Bound angle pose, known as baddha konasana in Sanskrit, is a targeted hip opener that increases flexibility in the hips and range of motion in the legs. While the pose stretches the lower back and buttocks as well, its benefits are mostly concentrated in the hip flexor and rotator muscles, where the pose builds the most flexibility.
This seated posture is also a restorative pose that releases tension from, particularly, the hips. Women, especially, tend to store the body’s stress and muscle tension in the hips. Hip openers like bound angle pose combat this tendency by externally rotating the hip joint and building long, lean flexor and rotator muscles.
Bound angle pose lengthens the external hip rotators and the hip flexors for all around flexible, open hips. Along with other intense hip openers like pigeon pose (eka pada rajakapotasana), it is one of the most comprehensive and effective cures for tight hips. If practiced consistently, the pose improves pelvic alignment and prevents pulled groin muscles.
Because it focuses on the hip muscles, the pose is traditionally thought to improve urinary, digestive, and reproductive health by stimulating circulation to those systems. At the same time, the pose mimics meditative asanas thought to facilitate meditation, scholarship, and enlightenment (see opening the balls of the feet like a book in step eight; above).
The forward fold motion of bound angle pose introduces a second set of benefits targeting the stomach, lower back, and buttocks. The fold engages the abdominal muscles and, as you draw the stomach inwards, it massages the abdominal organs. The pose also lengthens the erector spinae muscles and gluteal muscles, relieving lower back and sciatica pain.
As a restorative pose, bound angle pose and, especially, its variation reclining bound angle pose have the mental benefits of relaxation and stress release. The posture includes an intense, simultaneous external rotation of the hips, which effectively releases any muscle tension you may hold in your hips.
Do not attempt bound angle pose if you:
- have a lower back injury or have serious, persistent lower back problems.
- have a hernia.
- have a groin injury.
- have a knee injury.
- have iliosacral instability.
Open hips and flexible lower back muscles are key to practicing this pose, but bound angle pose could just as likely be the pose you use to access these things, as the pose you practice after you already have open hips and a flexible back. This pose doesn’t need much preparation, which is why athletes of all types use it in their warm ups.
Because bound angle pose is an intense external rotation of the hips, it makes sense to balance the pose with an internal rotation (although it is by no means essential to do so). Consider pairing bound angle pose with lion pose (simhasana). Lion pose is a double internal rotation of the hips, so the exact opposite of bound angle pose. Pairing these two stretches the hip rotators more comprehensively.
How to do the Baddha Konasana Yoga Pose
- Begin seated on the mat with your legs extended in front of you.
- Straighten and lengthen your spine to extend your back upward. Press the bottom corners of your shoulder blades toward your heart center to bring your shoulders down and back.
- Inhale. Draw your legs toward your body by bending your knees upward. Keeping your knees together, draw your feet in until they are planted one or two feet in front of your buttocks.
- Exhale. Gently drop your knees to the sides of your body (right knee to the right, left knee to the left). Keep your feet together and, as your legs open outwards, bring the soles of your feet together.
- Shift your weight so that both your seat bones are planted firmly on the mat.
- Nestle your feet as close to your hips as you comfortably can. Keeping your back extended, take hold of your feet with your hands. Place your thumbs along the inside of the upper edge of your feet.
- Inhale. Extend the back and look up. Draw your lower belly inward.
- Exhale. Bend forward. As you bend forward, press your thighs toward the mat. Gently pull the balls of your right and left feet apart with your hands, as though you were opening a book. Bend your arms outward and rest your elbows on your knees. This action will help you drop your thighs lower and, ultimately, stretch the hip rotators further.
- Breath and hold the pose. As with a forward bend: extend with every inhale, fold further with every exhale. Also use the exhales to drop your thighs lower toward the mat. Press your elbows against your knees ever so gently to intensify the opener, but if you feel any pain or discomfort, stop.
- Inhale and come up.
Modifications and Props
Butterfly the legs to loosen tight hips. If tight hips leave your thighs hovering high above the mat, gentle, rapid movements will help loosen the muscles. After step seven (above), move your legs up and down. The up and down motion mimics the flap of a butterfly’s wing. Keep these movements controlled and graceful to avoid injury.
For a gentler pose, elevate the pelvis. In step one (above), place a folded blanket under your buttocks. Elevating the pelvis will increase mobility in the groin, making it easier to extend the back and drop the thighs toward the mat. If you tend to round your back in the pose, or if your knees hover high above the mat, try elevating your pelvis.
Help gravity with blankets and weights. To intensify the hip opener, place two rolled up blankets under your knees after step six (above). Adjust your feet so that your knees hover an inch above the blankets. Then, place a weighted beanbag or sandbag on each of your thighs. Moving into step seven, eight, and nine, let the weights press your knees into the blankets.
Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana). This supine variation of bound angle pose is a more passive way to relieve muscle tension in the hips. Reclining bound angle pose is one of the classic restorative yoga poses, available to every skill level. Begin lying supine on the mat. Inhale and bending your knees upward. Exhale and drop your knees to either side of your body. Press the small of your back against the floor (avoid swayback). Breath and hold the pose. With each exhale, press the thighs closer to the mat. Inhale and bring your knees together. Straighten your legs.
Hip rotator muscles. The hip rotator, or lateral rotator, muscle group includes six small muscles in the hip that control external rotation of the legs. Short hip rotator muscles contribute to poor pelvic alignment. In bound angle pose, both legs are externally rotated. This rotation, and the stretch to the hip rotators it provides, contributes to good pelvic alignment and improved range of motion for kicks, jumps, and splits.
Hip flexor muscles. The hip flexors are a large group of muscles located deep in the thighs, hips, and buttocks. They connect the leg, pelvis, and abdomen and allow you to lift your upper leg towards your body or bend your body over your upper leg. Sitting for long periods of time weakens the hip flexors, making it difficult to lift the upper legs and to bend over. In bound angle pose, the hip flexors lengthen, particularly when you bend forward actively.
Gluteal muscles. The gluteal muscle group includes the three buttocks muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. The gluteal muscles are some of the body’s strongest and are the primary movers of the hips and thighs. When in a forward bending bound angle pose, the pose stretches the gluteus maximus.
Erector spinae muscles. The erector spinae is a bundle of muscles and tendons in the back that control extension and rotation. Because they are responsible for straightening the back, the strength of the erector spinae muscles is closely linked with posture. Bending forward in bound angle pose stretches the erector spinae muscles in the lower back for better posture and a back less prone to pain and injury.
Abdominal muscles. The abdominals are located in the lower belly, between the ribs and the pelvis. They control the tilt of the pelvis and the curve of the lower spine. Pulling in the lower belly as you bend forward in bound angle pose strengthens the abdominal muscles. For best results, don’t clench your rectus abdominus (your six pack) as you “suck in.” Instead, engage both your rectus abdominus and the obliques on either side of your stomach, drawing your entire belly in. Alternatively, reclining bound angle pose stretches the abdominal muscles.
Biceps brachii muscles. The biceps brachii are the two-headed muscles that run along the front of the upper arm. They are responsible for flexing the forearm and turning the palm in. Pull exercises, like bicep curls, work the biceps brachii. Pulling the balls of the feet apart in bound angle pose strengthens the biceps.