You’ve been doing this stretch since gym class, but alas, you’re not as mobile and flexible as you oncer were. Easy you think, “I’ll just push down on my legs to stretch out the groin more.” If you’re one of the many people who crank open their knees to do this pose, then keep on reading. In this article, you’ll uncover whether you’ve been doing the pose correctly, discover where you should be feeling the stretch, and learn what to do if you’re not as flexible as your old 12 year-old self!
Reasons why butterfly pose is Good for You
- Stretches inner thighs, knees, hips and groin muscles
- Strengthens core and spinal column
- Stimulates blood circulation for reproductive and digestive organs
- Improving function
- Improves general circulation
In order to do Butterfly Pose correctly, here are the steps:
- Begin sitting with your legs extended out in front of you. Let your arms rest at your sides.
- Bring the soles of your feet together as your knees bend out away from each other. The outer edges of your feet will be connected with the ground. Let your knees rest on the ground or hover slightly above the ground, depending on the flexibility of your hips.
- Pressing the soles of the feet against each other, draw your heels as close to your torso as you can. Hold your feet with your hands for support, but do not lift the toes off the ground.
- Lift your ears away from your shoulders as you lower your shoulders away from your ears.
- Inhale as you lengthen your spine and engage your core.
- Exhale, relaxing your hips to encourage your knees to settle in toward the ground. Don’t force your knees down.
- Once in position, begin to flutter the legs by raising and lowering the knees an inch or two from the starting position. This is a light action that relies on momentum. Do not force the movement. Flutter the knees for 5-10 breaths before returning to stillness, allowing the knees to relax into gravity.
Do This, Not That!
Common Mistakes Beginners Make
Forcing the knees toward the ground: It is a potentially dangerous mistake to force your knees toward the ground in Butterfly. The proper (and safest) way to initiate a drop in the knees is to relax the muscles surrounding the hip joints. This allows the bones to more freely rotate in the joint, creating a deeper stretch and less restriction. Don’t crank the knees down with your hands.
Rounding the back: Be careful not to allow the back to round or the head to drop forward. In order to feel the intended stretch in the hips, leg and groin—while strengthening the core and spinal column—the spine must stay straight and the back flat. This includes keeping the head in line with the rest of the spine.
Lifting the toes of the feet off the ground: Take care not to lift your toes off the ground when taking your feet in your hands. This puts an unnecessary rotational strain on the ankle joints which can also potentially strain the knees. Instead, press the entire outer edge of the foot—from the pinky toes to the heels—against the ground, resting your hands on the inner arches or even around your ankles.
Props and Modifications
You should consider a modification if you experience the following:
- Difficulty keeping the back and neck fully erect
- Knees lifting more than 6 inches off the ground
- Pain or pinching in the hips or knees when the feet are together
- Difficulty keeping the feet in position
Difficulty keeping the back and neck fully erect:
Try practicing Butterfly Pose with your back against a wall to support the entire length of your spine, ensuring you are making full contact with the spine and head.
You can also place your hands on the ground beside, and slightly behind, your hips to support your spine if your core is too weak to do so on its own.
Knees lifting more than 6 inches off the ground:
One way to find some extra support is to elevate your hips off the ground allowing more space for your knees to drop into gravity so that the knees are in line with or below the line of the hips.
Try sitting on a block, bolster or folded blanket, adjusting the height to your personal needs. When sitting on a block, place the center of your glutes on the center of the block. This is most stable when the block is on the medium height and placed horizontally beneath you.
Alternatively you can place a couple of blocks or bolsters in butterfly pose beneath your knees so they can rest easily against the support rather than having to engage the hips to hold themselves in space.
Another option is to place some lightweight sandbags on top of your knees to encourage deeper releasing in the hips, inner thighs and groin. Be careful to use very light weights here.
You should feel a gentle stretch, not a forcing of the knees toward the ground. (NOTE: Using this variation does put additional weight on the knees, but it is a passive and controlled weight that is very light.
This is not the same as pressing your knees with your hands. It is not advised to add weight to the knees with the hands or anything heavier than lightweight sandbags.)
Pain or pinching in the hips or knees when the feet are together:
Try placing a couple of blocks or bolsters beneath your knees for additional support.
You might also sit on a block, bolster or folded blanket to raise the hips above the knees. This can alleviate undue strain at the low back, hips and knees.
Difficulty keeping the feet in position:
Try using a strap looped around your low back, over your inner thighs and under your ankles and feet. This can help provide some gentle tension to help hold the legs and feet in position during the butterfly pose.
If there’s too much strain at the hips or knees to be able to keep the soles of the feet together, you can elevate your hips above your knees by sitting on a block or bolster. Creating more space through the legs can make it easier for the feet to remain connected.
- When is Butterfly pose contraindicated?
- What if I can’t get my knees to the ground in Butterfly pose?
- What if I feel pain in my knees?
- What should I be doing with my head during Butterfly pose?
- What is the difference between this and a wide-legged forward or a standing groin stretch?
- What are the benefits of stretching your groin?
When is Butterfly pose contraindicated?
Acute injury to the ankles, knees or hips
Acute inner thigh or groin injury
Misalignments or injury to the sacrum
What if I can’t get my knees to the ground in Butterfly pose?
It’s okay if your knees don’t reach the ground. If they are only rising off the ground a few inches, and it’s comfortable for you to do so, you can leave them suspended in space. However, if it’s uncomfortable, or if they are lifted more than a few inches off the ground, it is best to modify the butterfly pose. See the modifications section above to choose the option that feels best for you.
What if I feel pain in my knees?
Pain in the knees can often indicate a forcing of the knees toward the ground, or an attempt to rotate the knees rather than the hips to achieve the desired leg position. Either way is a potentially dangerous situation. To avoid injury, practice a modified version of Butterfly. Check out the modification section above to find a version that suits your body.
What should I be doing with my head during Butterfly?
The head should remain in line with the rest of the spine. Lift the crown of your head toward the sky by stretching your ears away from your shoulders. Keep your chin parallel to the ground to keep the back of the neck aligned.
What is the difference between this and a wide-legged forward or a standing groin stretch?
This is a seated stretch so the relationship to gravity is different. Also, the positioning of the hips and knees is different, creating a stretch that engages the muscles of the inner thigh and groin from different perspectives.
What are the benefits of stretching your groin?
There are many benefits to stretching the groin. Improved flexibility and range of motion in the hips and legs is arguably the most notable benefit. It often helps to alleviate symptoms of sciatic nerve impingement. It also increases circulation in the area which can stimulate production of sex hormones.