What is supposed to be a hip stretch and low-back release can sometimes feel awful. Let's take a look at why, and what your options are to adjust the pose, get the most out of it, and prop if you need.
Here is Anadabalasana, Happy Baby Pose. In this reclined posture the knees are bent a little bit wider towards the outer edges of the chest, the knees are bent so the ankles are stacked above the knees and the soles of the feet point toward the ceiling. The spine is neutral (maintaining natural curves), the hips are still on the ground, and the back of the neck is long and the throat is relaxed. The head remains in contact with the Earth and the breath is still smooth.
And here is what we will call Unhappy Baby pose. The neck is crunched, or sometimes the head even lifts. The low back feels like it is flattening or rounding so much that the hips will lift off the ground. The feet are not pointing upward there is a lot of tension through the shoulders and the hips. The participant may also be holding their breath or unsustainably uncomfortable.
So why does this happen? Most commonly it comes down to tightness in the body, particularly the hamstrings, the groin, or the chest and shoulders. So while the body can open in this pose, if the body is clenching and holding against the opening, it will never feel better. This is where props and variations will support this pose to be the transformation and ease its intended to be.
This is where we let go of the ego and the attachment to holding onto our feet, and instead simply hold lower. Read again. Hold lower on your legs it does not matter if you can touch your toes. Really. Options include holding on to your ankles, or behind your knees.
By holding lower on the legs then you can move further away from the chest, the low back can lengthen, and pressure in the hamstring and groin will be lessened. You will still maintain benefits of the stretch, especially by focusing on to the breath deep in the belly and a diaphragmatic breath, and allowing time for the pose to settle.
Another option is to practice half-happy baby pose. You can do this holding onto one leg with your hand or a strap around to the sole of your foot. One leg will still bend into happy baby pose feeling the fullness of the stretch. Your other foot will stay on the ground, knee bent, helping to keep the pelvis neutral. This should lessen the sensation on your low back and focus more on to opening one side at a time.
For those who are very comfortable in happy baby pose you may explore half-happy baby pose with the opposite leg straight. See how this is similar to a lunge/lizard pose or preparation for splits? Be mindful of the usual details of positions on your back body by maintaining a neutral spine, head and neck in alignment or supported with a thin blanket, and grounding through the straight leg keeping it active.
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