When you start to hit your limits in a pose, feeling an overly intense stretch or a muscle trembling with fatigue, your first instinct may be to escape the discomfort. But yoga is a process of self-inquiry, and it offers you opportunities to learn from intense sensations as you carefully explore your limits. This is what some teachers call "playing your edge"—staying mindful in the face of physical limitations.
Baddha Konasana, or Bound Angle Pose, is a posture that quickly brings some people to their edge. Like all poses, Baddha Konasana requires a combination of stability, flexibility, and effort, and any of these aspects of the pose can make you confront your limitations. The pose is a big stretch for the inner thighs and groins. Because of the open position of the legs, it requires strength in your core, your back muscles, and your outer thighs. When you sit on the floor in Baddha Konasana, your core works to keep you from rounding the back and dropping the chest. Your back works as you actively lift your spine up and away from the grounding of your thighs. Your outer thigh muscles must be strong enough to rotate your thighbones out, helping your inner thighs stretch. If that sounds like a lot to think about, it is! The actions of Baddha Konasana are similar to those used in standing poses that call for open hips, such as Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose) and Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose). Although it's not a classic meditation pose, practicing Baddha Konasana can make sitting easier.
When you practice, observe yourself. You might hit your edge because your back muscles fatigue, making it challenging for you to keep lifting your chest. Or maybe your outer hip and thigh muscles are tight or weak, and so it's hard to sustain the effort the pose requires. Perhaps you have tight hamstrings and inner thigh muscles and they need to be patiently stretched over time.
Whether Baddha Konasana is easy or hard for you, keep exploring your edges, trying to understand why they are there. It's important not to move too quickly or too far. Exploring your edges should not create pain; it should help you move toward an amount of stretch or muscular effort that's sustainable for you. If something hurts, ease back a bit.
And remember, everyone has natural limits. If your knees plop open with little resistance, then your body may be naturally shaped to accommodate this range of motion; if, on the other hand, your knees are pointing upward, your back is rounding, and you feel stuck, your bone structure and muscular development may be limiting factors. This doesn't mean you should give up on the pose. Even if your knees don't ever open all the way to the floor, Baddha Konasana will still help you to stretch your inner thighs and build strength in your back.
When you run into your edge, you may feel frustrated, but stay with it. Your limitations can be blessings in disguise, offering you one of yoga's greatest lessons: Contentment can be found anywhere. When a pose or a life situation is challenging, you can learn to find peace with what is, exactly as it is.
Baddha Konasana is sometimes called "Cobbler's Pose" because cobblers in India traditionally sit in this position on the floor while they work. It turns out that's a smart choice. Sitting on chairs tightens the hips and hamstrings and contributes to a slumping posture, while sitting on the floor opens the hip and thigh muscles, strengthens the core, and reduces compression in the lower back.
Warm Up 1: Activate your outer thighs while stretching your inner thighs.
Set It Up:
1. From Mountain Pose, face one side of your mat and reach your arms out to your sides.
2. Step your feet as wide apart as your outstretched hands.
3. Turn your left foot in slightly and turn your right foot out 90 degrees.
4. Bend your front knee to a right angle, with your knee stacked directly over your ankle.
Refine: Firm the entire length of the back leg, pressing the outer edge of your back foot down. Pull your front thigh back into your hip: Imagine there's a seam from your outer knee to your outer hip, and shrink it toward your hip. From your hip joint, roll the outer thigh muscles down and under and press the thigh back, externally rotating your femur bone in your hip joint. These actions will stretch your inner thigh from your groin to your knee.
There's no need to square your hips with the side of the mat. Instead work on steadying your pelvis in an upright position (neither tucked under nor tipping backward) and elongating your whole torso by drawing your tailbone down toward the earth and the crown of your head up toward the sky.
Finish: Take several breaths, then straighten your front leg. Turn your feet to face the side of your mat. Repeat on your second side.
Warm Up 2: Let Gravity Help
Set It Up:
1. Sit on a folded blanket with the soles of your feet together and close to your groin. If your knees feel uncomfortable, move your feet farther out.
2. Place your hands just behind your outer thighs. Press into all 10 fingertips and pick up your hips an inch or so off the floor.
3. Allow your knees and thighs to fall open.
Refine: As you balance on your fingers, drop your shoulders and lift your chest up. Let gravity draw your pelvis down, lengthening your spine with gentle traction. Allow the weight of your thighs to fully drop, stretching your inner thighs and opening your hips. Work to rotate your outer thigh muscles back and down, which will create a more active stretch.
Next, find the natural, healthy curves in your spine by adjusting your pelvis so it's not tilting forward or back. If you are tucking your tailbone and rounding your lower back, press your buttocks gently backward until you feel the natural arch in your lower back. Or, if you already have a big arch in the low back, lightly squeeze in your abdominals to lessen the tilt in your pelvis and to support your spine.
Finish: Slowly lower your hips, keeping your pelvis upright and spine long. Notice as you touch down how much work it takes to keep your thighs as open as they just were. Bring your knees together and rest.
Final Pose: Baddha Konasana
Set It Up:
1. Sit on a folded blanket. Bring the soles of your feet together and wrap your hands around your ankles.
2. Press your toe mounds and inner and outer heels together.
3. Roll your outer thighs down.
4. Press down through your sitting bones to bring your pelvis upright; draw up through the crown of your head to lengthen your spine.
5. Widen your collarbones and pull your shoulders down your back.
Note: If you find it challenging to sit upright, place one or more folded blankets under your hips.
Refine: Notice and explore your edges. Either soften or work harder, depending on what you need. If the stretch is intense, breathe into it and focus on staying upright. If you're more flexible, it may feel as though not much is happening. If that's the case, engage fully. Keep on pressing your feet together, especially your big toes and inner heels, and engaging your inner thigh muscles. Pull your hands up against your ankles to give your legs resistance to push down against. Pull down your shoulders and press in your shoulder blades to open your chest. Balance this openness with abdominal strength so you are supporting and lengthening your spine rather than arching it.
Finish: Make peace with where you are. Whether your thighs drop to the floor or are nowhere near it, soften your face, feel the steadiness of your breath, and see if you can accept and be grateful for this moment, exactly as it is.
Try these tips to get the most out of Baddha Konasana.
Rounded Back: Place one or more folded blankets under your hips, to keep the pelvis and spine upright.
Tender Knees: Try moving your feet further away from the groin if you feel pressure in your knees.
Tight Back: If you have a hard time staying upright, sit with your back against a wall for support.
Extra Challenge: If you're very flexible, fold forward with a long spine and stretch your outer thighs.
Elements of Practice
Santosha, or contentment, is a goal of yoga. Instead of seeking happy feelings or trying to avoid suffering, you can learn to accept and find peace with whatever comes, both the good and the bad. In a pose like Baddha Konasana, you may not be able to fully control how your body looks or feels. Resist the urge to judge your pose or compare it with anyone else's. Let your practice move you toward equanimity and a deep acceptance of what is. Let your frustration with your limitations—or even your feelings of accomplishment—melt away. Rest peacefully in the here and now.
Watch a video demonstration of this pose.
Annie Carpenter teaches yoga classes and leads teacher trainings at the Exhale Center for Sacred Movement in Venice, California.