A lot of folks picture a “yoga pose” as a pretzel-like contraption that seems impossible to the everyday Joe. If that is you, I have our very special secret to the pretzel poses! It’s not being super flexible or super human – it’s a little dose of patience, a good amount of time and a splash of grace. That’s it! This is one of those poses that eluded me for a while. What is it? How on earth do I tell my body to do that? Thanks to some of my wonderful teachers in my early yoga years, I started to fall in love with this pose. It targets tight outer hip tissue that is tough to locate and release in many poses. So let’s dive in. Don’t forget the above recipe, my little pretzels (and yes, since it’s the holidays – let’s go with CHOCOLATE COVERED pretzels).
Start in dandasana (staff pose) with the legs extended out in front of you. Find a tall spine and make sure you can comfortably sit upright. If you feel like you are falling back a bit, sit to the edge of a blanket to tilt the pelvis toward neutral. Begin to bend the right knee and cross the foot over the left leg. Begin to heel toe the right foot over until you feel a good amount of sensation as the knees get closer together. You can prop your knee with a block or blanket if there’s quite a bit of space here. Stay here if this is plenty for today (leaving the left leg extended), OR you can begin to lean slightly to the left and gently draw the left knee to a bent shape as you sweep the foot over to the right outer hip. At this point, shift the hips side to side to make sure you can sit evenly from right to left. Stay upright, or you can choose to fold forward (applies to both full pose and modified with the bottom leg straight).
DON’T RUSH – The point of the posture is to find resistance and breathe through it. Rushing beyond your sensations is not only physically unsafe but it’s robbing you from the true experience of release.
DETAILS – Continually check to make sure that there’s no sharp or stinging pain in the knees, ankles or low back. If there’s pain of any kind, back off and find a stopping point that feels more supportive to your body’s needs.
Bring the earth to you | The floor is not the goal, sensation is! When you find your stopping point – it might not be the floor, and that is OKAY! Use a block to support your forehead if you don’t want it just dangling there.
Support your hips | If you find it difficult to sit up tall before folding forward (almost as if you’re headed backwards rather than forwards) see if elevating your hips onto a blanket helps you to roll the pelvis just slightly forward and lengthens the low back. You can easily use a blanket between the knees if it will help. Your body will thank you for it both immediately and later on too!
Arm Variations | If you want to add an additional stretch onto this pose, you can incorporate a wide variety of shoulder stretches. The photos below include a couple of examples.
Reclined | A good way to switch things up in this pose is to take it to your back. To do this, you’ll simply come to your back and draw the knees into the chest. Cross the right leg over the left and you can pause here for a moment just hugging the knees in close. Eventually you can grab for the pinky edge of either foot. Build intensity here by lifting heels away from the hips and then gently pulling feet in toward you. Keep a slight engagement in your feet to protect the knees here.
Wonderful stretch for the outer hips, low back and shoulders (if adding variations).
Stimulates the urinary, kidney, liver and gallbladder meridians.
Calming pose for the body and mind. Any kind of forward fold can be very nourishing for those with a hectic lifestyle or a busy mind. Though it takes time to settle in and get past the “noise” of life, this posture serves as a nice trigger for the parasympathetic nervous system.
The stretch into the hips also provides an opportunity for emotional release as well, since many of our feelings are stored as tension in the hips – poses such as these might surface a wide array of emotions. Breathe through them if they arise.
USE CAUTION: Contraindications for this posture include…
Sciatica/Low back issues. Either leave this pose out (especially if you cannot prevent the back from rounding) or be sure to elevate the hips if you are currently suffering from this condition. Alternatively, trying this pose on the back might be more supportive for you.
Knee issues. If you feel any kind of sharp, shooting pains or some kind of abnormal discomfort in the knee and/or ankle joints- come out and then find a variation that only brings forth a stretching sensation – rather than a pinching one.
Pregnancy. If you are pregnant, leave this pose out and come to a wide legged fold instead. Gotta leave plenty of room for baby!
HOLD: 3-5 minutes, depending on your own personal needs. Come down very slowly from this posture (as with any yin pose). BE SURE TO DO BOTH SIDES! Give each side equal attention in amount of time and quality of breath and stillness.
Windshield Wipers. Gently sway the knees side to side allowing the intensity in the hips, legs and back to neutralize.
Corpse Pose. Rest on your back for a few moments stretching everything out long and observe the space you just created.