Lizard Pose Yoga: A Hip-Opener That Stretches You Head to Tail | Well+Good


Our hips do a lot for us: They help us walk, stand, and sit comfortably; they can hold our trauma; they provide a stable base for our spine. So it’s no wonder that they can get tight and tenseโ€”and lizard pose in yoga might just be the feel-good hip opener they need.

Lizard pose is so-named because โ€œit resembles a lizard with its front leg crawling forward, and the back leg resembles a tail,โ€ explains Desi Bartlett, CPT, E-RYT, registered yoga teacher and creator of desibodymind.com. โ€œThe arms and hands can also take on the shape of a lizard in different positions, and are made to look like a lizard crawling.โ€


Experts In This Article


In Sanskrit, the pose is called utthan pristhasana: “uttha” can mean stretched out and โ€œpristhaโ€ can mean rear, or back of the body. It is also sometimes referred to as low lunge variation. In yin yoga, the pose is called dragon flying low.

And while this yoga asana is taught in lower level classes, it is not easy!

โ€œThose new to the practice of yoga often find themselves in this intermediate-advanced practice by accident,โ€ notices Tamika Caston-Miller, co-owner of The Ranch Houston, an urban farm and wellness space in Texas. When introducing the pose to newcomers, she tries to encourage practitioners to go to their โ€œGoldilocks position,โ€ explaining, โ€œthis is where they can practice with an even breath, rather than going to their end range of motion.โ€

Lizard pose does more than boost mobility and improve flexibility, though. It comes chock-full of deeper yogic lessons, because reptiles happen to be master yoga practitioners. From their ability to freeze and conserve resources to shedding of old skin, we can learn a lot about calmness by channeling these versatile creatures.

Lizard pose benefits

If you’re not used to doing lizard pose on a regular basis, you might be tempted to skip it for more familiar hip-openers or other foundational yoga poses. But lizard pose has its own unique benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Flexibility (physically and otherwise)

In addition to hip and spine flexibility (check out that lower-body stretch, after all), lizard pose teaches us to be adaptable. Think of the chameleon who changes color to match its environment. There are numerous ways to adapt the posture to meet your needs, and knowing which version is best for you (more on those below) will make you way more flexible than getting your elbows to the ground.

Breath control

Lizard pose teaches us how to find stillness in the midst of intensity through breath control. There is a reptilian quality to getting quiet other than the movement of the breath, not unlike the frozen reptiles you see in glass cages at the zoo, with only their bellies expanding in and out.

Hip flexor lengthening and nervous system de-stressing

Hip flexors are the muscles that pull our thigh to our chest or our pelvis down to our thigh. Chronic stress can lead to a tightening of this muscle group.

โ€œThe world has been a bit chaotic recently, and many of us are experiencing chronic hip flexor tension. Lizard pose allows us the opportunity to release muscular tension in the hip flexors, and we can marry that feeling with releasing emotional tension as well,โ€ says Bartlett.

“Lizard pose allows us to release muscular tension in the hip flexors, and we can marry that with releasing emotional tension as well.”โ€”Desi Bartlett, E-RYT

Grounding

In this pose, the body and the mind both benefit from getting low and being supported, says Bartlett: โ€œStaying close to the earth can add to the feeling of support in the process of letting go.โ€

โ€œYou can utilize gravity to your advantage in lizard,โ€ says Andrew Pyo, E-RYT 500, of Yoga Shanti in Sag Harbor, New York, meaning the weight of the pelvis can help lengthen your back hip flexor. โ€œThis pose is also a great warmup for arm balancing poses, which require hip opening and mobility.โ€ Arm balances are also classically lower to the floor, so being used to that perspective can be an advantage.

Kinesthetic awareness

The anatomical complexity of this posture asks practitioners to pay attention to multiple things at once. This level of presence strengthens our mind-body connection. Itโ€™s not just about getting in as deep as possible, but also remaining aware of what is happening internally.

