What comes to mind when you think “lizard pose”? Is lizard your favorite asana? Or perhaps it’s one you could care less about, or even dread? If you have particularly tight hips, you already know that lizard pose—a wide lunge with hands or forearms resting on the floor inside the front leg—can be among the most uncomfortable, and downright intimidating, of asanas.
For years, yoga was a type of exercise I entertained sparingly, and as a member of the tight-hip club, lizard was never a pose I looked forward to—it always felt like an unreasonable degree of openness to ask of my body. Because I thought that yoga was only about stretching, if my forearms couldn’t make it to the mat like other yogis in the room, I thought I either wasn’t practicing this posture correctly, or doing yoga correctly. Needless to say, lizard became a hallmark pose, symbolizing either everything that was wrong with my body (a body that always felt so “stuck”), or everything that was wrong with yoga (a practice that wasn’t for the “inflexible”).
If my forearms couldn’t make it to the mat like other yogis in the room, I thought I either wasn’t practicing this posture correctly, or doing yoga correctly.
It wasn’t until recently, when my practice began to mature, that I realized I don’t have to be a contortionist to practice yoga “correctly.” Each posture can be adapted for each individual body, practice, and experience. By exploring lizard pose in my own body, and teaching it to others, I’ve learned a few key alignment tips and prop-friendly adaptations that can make lizard a little more spacious and comfortable. The process has taught me that with patience and diligence, I can adapt any asana in a way that makes sense for me and my practice.
So let’s explore this pose, shall we?
For overall warm-up, and to get friendly with your lunges, do a few classic sun salutations (“sun salute Cs”) before you begin your lizard practice. Toss in a few dynamic bridge poses—and perhaps the lizard’s amphibian friend, half frog pose, to release the hip flexors. Half happy baby will also help you access a similar lizard-pose shape while lying on your back. (Both the hips, of course, and the quads are important areas of focus for your warm-up!)
Props: two blocks (optional).
Begin in lunge pose with your right leg forward and your left leg back. Rest your back (left) knee on the floor, and slide the knee back a little so that it’s not directly under the hip (to avoid putting too much pressure directly on the kneecap). Keep your front (right) knee stacked directly over the ankle. Tone your belly, and lengthen through your spine. Bring your right hand to the inside of your right foot (both hands should now be inside the front foot), and heel-toe your right foot out to the right a comfortable distance. You can turn your right toes out (to the right) or keep them pointed forward—but either way, direct the center of your kneecap in the same direction as your second and third toes to keep your knee safe and happy. If your knee wants to splay out, aim to keep the ball of your right big toe grounded as you hug your inner right thigh in toward your right upper arm in order to keep your knee and toes aligned. Your hands can remain flat on the floor or supported by blocks, which reduces the intensity of the stretch.
You can reduce the intensity further by coming onto your fingertips; or increase the intensity by lowering your forearms to the blocks, or even the mat. Draw your sternum away from your waist and shift your left hip slightly back in order to prevent collapsing into too deep a stretch.
Make the pose more active: Tuck your back toes under and extend out through your back inner heel as you lift your knee away from the floor. Keep your back leg straight and strong by actively pressing the back of your thigh up toward the ceiling. Stretch your legs apart from each other, and continue to reach your sternum (not your chin!) forward. Keep your neck long and your gaze slightly forward.
Make the pose more restorative: Keep your back knee down, and use a bolster instead of blocks as your prop. You might find that the bolster makes this pose, dare I say, a touch cozier. If your back knee needs a little extra support, pad it with a folded blanket.
Embrace support: Remember that you never have to land your forearms on the mat. Ever. Props are friends, so embrace the support they offer. If they enhance your experience of lizard pose, make good use of them. I never felt that I fully inhabited this pose until I began using blocks. This simple aid allowed me to take the pressure off my hips and access levels of ease in this asana that I never thought possible.
Perhaps spaciousness isn’t a quality we can gauge from the outside—that is, how “open” our body appears, or how deeply we can stretch in any pose.
Above all, each of us should take comfort in our unique practices. Lizard pose may never be my favorite posture, but working with it has taught me that there is nothing inherently wrong with either my body or with yoga. Lizard has also taught me how to find a little more freedom and spaciousness in tight situations. And coming to terms with being less flexible than other yogis (the yogis who can assume the “full expression” of any pose) has taught me a thing or two about spaciousness: That perhaps spaciousness isn’t a quality we can gauge from the outside—that is, how “open” our body appears, or how deeply we can stretch in any pose. Rather, it’s an individual process toward ease, comfort, and self-acceptance in our own individual expression of practice.
Enjoy lizard. And may these practice tips serve you, both on and off the mat.