Odds are, you’ve heard the instruction "Find a comfortable seat," within the first minute of most yoga classes you attend. When you have tight hips, however, finding a comfortable seat, especially at the start of practice, can be nearly impossible. Considering that the original goal of the yoga postures is to prepare the body to find the proper seat for meditation—one that is strong in the core and relaxed in the hips—starting in a seated position that is neither steady nor comfortable can feel like putting the cart before the horse. When sitting is uncomfortable, or even painful, you are violating the principle of ahimsa (nonharming) from the get-go and creating a negative experience from the very start of your practice. Here are some strategies for finding a truly comfortable starting pose.
Prop It Up
You may need to build a tower with props, but finding the right supported alignment can make your sitting position vastly more comfortable. Sit on one or more bolsters, or a stack of one or more blankets, until your knees are lower than your hips. Use blankets to support the thighs as they release down. Ask your teacher for help with this. Being properly propped can make a world of difference in the feeling of the pose, and thus in the tone you set for the entire practice.
Depending on the structural orientation of your hip sockets and the tightness of the muscles around the hip, you might find a kneeling position—especially a propped one—far more sustainable than sitting cross-legged. Start with a blanket under the shins, and if your ankles are very tight, let the tops of your feet dangle off the blanket’s edge, decreasing the angle at the top of the ankle. Add a second blanket, or a third, between calves and hamstrings, or prop your sitting bones on a block turned widthwise.
Choose an Alternative
Tell your teacher sitting isn’t comfortable for you, and work together to find a better option. If your practice begins with pranayama, a supported Fish Pose with a small bolster or rolled blanket under the spine will be a good choice. If the intention is to foster pratyahara (turning inward) at the start of class, Child’s Pose fits the bill well. When you’re clear on the intention and direction of the first minutes of practice, you’ll be able to find a starting position that works.