I had a question from @mylifeisforliving a few days ago about how to work towards a wide legged seated forward fold or prasarita padottanasana (see my Instagram posts here and here if you're not sure what that looks like). Even though that posture might look relatively simple, I completely understand her question!
For some people sitting with their legs wide apart is naturally quite comfortable. For me the complete opposite has been true until pretty recently. I spent quite a lot of time horse riding when I was growing up without any thought of ever stretching, which left me with strong but very tight adductors (inner thigh muscles) and hip flexors (the muscles that you'd use to bring your knee up towards your chest). So whenever I tried to sit with my legs wide:
- well firstly, they wouldn't actually move that far apart
- I couldn't sit up straight at all, and felt like I was falling over backwards
- I'd get cramp in my hip flexor muscles
- If for some reason I was daft enough to then try and fold forwards, I wouldn't move at all and the cramp in my hips would just increase 😩
So instead of keep trying to force my body into a position that obviously didn't work for it, I thought I'd try a more targeted approach for a few months to see if it made any difference (💥spoiler alert💥 - it did).
It's relatively easy to stretch your hamstrings (the big muscles on the back of your thighs), especially in a vinyasa yoga practice. It happens every time you fold forwards (see my quick video here about doing that more effectively!). Hamstring flexibility comes into a wide legged fold too, but for the purposes of this blog I'm going to take it as given that you know how to stretch those muscles. Instead I'll be concentrating on the muscles that are most restricted for me in this posture: my adductors. For me, the 3 postures in the photo above allow me to access my adductors most effectively. And this is the order I'd use them in:
Photo 1 (top left): Stand with your feet wide apart on your mat and parallel. Fold forwards. If your fingers don't reach the floor use a block. Turn your right toes out 45 degrees, and bring your left hand to centre so it's directly underneath your face. Bend your right knee and use your right forearm to guide your knee out towards the little toe side of your foot. As you inhale lengthen your spine by stretching the top of your head straight forwards and sticking your tailbone out behind you. Keep that, and as you exhale lunge a little deeper and keep using your am to gently press your thigh out to the side. After a few breaths inhale to release, and exhale to repeat on the other side. Tip: don't put your arm on the top of your leg. Make sure it's on the inside - maybe even rest your fingers on your shins to help get it.
Photo 2 (top right): Stand with your feet about a metre apart, and turn both feet out about 45 degrees. Bend your knees out and sit down towards the level of your knees. Take a peek at your knees - if they seem to be collapsing inwards compared to your feet turn your toes to point a bit more forward (it won't make the posture any easier or harder, but will be a more stable position for your knees). Lean forwards and place your forearms on the inside of your thighs. As you inhale lengthen your spine by stretching the top of your head straight forwards and sticking your tailbone out behind you. As you exhale sit a little lower. Tip: this is like the previous posture, but with both knees bent instead of one. So the same applies - don't rest your arms on the top of your legs. Make sure they're on the inside, and use your arms to gently press your thighs apart while also lengthening the skin on the inside of your thighs from hips to knees.
Photo 3 (bottom centre): Sit on a block with the soles of your feet together and knees apart. Inhale and sit up as tall as you can, and think about moving the natural inward curve in your lower back further in and up. As you exhale fold forwards, but keep sticking your tailbone out behind you as much as you can (that will maximise the stretch your after). If your elbows reach your thighs then bend your arms and gently use your them to lengthen the skin on the inside of your thighs from hips to knees. Tips: instead of taking hold of your toes and pulling them towards you (which can create a twisting action in your knees), reach for your ankles instead. And don't pull as hard as you can with your arms, as that'll create tension in your neck and shoulders - be gentle!