Asana In Depth: Get More Out of Fire Log Pose (Agnistambhasana)
If you enjoy agnistambhasana, or fire log pose (also known as double pigeon), you’re probably someone who believes in making the most of the moment. After all, why stretch one hip when you could stretch two?
If you’d like to get even more out of fire log, consider this. Rather than experiencing fire log as simply a passive stretch for the hips, groin, and lower back, you can actively connect to your bases of support—fostering inner stability and spaciousness, and facilitating muscular engagement throughout the entire body. By following the steps below, you’ll avoid undue pressure on your knees, while strengthening your feet and your legs. You’ll even direct some of the challenge of the pose to the core muscles of your spine and pelvis.
By following the steps below, you’ll avoid undue pressure on your knees, while strengthening your feet and your legs.
Fire log pose is no joke, so try it only after warming up with more accessible hip-openers like reclining pigeon (aka, eye-of-the-needle), cobbler’s pose (baddha konasana), and easy pose (sukhasana). At every step of the pose, make sure you’re not feeling any stress in your knees (if you are, back off and reaffirm the work of the previous steps).
Before you begin, place a couple of blocks nearby, and arrange a folded blanket or two (or even a bolster, if needed) at the back of your mat. If your knees are higher than your pelvis in fire log, your pelvis will have to tip posteriorly (backward), which will round your lower back. The lift of the pelvis the blanket provides gives you a better shot at keeping the slight anterior (forward) pelvic tilt that allows you to curve your lower back in and lift your heart up. Beginning fire log with this elongated, upright spine allows you to move into the fold from a place of maximum spaciousness.
1. Sit on the blanket(s), with your legs extended straight out in front of you and about 90 degrees apart, as they would be in a wide-legged forward fold (upavista konasana). Drop your pubic bone toward the floor and curve your lower back in gently toward the spine. Allow your weight to rest in both sitting bones, and lift up through the crown of your head. Draw your belly in lightly with every exhalation to encourage the deepest layers of abdominal muscles to support the curve in your lower spine.
2. Place your left hand under your left knee, bend your knee up toward the ceiling, then inch your left foot in the direction of your right knee. Flex your left foot, and lower your left knee toward the floor so that your shin is parallel with the front edge of your mat. (If your knee is aloft, try putting a block underneath your left thigh. This will relieve any potential strain to your knee and give you another “root.”) You want this position of the knee to come from the external rotation of your left hip, rather than any twisting of your knee! Encourage this rotation by encircling the top of your left thigh with your hands, then spinning the left inner thigh up and to the left, and the left outer thigh down and to the right.
3. To stabilize your left knee, activate your left foot and ankle. Press down into the mat with the outside edge of your flexed left foot. Keep the sole of your left foot parallel to the long side of the mat, and reach the heel and ball of your left foot away from your left knee. Spread your left toes and draw them back toward the left knee.
4. While still dropping your pubic bone and maintaining the gentle inward curve in your lower back, press your left foot and shin forward toward the front of your mat (without actually moving them). Do this until you feel a greater sense of engagement deep in your left hip (and maybe even a greater sense of lift through the crown of your head!)
5. Bend your right knee up toward the ceiling, and with the help of your hands (right hand behind right knee, and left hand to the sole of right foot), stack your right shin on top of your left shin—like “fire logs.” This involves placing your right heel at the edge of or just beyond your left knee, and flexing your right foot. If your right thigh is afloat, try placing a block under it. If you found it helpful on the first side, once again encourage the external rotation of the right thigh with help from your hands. (Note: If your right foot comes to the inside of the left thigh, there’s a good chance that you will “sickle” the foot, i.e., passively roll its sole toward the ceiling. This will overstretch your outer ankle and shorten your inner ankle.)
6. Press the outside of your right foot (or ankle or shin, if your foot is beyond your knee) into your left knee. Keeping the sole of your right foot parallel to the long edge of your mat, reach the ball and heel of the right foot away from the right knee. Spread the right toes and draw them back toward the right knee.
7. While continuing to drop your pubic bone, try moving your right foot and knee forward (but without actually moving them).
8. Root the left sitting bone down, while continuing to reach up through the crown of your head. Now encourage the right sitting bone to lighten slightly and move incrementally forward, as the right side of your pelvis moves a few degrees into a posterior tilt (think cat pose). By contrast, the left side of your pelvis ideally maintains a slight anterior tilt, like cow. (See "Liberate Your Pelvis: When 'Hip-Squaring' Isn’t Ideal, and What to Try Instead" for more information about the movement potential of the two halves of the pelvis.)
9. Notice the extra responsibility the left hip and outside edge of your left foot now have for stabilizing the pose. Notice also how the core muscles girding the right side of the pelvis activate to “scoop” the right side of the pelvis into a small posterior tilt.
10. Bring your fingertips to the blanket or bolster just behind your hips (or even further back, if your lower spine has rounded—leaning back until your lower back curves in). Re-elongate your spine, pressing down into your fingertips and into all your roots, reaching up through the crown of your head. If maintaining your lumbar curve here is a challenge, you can remain here and practice curving your lower back in gently (while supporting that curve with every exhalation).
11. Keep your hands behind you, but come a few degrees into a fold, using your fingertips to help bring your heart forward. While the spine will begin to round as you bring your torso closer to your legs, find as much length as you can—rooting down into every part of you that’s on the mat (or a block, or blanket), and continuing to reach through the crown of your head as if aiming to move your nose to the floor a foot beyond your shins. (Note: You may find that as you fold, your knees naturally descend, making the blocks unnecessary.)
12. Bring your hands slightly further forward, or bring your palms flat against the soles of your feet. To confirm that the balls of your feet and your heels are still reaching away from your knees, press the soles of your feet into your hands. If you choose to come into the full forward folding version of the pose, walk your hands forward on the mat in front of you, and without actually moving anything, try to draw the mat back toward your shins in order to glide your heart further forward. Avoid going so deep that you lose the actions you’ve created at your base. Go only as far as you can while continuing to reach down through the left sitting bone and root down with the outside edges of your feet; while still reaching the balls of the feet and your heels away from your knees and pulling the toes back toward the knees; while trying to move your shinbones toward the front of the mat; and while lightening the right hip slightly. Imagine all these actions collaborating to help lengthen the crown of your head further forward, the kindling that gives rise to the flame.
After a couple of minutes breathing at the depth of the pose that works for you, come back up, and lengthen your legs out in front of you. Part your legs, and then try the other side. If you practice this pose often, be sure to vary the side with which you begin.
Ignite fire log pose with as much attentive effort as you like, but be mindful of the moment when enough becomes enough. Sure signs the pose is getting too fiery are irritation, depletion, or irregular breath. Do only as much as you can do while allowing the cool breeze of your breath to move through you unimpeded, clearing away excess steam and smoke.
Amber Burke lives in Abiquiu, New Mexico. She teaches alignment-based and restorative yoga privately (and occasionally at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs), as well as various writing classes at UNM Taos. With her anatomically-focused articles, she aims to broaden the interface between yoga and physical therapy. She and Bill Reif, MPT, are hard at work on a book for yoga practitioners with injuries and pre-existing conditions. She is a graduate of Yale, the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars MFA... Read more>>