By Nema Nyar
Baddha konasana is an excellent preparation for cross-legged sitting poses. It strengthens the back, attunes awareness to the neutral position of the spine, and imparts a feeling of stability. This pose also stretches the adductors, inner quadriceps, and hamstrings, and promotes circulation, keeping the bladder, urinary tract, prostate, and abdomen healthy.
Begin by sitting with the soles of the feet together. If your knees are higher than your hips, or if your back rounds, sit on the edge of a cushion. Interlace your fingers together and slip them under your feet.
Find your connection to the ground by first rounding the spine, so the sit bones point forward. Now inhale and press the sit bones down into the floor as you rock upright, feeling the spine elongate. Repeat several times, noticing the stretch in the groin and inner thigh. Explore how it feels to sit with a long, straight back. Feel the lower spine with your fingers—if it sticks out, your back is rounded. (If you can’t rock to a straight back, sit on a cushion so you can get the feeling of the neutral spine.)
Baddha konasana is an intense stretch for the adductors (inner thigh muscles). When tight adductors are unwilling to stretch, self-massage can help. Press your left hand firmly into the muscle on your right thigh closest to the pubic bone. Place the fingers of your right hand an inch down the leg, press firmly, and make small circles. Circle at least 12 times, and then move both hands down one inch and massage that area. Repeat, inching down toward the knee. Then massage the other side.
Resisted stretching is another way to stretch the adductors. Bring your hands to your knees and gently press them down until you reach the comfortable side of your stretching edge. Then press your knees up into your hands, resisting with about 10 percent of your strength. Hold for 12 seconds, breathing comfortably. Then release the knees and gently press them down with the hands. You will find that you can stretch the knees a little further toward the floor than you could before and still be comfortable. Repeat the resisted stretch 2 more times, each time working from your new stretching edge.
Next, turn your attention to the back. Return your hands to their interlaced position under the feet and rock the sit bones to upright. This time as you inhale, reach the spine out of the hips, long and strong. As you exhale, press the knees down as you lift the spine.
Now that you are integrated and connected, deepen into the pose with a forward bend. Lift your spine and your sternum, feeling the head aligning over the shoulders. Keep this alignment as you bend forward from the hips. Focus on the straight spine lengthening up on the diagonal and try to keep your head aligned over the shoulders. Breathe, and soften all the muscles around the hip joint. After a few breaths, round over, softening the back and breathing into the kidneys at the bottom of the back of the rib cage. When you are ready to come out of the pose, stretch the crown of the head away and lift up with a flat back.
For a counter stretch, sit on the floor with your hands behind you. Place the feet flat on the floor, 2–21/2 feet apart. Exhale, lowering the left knee to the right ankle. Feel the left hip following the knee—you should feel the stretch all the way up to the left shoulder blade. Inhale, and raise the left knee to return. Repeat, alternating sides. With each repetition, feel a stretch in the outer quad and a lengthening in the hip crease. The sit bones will “walk” away from the hands.
When you have walked the sit bones as far away as is comfortable, lie down and rest in shavasana (corpse pose). Release all the tension in your body, and notice the circulation in the thighs and pelvis. Memorize this feeling by staying present with the relaxed state in your hips. Coming back to this feeling will bring ease to your sitting pose.
Nema Nyar, a former dancer, trained in massage therapy at the Scherer Institute of Natural Healing.