Am I the only one that loves the figure four stretch? I didn’t think so. I love it so much that I wanted to share with you four different ways to figure four stretch and if I’m being completely honest – I thought the title was insanely clever. This pose is great everyone. Whether you sit at a desk all day or you are a marathon runner, there are benefits in this pose for you. Figure four is an approachable and effective way to open your hips. This pose will release tension from your outer hips and lower back. Less tension means more circulation! More circulation means less pain! Who doesn’t want less pain? Before we get started please be cautious especially if you have ever injured your knees, hips, and/ or low back. Always be mindful of your body, honor your boundaries, and leave ego outside of your practice. If there are any major medical concerns, please consult your doctor before beginning your yoga practice.
Let’s start off with our seated figure four stretch. I love this variation because it’s very accessible and you can do it anywhere you are able to sit! Whether you are sitting at your desk at work or lounging on your couch watching Game of Thrones, this posture is for you. Start off by moving towards the edge of your seat, scooting as far forward as you need in order to ground your feet to the floor. Sit up nice and tall! Separate your feet so that they are hip width distance apart then flex the toes of the right foot and begin to float that left foot off the floor. Cross the left ankle on top of the right thigh. If you are a little tight through the hips, feel free to reach down for that left leg and use your hands to guide that left ankle to its destination. Once your left ankle is on top of the right thigh, I want you to place your hands on your hips. Are they level? Be mindful that your right hip doesn’t hike up! Once your hips are level, you may use your left hand to gently press into the right thigh to create a little more space through the hip. Always be cautious and kind to your knees! Take at least 5 deep breaths. To exit, slowly start to reach that left ankle back down to the floor. Repeat the same for your right side.
Next let’s play with our supine (lying on our backs) figure four stretch. I gave you two variations for this stretch, but let’s still count it as one pose that way my catchy title still makes sense. Again, this is another pose that doesn’t necessarily have to be done on your yoga mat. You can do this first thing in the morning while still lying in bed or in my case – on a ridiculously soft rug! Start by lying on your back. Now plant your feet on the floor hips width distance apart. I want you to use your hands and reach towards the back of your heels. Your middle finger should barely be able to graze the back of your heel and that’s how you figure out how much space should be between your bum and your feet! The next few steps are exactly the same as the seated figure four stretch. Remember to be mindful of your knees, relax your shoulders, and breathe. If you want to take this stretch a little deeper ( right photo ) begin to float right foot off the floor, flexing the toes back, and bringing your heel parallel to the right knee. Next, thread your left hand through that little hole you’ve now created with your legs and your right hand will either meet your left hand on the back of your right thigh or the front of your right shin. You decide what feels better for your body. Try to relax your shoulders back to the floor and be mindful that your chin isn’t reaching up towards the ceiling. Keep your spine in one straight line. The more you pull your legs towards you, the more sensation you will feel. Take at least 5 deep breaths. To exit, if you took the deeper variation, begin to release your hands back to your sides, slowly start to bring your right foot back to the floor, and then release the left foot down as well. Repeat for your second side!
Our third type of the figure four stretch is actually my personal favorite. I’m all about using props to assist my yoga practice. Anything that I can prop myself on is considered fair game i.e. my couch! You can take the more traditional route and do this up against any wall. Setting yourself up to find that perfect space between you and the wall may take a little negotiating. Begin by lying on your back with your feet reaching towards your wall. From here, shimmy down bit by bit until you are able to plant your feet hips width distance apart on the wall while still keeping your spine grounded to the floor. The bend in your knees should be directly over your hips. The way we enter and exit this pose is exactly the same as our supine figure four stretch. If this stretch feels a little too deep for you, feel free to shimmy those hips away from the wall to lessen the stretch. If you want to deepen this stretch, shimmy your way a little closer to the wall but stay mindful of your knees! Keep your shoulders relaxed, chin stays leveled, stretch both sides, and as always, keep breathing!
And now we are going to get a little fancy! We finally made it to our fourth way to figure four stretch and there are two variations you can try out! These poses are a little more advanced and require some balancing. Feel free to situate yourself next to a wall for a little extra support. To begin the standing figure four pose, we must first lay down our foundation in chair pose. Start by standing up nice and tall and bring your feet together side by side ( if that’s not comfortable, please open your feet as wide as hips width to find comfort ). Bend your knees and start to shift your hips down as if you were sitting in an invisible chair. You can reach your arms out in line with your shoulders for some extra balance. Take a glance down at your toes and make sure you can see them! Now that your foundation is set, you can begin to move into your standing figure four stretch. The movement to enter this posture is the same as the last three poses we have done together. Let’s start with that first variation ( left photo ). Make sure that your standing leg has a slight bend in the knee and avoid placing ankle directly on top of the knee! You may find that balance gets a little tricky here. What usually happens is we forget to use the inside arch of are standing leg, so really press into that big toe to help keep you stable! Once you have found your balance, bring your hands to heart center. Keep your spine long by lengthening through your tailbone, shoulder blades are gliding down your back, and to top it off – put a little smile on your face. If you feel rooted and confident in this first variation, let’s move on to that second variation ( right photo ). Keep the softness in your standing leg and begin to hinge the hips forward. Really focus on the movement coming from the hips and instead of diving down with your upper body – this will keep your spine lengthened. Eventually you’ll hinge so far forward that your hands will touch the floor. If your hands can’t quite touch, try using your finger tips or placing your hands on top of blocks. Be sure to keep your core engaged to protect your low back. Take at least 5 deep breaths once you have found your expression of this pose. To exit, reverse the motions! Keep the softness in your standing knee, start to lift your torso up by moving from the hips, and you’ll meet yourself back in that first standing figure four variation. And lastly, you’ll release your crossed ankle to the ground. Whichever variation you took for the first side, try it out for your second side. Your body may not be balanced in this moment, but the practice is. Continue to practice and you will find more balance!