporting and opposing your gluteal muscles.
Here are some essential Hatha yoga poses that strengthen and lengthen these key muscle groups. Be sure you warm up and get the blood flowing before moving into holding poses, and always cool down and spend at least five minutes in savasana to receive your practice.
Utkatasana (chair pose)
The quintessential yoga ‘squat’ – works your glutes, thighs, ankles, low back, arms and opens the chest. From Tadasana (mountain pose) with feet hip with apart, sink into a squat as if sitting on a chair. Arms are either in front of you or moving towards the ceiling. Low back is neutral, and knees are over the ankles to ensure you’re not putting too much strain on the knees. Check in with you posture, but making sure you can see your toes in front of your knees. In fact, the weight is distributed behind you, and in your heels. You should be able to lift your toes off of the mat.
Virabhadrasana II (warrior)
Strong, proud warrior poses increase stamina, strengthens and stretches legs, opens the chest, relieves back pain, and increases mental focus. From Tadasana, step your right foot back about 3 feet, and ground the back foot so that it’s parallel with your mat. Bend the front knee towards a 90 degree angle (ensuring the knees is directly over the ankle.) Pressing firmly into the outer edge and heel of the back foot, make sure your left knee isn’t flopping inward. Arms are wide and parallel with the floor. Pull your shoulder blades down your back to open your chest and engage your lower abs. Gaze is over the middle finger of your left hand.
You may choose to lower your forearm to your thigh and flow right into Parsvakonasana (extended side angle) to lengthen the side body as you strengthen your legs and core.
So now you have a couple of poses in your ‘arse’-enal to build strength, it’s time to release tight muscles. Strong muscles are great, but shortened, inflexible muscles don’t help your cause and may lead to pain in your back or immobility, so balancing your practice with a few hip openers is key.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (half lord of the fishes)
This twisting pose detoxifies, energizes and lubricates the spine as well as provides relief for back pain – but proceed with caution. If you have a back injury or disc problems, avoid this pose unless supervised one on one with an instructor.
From dandasana (seated staff pose) place your right foot on the floor to the outside of your left thigh. You can bend your left knee and bring your left toward your right buttock, but you don’t have to. Inhale to lengthen the spine, and place your right hand on the mat behind our buttocks as you reach your left arm around and hug your knee. With each inhale, lengthen the spine, and with each exhale release into the twist a little deeper. The twist should be coming from a contraction of your ab muscles, not by wrenching yourself into the pose.
Finally, no yoga practice would be complete without some version of pigeon, am I right? Kapotanasana stretches the thighs, outer hip, groin, psoas, abdomen, chest and shoulders, and neck. It’s the perfect post to wind down and stretch everything out. I like to mix it up with reclined pigeon because it enables you to keep your lower back stable while and avoid the temptation of rounding, particularly if we’ve just worked the hips.
Lying flat on your back, bend both knees and place your feet inner hip distance apart. Cross your left ankle over your right knee with your foot extending a little past the knee. Use your abs to lift your right foot off of the mat, reach your left arm through the whole your leg makes, and take hold of whatever is a available with both hands (the back of your right hamstring or your calf). Keep your left leg stable, and both feet flexed as you hug your right leg into your chest. If you don’t feel a stretch in the outside of your left hip, press your knee away from you. Keep your head on the floor with your chin slightly tucked and try to keep your back stable taking care not to overly round your low back.
Finally, place your feet back on the ground and gently let your knees fall side to side to release any tension in your back. Extend your legs out long and give yourself the gift of 5 minutes of pure relaxation in savasana. You’ve earned it.
Strengthened, lengthened glutes are happy glutes.
– Your Charmed Yogi
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