You know when things happen to you before you can even process what’s taking place? Like having a car accident or hearing horrible news? That’s what it was like when an adjustment by my yoga teacher overstretched my tight groin muscles—and they’ve never been the same.
I’m not sure if there was an audible pop. I definitely felt a pop, though. And it was very different than the usual popping my hip would do, the innocent kind that was like a party trick and led to instant relief. No, this was not a fun Champagne cork pop. This was a “Will I be able to walk again?” kind of pop.
Yet I said nothing. I even let this person continue to stand on my inner thighs and butterfly them down to the floor in Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose). (Did I mention the teacher was probably 200 pounds?)
Before you think, “Oh, that pose is easy for me. My thighs always reach the floor,” let me tell you that my legs do not move that way. Unless, of course, someone is standing on them.
That was in my early years of teaching yoga, back when I was embarrassed by my tight groin muscles. Like, how could I have the audacity to sit at the front of the room and call myself a teacher when my knees were often in my ears while someone brand new to yoga could flop their legs open or squat as easily as they yawned? So, despite the searing pain, I returned to this person’s class every morning and let them stand on my thighs until well beyond the fun pop sensation and felt like I was accomplishing something.
Spoiler alert: The only thing I accomplished was osteoarthritis and the start of a labral tear. My groin is still tight, and it likely always will be.
Yes, you can overstretch tight muscles
Tightness in a posture is not just a matter of needing to stretch more or “release energy,” as some yoga teachers may claim. Tightness in poses can be due to a variety of factors, including genetics, lifestyle, anatomy, and any personal trauma patterns. Even what you eat the night before you practice can influence your muscles’ pliability.
On a strictly anatomical level, groin tightness can be due to a variety of factors—from the shape of your bones and the way your femur sits in the hip socket to the length of your adductor muscles in the inner thigh—never mind a whole host of other muscles and attachments that contribute.
And while stretching is important for the health of your muscles and maintaining a good range of motion in the joints, going way past your range and pushing through pain can lead to “overstretching” and injuring yourself. This can occur at the muscle or tendon attachment to the bone, which is called a strain, or in the ligaments connecting the bones of a joint, which is a sprain.
How to reframe “tightness” as having “healthy limits”
Tightness is not something to force through. Tightness is your body’s way of setting healthy limits.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my realization to stop pushing my body beyond its healthy range came alongside my severe burnout from teaching. The same way I was letting someone press my thighs well past their limits, I was also saying “yes” to way more work than I could energetically handle. For years, I was more concerned with the outward appearance of having a full schedule and exciting opportunities than honoring the realities of my energy and needs. Just as I was more concerned with getting my thighs to the ground than honoring my bone structure.
But one day, I finally said, “That’s enough.” Like, literally. Thankfully, the teacher heeded my request and delicately stepped off my thighs. But I also heeded my request. I started saying “no” to things and began building way more rest into my schedule.
Limitations are not walls to be knocked down or blown past. They are opportunities to slow down and rest for a moment before finding the door.
Now, let’s remember there is nothing wrong with stretching our groin. (I’d be out of a job otherwise.) Instead, let’s learn how to safely stretch it.
5 yoga poses that double as groin stretches
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), variation
Baddha Konasana may seem like the poster child of postures for measuring groin mobility, but for me and many people, it can be quite challenging. Doing this variation on a rolled blanket gives you feedback on what your pelvis is doing. It also creates height, so when you lean to the side, the weight of your thigh bone falling toward the ground also helps to create length in the inner thigh.
Roll a blanket into a thin cylinder and place it underneath you so your perineum is on the rolled blanket and your sit bones are on either side of it. Bend your knees and pull your heels toward your groin, opening your inner thighs and letting your knees fall to the sides in Baddha Konasana. Lean yourself to the left until you are on your left outer thigh and buttock, allowing your right sit bone to lift off the blanket. Have your right left hand behind you for balance. Take your left hand and gently press on your leg to lengthen your inner thigh from your groin to your inner knee. Be gentle. Less is way more here (and everywhere)! Come back through center, settle on the blanket, and then lean to the left and repeat.
I used to think I had to turn my legs out 90 degrees like a prima ballerina in Goddess Pose to do it right. Not true. Step your legs out as wide as you comfortably can and turn them as far as you comfortably can. Then only bend your knees so far as it feels good. Meaning no pain! The beauty of this groin opener is that you can adjust both legs at the same time.
Stand in the middle of your mat so you’re facing a long side. Reach your arms out to the side and align your ankles under your wrists. (If your legs do not step that wide, then only step as wide as you comfortably can.) Turn your legs out 45 degrees. Start with your hands on your hips and, on an exhale, bend your knees toward 90 degrees. Place your hands on your inner thighs and lengthen from your hips to your knees. Hold for 10 full breaths. After your final exhale, slowly straighten your legs to stand. Turn your feet parallel to one another and step your feet back together.
Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge), abductor-release variation
I know there are campaigns to fight gravity in terms of the effect it has on our skin, but in yoga, gravity is our friend. Our bones are heavy, and using the weight of your own body to create length versus having it be pressed open is a safer way to stretch as you can remain more in tune with your body’s feedback. That said, you can still add your hand and press, too.
From Downward-Facing Dog Pose, step your right foot to the outside of your right hand. Lower your back knee to the floor. Bring your elbows onto the floor a block. Let your front leg fall open, so that you are on the outer edge of your right foot, coming into abduction. You’re welcome to gently press your right hand to your inner thigh to stretch your groin more. Hold for 10 full breaths. Place the sole of your foot back onto the floor, place your hands on the mat, and step back to Downward-Facing Dog before doing your left side.
Eka Pada Mandukasana (One-Legged Frog Pose)
The full version of Frog Pose is a lot for the knees, especially for those of us with restricted groin flexibility, but this half variation is a much more manageable way to lengthen the inner thigh muscles. If you ever feel pain in your inner knee, whether during the shape or after, then skip the pose!
Start in Sphinx Pose. Bend your right knee out to the side, so you are on your inner thigh and calf. Press out of your forearms as you pull your palms against the mat to open your chest. Roll your right outer hip down, as you lengthen your right inner thigh toward your knee. Lengthen back through your left leg, press all five toes into the floor and keep your left ankle firm. Hold for ten breaths. Stretch your leg back to straight, returning to Sphinx and repeat on your other side.
Upavistha Konasana (at the wall)
I think this is probably my favorite groin stretch as it is accessible to most able bodies. Those of us with tight groins know that most inner thigh stretches are far from restorative. This variation can be categorized as a restorative pose, though, as you’re being supported by the wall and the floor.
Start in Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose) with your legs parallel to one another. If your hamstrings are on the shorter or tighter side, your bum may need to be a few inches away from the wall, so that your sacrum is flat onto the floor. Spread your legs into a “V”, coming into Upavista Konasana on your back. Have your arms anywhere that is comfortable—either by your sides or palms on your tummy. Breathe. As you lie here, you may notice your legs slipping down the wall as they open more. Try not to force this. Observe if one leg is opening more than the other and try to keep them as symmetrical as you can by pulling back on the more open side. Hold for 15 breaths. Draw your legs together, pull your knees to your chest, and roll to one side before slowly pressing up to sitting.