This story originally appeared in the August/September 2014 issue of Pointe.
I recently started doing yoga and am wondering if it could have a positive impact on my turnout. If so, what poses do you recommend? —Emily
The answer is yes—but not in the way you might think. While it's true that yoga offers some deep hip stretches (like half pigeon, when done correctly), other not-so-obvious poses help strengthen your overall hip rotation. "What happens is that a dancer's muscles get really strong one way, but really weak in others," says TaraMarie Perri, director of The Perri Institute for Mind and Body in New York City and MBD/Mind Body Dancer. So while we have strong external rotators, our turn-in muscles—such as our inner thighs—probably need some work. "Yoga helps develop and strengthen those weaker muscle systems, which dancers can use to safely sustain turnout and not strain their joints," Perri says. Specific poses can help correct your muscular imbalances, giving you more support to use the flexibility you have.
Perri recommends this series of poses for strengthening turnout: First, sit back into chair pose, reaching the arms up past the ears. Focus on lining up your hip, knee and ankle joints; you should feel your inner thighs working. (For an added challenge, place a block between your thighs, keeping feet slightly apart.)
Next, step one leg back into high lunge, keeping your arms up and thinking about the inseams of the legs coming together. Make sure your bent knee is at a right angle. "You're in parallel, but notice the subtlety of how the thighs move," says Perri.
From there, rotate the back foot slightly and lower your heel down into warrior I (notice that now the back leg is slightly turned out, but try to keep your hips facing front).
Finally, open up your pelvis and shoulders (your arms out to the sides, palms facing down) into warrior II, feeling both hips externally rotated.
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor in chief and former dancer Amy Brandt at firstname.lastname@example.org.