Bartlett agrees: โ€œThis pose requires a tremendous amount of kinesthetic awareness. Knowing where our body is in space and what we are feeling inside can benefit us in everything that we do in our daily lives. This supports every action that we make.โ€

How to do lizard pose in yoga

This is the most basic yoga pose version of lizard and one of the best options for beginners.

yoga instructor demonstrates how to do lizard pose correctly
Photo: Sarah Ezrin

  1. Start in a table-top position on your hands and your knees.
  2. Step your right foot to the outside of your right hand. If needed, use your hand to bring it there.
  3. Lower your elbows down to the mat or to a block.
  4. Reach your chest toward your chin and keep your gaze slightly ahead of your mat.
  5. Squeeze your right inner knee toward your shoulder.
  6. Remain for 8 breaths.
  7. To come out, press up to straight arms.
  8. Return to table-top before doing your second side.

Tips for finding the pose

There are few common mistakes practitioners make when doing lizard that can cost them their breathโ€”and potentially put their spine and hips at risk. Prioritizing space and length can be critical to doing the pose comfortably and safely.

Prioritize your spine

Often what makes this pose difficult has more to do with our natural born proportions and less to do with our abilities. For example, if you have longer legs and shorter arms, props will be required to come to your elbows while still being able to lengthen your spine. Always choose your spine over any advanced variation.

โ€œYou can also put a bolster under the entire back shin while keeping the back foot tucked on the ground, which can create more space for your hips and spine,โ€ suggests Pyo.

Make space at your hip joints

โ€œEven someone who has a background in martial arts, dance, or gymnastics and is quite flexible will need to practice this shape mindfully so as not to over-stress the body,โ€ warns Caston-Miller, whose relationship with the pose changed drastically after a hip replacement in 2016. She continues to practice the pose and teach it along with other yoga asanas her Yin classes, but she is very careful to approach it with a sense of curiosity and use props to avoid any impingement.

Protect your neck

Our bodies tend to move where they are most mobile; in lizard pose, this can often include our neck. We crane our necks to try and get our shoulders down further, but while it may feel like weโ€™ve gotten deeper, weโ€™ve only cranked our neck. Similarly with twisting variations, we tend to turn our head before our trunk. Try to keep the back of your neck long by looking straight ahead or even down toward your cheeks.

Lizard yoga pose variations

Some lizard pose modifications are designed to make the pose friendlier and more accessible, like a little gecko in your garden. But some versions add an intensity and fierceness that is Komodo dragonโ€“worthy.

Arms straight

โ€œI find that the distance between the floor and the arms is the most challenging,โ€ shares Caston-Miller. โ€œI usually practice with extended arms rather than on my forearms to reduce the amount of split in the hips and legs. You can also place blocks under your hands to bring the floor up.โ€

yoga instructor demonstrates how to do lizard pose with your arms straight, a lizard pose for beginners modification

  1. Start in a table-top position on your hands and your knees.
  2. Step your right foot to the outside of your right hand. If needed, use your hand to bring it there.
  3. Press your palms into the ground, keeping your arms active and straight. You may put a block under them for more height.
  4. Hold for 5 to 7 breaths.
  5. Return through table-top and set up for your left side.

Externally rotated front leg

Hugging your front inner groin toward your shoulder requires significant hip flexibility. Allowing your front foot and leg to turn open slightly (external rotation of hip) and even letting it fall away from your torso (abduction) is a simple, effective way to make lizard pose more accessible. This is also a great version of lizard pose for beginners.

yoga teacher demos how to do lizard pose with your leg externally rotated as a modification

  1. From table-top, step your right foot around your right hand.
  2. Turn your right leg out, so your right toes are facing 2 on a clock face.
  3. Let your front leg fall open.
  4. You can keep your arms straight or come down to your elbows here.
  5. Remain for 5 breaths.
  6. Push your arms to straight and pass back through table-top.
  7. Set up for your second side.

