Baddha konasana is a common pose in many styles of yoga. It shows up in classes from children’s yoga to vinyasa. It is often considered to be a “hip opener.” Unfortunately, “hip opening” is not very specific. In this article, I take a closer look at this ubiquitous posture. Let’s dive into the anatomy, intentions, and technique for baddha konasana.
Why do baddha konasana?
In baddha konasana, we have an opportunity to create a proprioceptive relationship with an area of our body that we don’t engage with that often, the inside of our legs. And just like we talk about the importance of balance between the tissues on the front and back of our pelvis (like psoas and piriformis), balance between the medial and lateral sides of our body is important too. Many sports and activities focus our attention on strengthening or using the outside lateral muscles around our hip joint. But we don’t often connect our attention to the inside tissues. In baddha konasana, we can consider the relationship between the muscles on the medial and lateral sides of our legs.
There can be something calm and settling about baddha konasana. As we sit upright, bring our feet toward our pubic bones, and hold our feet with our hands, we are, in some sense, bringing together the ends of the extremities with the ends of the torso. This is especially true if we do the version where you bring the head to the feet as well. We may then fold forward and come into contact with the sensations of our inner thighs discussed above.
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The main anatomical concept that we work with in baddha konasana is external hip rotation. As a group, the adductors, of course, adduct, which brings your leg toward the midline. Additionally, they are internal (medial) rotators of the femur at the hip joint. Finally, they are also considered to be flexors of the femur at the hip joint.
As we take the shape of baddha konasana, we are doing the opposite of two of these generalized actions. As the legs fall toward the floor, they are both externally rotating and abducting at the same time. If we engage further with the posture, we increase the amount of external rotation at the hip joint. Not because the femur moves but because the pelvis rotates forward and down around the balls that make the head of the femur.
But this pose is different than half-lotus or lotus because the flexion of the knee joint is less. And, maybe most importantly, we don’t have the tendency to medially rotate the lower leg in baddha konasana as we do when we bring our foot up on our opposite thigh in a half-lotus or lotus. If we are doing the version of this pose with a forward fold, then we also have that anatomical piece to work with. Because of the shape our legs are in when we add the forward fold, any of the muscles that attach the head of the femur to our pelvis could contribute in subtle ways to restricting our ability to fold forward. That could include some aspects of gluteus maximus, and even muscles like the posterior parts of gluteus medius and minimus.
Our first intention with baddha konasana is lengthening the inside of our thighs, specifically the adductor muscles. This posture can be a bit trickier than it first appears, though. Because we work with both hips in an externally rotated position at the same time, we can’t compensate for tightness by moving the opposite hip as we can in one-sided postures. You could think of this pose as building on the actions of one-sided janu sirsasana with a two-sided pose. If you watch yourself or students closely, you will often find that they compensate for tension in their adductors when doing a posture like janu sirsasana A. If they can put their thigh on the floor in janu sirsasana A but not in baddha konasana, this is an indication of this kind of compensation.
Secondarily, we might have some additional intentions depending on the variation of the pose that we’re working on. In the Ashtanga yoga practice that I teach, there are three variations of baddha konasana that I work with. One includes a straight-back forward fold with the chin reaching out. As I already mentioned, this version accentuates the rotation of the hip joint as the pelvis goes forward and down around the heads of the femurs. Another uses a rounded-back forward fold. The intention here is harder to find, but it does lengthen the back line of the body and it brings all of the ends of the body into close proximity. The third version has us sitting up, but adds a tucked chin in a gesture of jalandhara bandha. This gesture may feel the most yogic and energetic.
So let’s talk about how we actually do this pose. Our first action is from a seated position. We bring our feet together and toward our pubic bone. Simultaneously, we externally rotate our hip joints, which rotates our thighs laterally. We can use our hands on our feet to encourage more adduction, and therefore external rotation, because of the body position we are in. If we grip each foot with one of our hands, place our thumbs on the bottom of our foot, and rotate our feet so that the bottoms of our feet are facing up, that action will translate up the chain of our leg. In that way, we can add a little additional pressure to the hip joints which affects the adductor muscles.
If we’re doing the most common version of this pose, with a forward fold, then from this basic position with our legs in place, we’ll flex at our hip joints (while they are simultaneously abducted and externally rotated) to begin folding forward. And this is where students often notice the difference between doing this pose and janu sirsasana A. If your gluteus maximus and lateral gluteals are tight, then you may find that your forward bending is restricted in this position. Those hip muscles can prevent the pelvis from easily tilting anteriorly over the heads of the femurs. So, you’ll likely feel some resistance to folding forward from the hip joints. If you’re struggling to fold forward, you can try sitting up on something like a short block or rolled-up towel.
The other two versions of baddha konasana each have an additional action. For the version with the rounded back, we are shortening the tissues on the front of our torso and allowing our pelvis to tilt posteriorly a little bit in order to curl in and reach our head towards our feet. The final version adds the action of tucking our chin after we assemble our feet and legs into the basic baddha konasana shape.
There are a couple of areas to be especially mindful of when exploring baddha konasana. The first is the knees. We are potentially sending force through the knees from both the hip end and the foot of the chain when we do this pose. If our adductors are tight, we may see our knees floating up rather than sitting on the floor. This is okay! Rather than getting overzealous and trying to push the knees to the floor, which can definitely result in an injury, just be consistent about gently leaning into the stretch in the pose. Over time the tissues will open and your knees will naturally sit closer to the floor.
It’s also possible to injure your adductors in this pose with too much pressure, or pressure too quickly. Although that is more commonly a result of being pushed too hard in an adjustment in this pose rather than just doing the posture. However, the same guidelines apply as with the knees. Be patient with this pose and take your time.