Lizard Pose: The Many Benefits of Teaching a Radically Accessible Variation
Article At A Glance
What are the benefits of Lizard Pose? And—more importantly—how can we make the myriad benefits more accessible to every body? Learn how to practice and teach a radically inclusive version of the pose here.
Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana) is a yoga posture that offers many physical and mental benefits. In this article, we will explore the myriad benefits of Lizard Pose while delving into proper alignment for a gentle, accessible version of this pose for practitioners of all levels.
Lizard Pose: “Advanced” or Radically Accessible?
In my earliest memories of Lizard Pose, the posture was neatly placed at the end of a sweaty Vinyasa yoga practice as a deep hip opener. It was often presented as a peak pose, meaning all the previous work in the practice led up to this. “Advanced” students around me would inch their way down onto their forearms and hug their front knees over their shoulders while bending the back knee and reaching for the foot. Sometimes, the teacher would encourage them to lift both legs into the air and float on their hands in Flying Splits Pose (Eka Pada Koundinyasana II). While this was all exciting to watch as a new yoga student, I was also acutely aware of the other beginning students in the room who would balk, grimace, and want to roll their mats up in frustration for feeling they’d never get the pose right.
Eventually, I became a yoga teacher and taught Lizard Pose exactly as I had learned—a sweaty, daunting, and slightly demanding shape. Early on in this era of teaching, I, too, adored the thrill of Flying Splits. But then things changed dramatically when I became pregnant. Soon, I could no longer touch my toes, let alone lift my leg over my shoulder. Thankfully, in prenatal yoga classes, I saw Lizard Pose as something different: a shape that was radically accessible to all bodies if it was cued and placed just right in the yoga sequence.
By the time I was nine months pregnant and waddling off the mat, Lizard Pose was still one of my favorite shapes to be in. Why? My new approach to practicing it made it an incredibly approachable shape that made space for my growing belly and felt great overall on my body. From then on, I adopted this approach to teaching Lizard Pose in all types and levels of yoga classes.
The Many Benefits of An Accessible Lizard Pose
Why practice and teach Lizard Pose in a way that is accessible? There are numerous reasons why you may want to take this approach, but here are a few of my favorites:
Lizard Pose Warms Up the Body
I learned from prenatal yoga that Lizard Pose is not just a peak pose. If instructed accessibly, it can gently warm up the body for slightly deeper hip openers and backbends like Camel Pose (Ustrasana). In addition, depending on where it’s placed in the sequence, it can prepare the body for more active series and shapes, like Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) or Warrior II Pose (Virabhadrasana II).
Promotes Hip Mobility
Lizard Pose gently mobilizes the hips from front to back, promoting flexion and extension of the hip joint, which can be especially important if you spend the day seated at a desk, in a car, or on the couch.
Targets the Psoas
Lizard Pose lengthens the hip flexors, which include the psoas muscle, one of three muscles in the body that connects the legs to the spine. This muscle is notorious for storing tension and trauma. For this reason, gently mobilizing the muscle in a trauma-informed manner is thought to allow difficult emotions to resurface and be safely released.
Approachable to Many Bodies
Finally, and perhaps the most obvious benefit of practicing and teaching an accessible Lizard Pose is that it promotes and allows space for numerous variations and modifications.
How to Practice and Teach a Gentle Lizard Pose
Ready to practice Lizard Pose? Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to approach this shape:
Warm Up Your Practice
Begin by warming up the body through 3 to 5 rounds of slow Sun Salutations or Half Sun Salutations. Move slowly and switch out Vinyasas for Cat/Cow Pose (Marjaryasana/Bitilasana) if you are pregnant or if Low Plank Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana) feels inaccessible for you today.
Prop Up with Blankets and Blocks
After warming up, pause to set up your props for Lizard Pose. I recommend a blanket under the knees and two blocks placed at the top of the mat. The blanket cushions sensitive knees, and the blocks bring the earth closer to you, encouraging a gentler hip flexor opening.
Step Forward to Softness
Return to Tabletop Pose (Bharmanasana), then step or heel-toe the left foot forward to the outside of your hands. The left side of the body is thought to be the softer, more nurturing side and is the one that is less dominant in most bodies and thus receives less attention. Bringing this side forward first also encourages softness.
Flow with Your Breath
Set up your blocks at their highest height underneath your hands. Then, as you breathe in, tent your fingers into your blocks and lift your heart. As you exhale, come into a Runner’s Stretch by straightening your front leg to any degree and folding forward. Flow through these two movements with your breath, inhaling to return to Lizard Pose and exhaling to straighten into Runner’s Stretch.
Pause to Reflect
After 4 to 5 repetitions of Lizard Pose and Runner’s Stretch, return to Lizard Pose and pause there for 5 to 6 breaths. Here, you might lower your forearms to the blocks or take a twist by reaching your left hand in the air, but there’s no need to go beyond your body’s edge.
Repeat the Other Side
Step or heel-toe your left foot back into Tabletop Pose, then repeat the sequence on your right side.
Unwind with Constructive Rest
After practicing on your right side, take a few moments to unwind in a symmetrical shape, like Constructive Rest. Constructive Rest is a restful shape that allows the body to integrate the series, all while gently releasing the psoas. You can approach Constructive Rest from your back or reclining on a bolster. Once you land on your mat or on the bolster, bend your knees, bringing the soles of the feet to the mat. Then, knock your knees in to touch and widen your feet to the edges of the mat. Close your eyes or soften your gaze and practice breathing into the belly and ribs for 3 to 5 minutes before returning to your day.
The Benefits of Lizard Pose Are for Every Body
By teaching and practicing Lizard Pose in a gentle and inclusive manner, we can access benefits that extend beyond physical flexibility. You can experience and share these many advantages by following the step-by-step guide. Ultimately, Lizard Pose encourages us to explore the softer, nurturing side of our bodies and fosters mindfulness as we flow with our breath. It allows us to find a sense of balance and release, leaving us better equipped to face the challenges of our day with a sense of ease and well-being. Embracing Lizard Pose as a radically accessible posture is a powerful reminder that yoga is for everyone regardless of skill level or physical ability.