Why adjust baddha konasana?
Baddha konasana is a common, foundational seated posture in many styles of yoga asana. It appears in the primary series of Ashtanga yoga and it’s commonly taught in other styles of yoga from Hatha to Iyengar. Adjusting baddha konasana can support students’ experience of the pose in several ways. Most simply it can help lengthen the adductors and other muscles around the hip joints, like the deep six lateral rotators. These muscles are often tight, especially if students have done sports or other activities that use these muscles routinely.
Additionally, working with poses like baddha konasana can help students make a connection to the “inside line of their leg.” Making this sensory and proprioceptive connection can be impactful in lots of ways. Fascially, the inner leg is connected to the pelvic floor. So, it can help students increase their connection to moving from their center. It can also help make a connection to the idea of bandha.
As with any good adjustment, it’s important to observe first and be clear about what your intention for change is. There are two main areas to focus our observations on here. There is the hip/leg piece of this pose. And, there is also the forward bend aspect of this pose. So hopefully you’ve been observing these aspects of your student’s practice already in other poses.
Some areas to have a sense of before adjusting baddha konasana might include:
- How is the student’s external hip rotation generally?
- Are poses like janu sirsasana A (head to knee pose) fairly comfortable for them? Or, is janu sirsasana A more of a challenge?
- How is the student’s forward bending, generally?
- When someone is challenged in forward bends, which ones are a challenge? This can tell us something about where the restrictions might be for that student.
- Do they have any past injuries to their adductors? What about injuries to, or issues with, their knees?
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Intention and technique
External hip rotation
In this pose we’re really building on patterns that have hopefully been introduced in other poses already. For example, both janu sirsasana and half lotus preparation postures like firelogs work external rotation of the hip joint in a similar way. And in janu sirsasana A, we’re also getting a bit of an adductor stretch. But because in poses like janu A we are working only one side at a time, those poses often feel more accessible than baddha konasana, where we’re working with both sides. For that reason, we often work with those single-side poses first before doing baddha konasana.
But, as I’ve discussed in my book, Functional Anatomy of Yoga, baddha konasana builds on janu sirsasana A in an interesting way. In janu sirsasana A we only work one hip at a time, while the other leg is straight. So, if our hips are still somewhat tight in the direction of external hip rotation, we can go around that tension a bit when we straighten the other leg and our pelvis adapts. In baddha konasana, we get a true picture of the tension in those hips and adductors as the pelvis can no longer adapt in the same way.
Forward bending intention
In order to access the forward bending aspect, the pelvis has to be free to rotate anteriorly around the heads of the femurs. We’ve likely worked with many different variations of forward bending before we arrive at baddha konasana. But due to the shape of the posture, what potentially restricts us from forward bending in this pose is not the hamstrings—the usual culprits of restriction in forward bends. Instead, our restrictors include all layers of the gluteal muscles, minimus, medius and maximus.
So, based on the possible intentions I described above, I have a couple of common assists that I use when adjusting baddha konasana. Adjusting the pose can help students distinguish between the two main aspects of this pose, and explore where restrictions might be coming from in each case. That’s especially true if you adjust each aspect of the pose separately, which is what I tend to do when adjusting baddha konasana.
Adjusting the legs
For a basic adjustment, I place my hands on the student’s inner thigh just above the knee joint. My direction of pressure is both down and out to the sides. If I want to add the external rotation intention, I would add a direction of pressure in the external rotation direction with my hands on their thighs.
Initially, I want to feel and sense for resistance in the tissues. Giving gentle pressure on one side and then the other gives me a sense of the resistance in the tissues and how receptive the student is to the extra lengthening. Then following on from that I might begin with gentle pressure on both sides and lean into it just a little bit on their exhale. If I’m going to continue deepening the pose, I’ll add a little more pressure on the student’s exhale and either hold where I am or back out just a little bit on their inhale. This is one way of tuning into the student’s nervous system with my adjustment. Depending on the situation with the student and how much pressure is appropriate and helpful, I can also do this adjustment using my knees on their thighs or one knee and one hand.
Another common assist that I do when adjusting baddha konasana takes advantage of the principle of neuromuscular facilitation, or PNF technique. The principle behind the PNF technique states that a muscle will go into a state of relaxation after contracting. In this adjustment, I place my hands on their thighs and then ask them to actually push up into my hands with about 15% of their strength. I’ll hold that for about a count of five. Then, I ask them to relax, and following their exhale, I add a little pressure down and out to the sides. I’d then repeat that technique a couple of times. This helps students with tight adductors retrain their nervous system cues to those muscles to temporarily relax and let go.
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Adding the forward fold
The last assist I commonly do when adjusting baddha konasana is to add the forward fold intention. I usually work the legs and forward fold separately. It can often be too much information for someone’s body to adjust both aspects of the pose at the same time. So, after working with the legs, I might either switch my contact and bring my hands to their back or place the upper sternum area of my chest on their back. Then, again using their breath as my cue, I follow their exhale and add pressure in a forward bend direction. While adding pressure I’m always feeling for their end of range of motion. I then lean into the forward bend motion only as far as they go. I feel for and follow them, and I don’t push past where I hit their end of assisted range of motion.
Which contact I choose depends on how well I know the student and their comfort with me moving into and out of their space. It also depends on how much bodyweight it makes sense for me to use when working with a particular student. I can easily take advantage of my own body weight and use good body mechanics when placing my upper chest on a student’s back. If you’re going to use your chest on their back, it may be appropriate to use a yoga blanket between the two of you. That said, for some students that might be too much pressure. Maybe they need only a very small nudge forward. Or it could be just too much in their space, so I’d opt for using my hands on their back, while still being aware of good body mechanics.
Cautions for adjusting baddha konasana
Both proprioceptive listening, meaning feeling for resistance from the tissues, and verbal communication with students are critical when adjusting baddha konasana. If you put your full body weight behind an assist in baddha konasana, do it too quickly, or do it without really listening to how the student is responding, it’s easy to injure someone. Communication is especially important here as it’s possible to put quite a lot of top-down pressure behind a baddha konasana adjustment. Even with students you regularly work with, every day is different. On one day a student may feel pretty open and comfortable deepening this pose. And then the next day they might have just gone for a run or a bike ride and things have tightened up. So, approach this adjustment with no expectations or attachment to where you’re going to “get to.”