Back leg lifted

Though Bartlett opts for the knee-down version in her personal practice, she still respects the variation where the back leg is straight: โ€œKnee up feels more like a flying or elevated lizard that requires mindful engagement of the pelvic floor.โ€

Pyo agrees, but heads-up that there may be an impact of the back hip joint. โ€œBack knee up might impinge the femoral head in the hip socket of the front leg, because you tend to grind the cartilage like a mortar and pestle,” says Pyo.

If youโ€™re able to keep your spine long and maintain space in your front hip joint, this intense variation can be a lot of funโ€”and an amazing stretch and strength-building yoga pose.

yoga instructor demonstrates how to do lizard pose with your back knee lifted, a more difficult lizard pose variation

  1. Starting in downward facing dog, lift your right leg up and step it around your right hand.
  2. Bend your front knee to 80 degrees and keep your back leg active.
  3. Squeeze your right inner thigh toward right shoulder.
  4. You can keep your arms straight or lower to your elbows.
  5. Focus on lengthening your spine.
  6. Breathe and hold for 5.
  7. Pass back through downward dog and do your left leg.

Front foot on chair (or block)

A simple way to intensify the pose (and reeealllly feel that lower-body stretch) is to elevate your front foot on a block or even a chair.

yoga instructor shows how to do lizard pose with your foot on a chair for a deeper stretch

  1. Place a chair at the end of your mat with the seat directed toward your body.
  2. Come to kneeling on your shins.
  3. Place your right foot onto the chair.
  4. Place your elbows on the chair inside of your foot.
  5. Lean your pelvis forward while lifting your chest.
  6. Remain for 5 breaths.
  7. Push your arms to straight and come back to knees slowly. Set up for your second side.

Twisting lizard pose

While adding a twist may feel more snakelike than lizard-ish, this is a yummy add-on to explore.

yoga instructor demonstrates how to do twisting lizard pose in yoga, with one arm lifted to the sky

  1. Start in the lizard pose variation with your front leg externally rotated.
  2. Keep your left palm flat on the floor or block and inhale as you lift your right arm toward the sky.
  3. You may lower to your left shoulder if it feels spacious.
  4. Lean back to open your chest more.
  5. Hold for 5 breaths.
  6. Unwind and bring both hands down.
  7. Pass through table-top or downward facing dog before repeating on your second side.

Flying lizard pose

To call this variation “advanced” might be selling it short: Flying lizard is difficult for even the most adept practitioners, so don’t feel discouraged if it’s out of reach.

yoga instructor demonstrates flying lizard, an advanced lizard pose variation
Photo: Emilie Perz

  1. From downward facing dog, step your right foot around your right hand.
  2. Lower your left knee to the floor.
  3. Wrap your right thigh and shin around your right upper arm and squeeze tightly.
  4. Curl your back toes and lift your knee.
  5. Look forward and start to shift your weight toward your finger tips, floating your left leg off the ground.
  6. Press into your knuckles and squeeze your elbows into your side body.
  7. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths.
  8. Lower your lifted leg and then untangle your right leg, coming back through the lunge.
  9. Step back to downward facing dog and repeat on your left.

When to skip lizard pose in yoga

Lizard pose isnโ€™t accessible for everyone. Some of us may need to discover a whole new animal of hip openers altogether.

Hamstring injuries

โ€œLizard pose may not be appropriate for individuals with a strained groin or hamstring tear,โ€ says Caston-Miller, who still approaches the pose with extra care even after almost a decade since her hip surgery. โ€œI just make sure to practice with deep awareness and have adapted it to where I am now.โ€

Sacroiliac Dysfunction or lower back injuries

Unilateral movements and shapes (meaning that the legs are not creating the same shape and have two very different actions), like lunges, call for “additional stability in the muscles that support the S.I. [sacroiliac] joints,โ€ warns Bartlett, who suffered an S.I. injury after a faulty adjustment in a lizard 16 years ago.

Groin pull

Whether you let your front leg fall open (as in the externally rotated front leg variation above) or you work to keep your front thigh hugging in toward your torso, lizard requires flexibility and strength from the adductor muscles, which are your groins. Therefore, if you are dealing with a groin injury, it might be wiser to avoid the posture altogether.





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