Poses that help: figure 4 pose (alt – pigeon pose), legs into the chest, simple seated with legs out front, reclined butterfly
There are three main motions that go into sitting cross – legged so that an easy seated pose is comfortable to your body. First, the bend from the legs to the hips. This motion lengthens the back of the legs which can be especially tight on some people. If this is a particular problem area for you, I suggest coming to a simple seated pose with the legs out front to begin. The next bend is from the hips outward which extends the inner thigh and can be tricky with tight hips. The third bend is the bend at the knee which can be tough if you have larger calves or arthritis.
The following sequence can be done in a variety of ways to gently increase your ability to sit comfortably in easy seated pose. Lying down on the floor, bring your knees into the chest. Take 3-5 deep breaths and make any little movements that feel good (rocking from hip to hip, rolling out ankles, etc.).
Drop the right leg down and bring the left ankle over onto the right thigh. Use the left hand to press into the left thigh right at the hipbone. This brings the stretch deeper into the hip. If this is tight for you, stay right here for 1 full minute. It takes a full minute to release the muscle in the hip. If it feels ok after a few breaths, you may bring the right leg into the chest for a deeper stretch and take any of the following options
- Bring the right foot to a block
- Hold onto the right thigh with a strap or hands
- Hold onto the right shin with a strap or hands
Most importantly… this is a stretch for the lower body and the upper body should remain relaxed. Try to relax your jaw and take deep breaths that fill the entire chest cavity. Hold for one minute. Repeat on the other side – hold for one minute.
Carefully untangle yourself and bring both knees into the chest. Roll over onto the right side and take 2-3 breaths in a fetal position – scanning down through the body at whatever areas may be asking for your attention today. Use the strength of your arms to bring yourself up to an easy seated position with the legs stretched out front. Remove the flesh from beneath your buttocks to really ground yourself down. Flex the feet strongly.
Inhale to reach the arms up and hinge at the hips to reach forward over the legs. Keep the legs straight. When you have reached as far as you can comfortably, drop the hands down to the legs and release the head towards the toes. Breathe here for 5-7 deep breaths. Let yourself lengthen through the inhale and hinge forward on your exhale. Reach to find tension but not to find pain. If this becomes difficult, return to a simple seated position.
Slowly start to walk the hands back towards the hips. Find the legs long and the shoulder blades down the back as you sit tall. Place the hands flat onto the earth either right beside the hips or slightly behind. Lengthen all through the back of the body while you flex the feet.
Bring the legs wide and repeat the forward fold. Let the hands either rest on the ground between the legs or bring the hands to the legs. Hold for 5-7 deep breaths. Draw yourself back to a seated position and bring the legs back together.
Bend the knees, grab behind the knees and slowly roll down to the ground. Bring the feet side by side and allow the knees to open to either side. Gradually bring the soles of the feet together coming into supta bada konasana (reclined butterfly). Let the heels come in further towards the tailbone to deepen the stretch or extend the heels towards the bottom of the mat to lessen the tension in the hips. Gently close the eyes and find 3-5 breaths.
Extend the legs out wide to the outside edges of your mat and release the hands about a foot away from the hips with the palms facing up (savasana – corpse pose). Take 2-3 minutes to release entirely – even releasing any control over the breath. At the end of your practice, end in a gentle seated position with the legs crossed in front. Bring the hands to Anjali Mudra and end your practice.