A Cautionary Tale Told by a Reformed Chronic Leg-Crosser
Low Back Pain can reduce even the toughest of tough guys to tears.
For years I suffered (and, yes, I even cried) due to recurring bouts of debilitating low back pain that I could not figure out the cause or cure for. I now know that a major contributing factor was an unconscious habit of sitting with one leg crossed over the other … every day … several hours a day … year after year. Happily, I also found my cure for lower back pain.
If you are a leg-crosser, sit up, uncross your legs and pay attention. The following information might provide you with the keys to liberation from chronic pain.
First, get to know your Quadratus Lumborum (or ‘QL’). Your QL inhabit the space between the bottom rib, the pelvis and the transverse processes of the first four lumbar vertebrae. Best known as the ‘hip hiker’ muscle, its primary function is to bring the hip and rib cage closer together (as in sidebending). It should also be known as a chief culprit in cases of low back pain – and definitely held under suspicion when low back pain is one-sided.
Try this experiment:
Sit in a chair.
Cross your left leg over your right.
Notice: the left hip ‘hikes’ up, making your left side waist (and QL) shorter than the right.
If you sit for a large portion of your day – and you habitually cross your legs one way, BEWARE! You are creating a QL imbalance for which you may suffer (or already be suffering) mightily. Fortunately, you can help yourself.
First: Stop crossing your legs. Be vigilant about it. In fact, put a post-it note on your computer screen that says ‘Uncross your legs’ as a reminder.
Second: do the following QL stretches and Yoga Tune Up At Home poses to restore balance to your QL: Sidewinder Pose, Boomerang at the wall and Triangle in Parallel. Whether you are a chronic leg-crosser or not, if your QL is responsible for the pain in your back, these exercises are your therapy. Practice with Tune Up Fitness and enjoy freedom from pain. I am!
Watch our video for lower back pain relief.
Learn about our Therapy Balls Program for your lower back.
I stopped crossing my legs years ago because I realized how imbalanced it felt, even if I uncrossed and recrossed the other leg for the same amount of time. Crazy how societal norms can cause us to unconsciously do things to our bodies, especially harmful imbalances contorting the body for the sake of ‘etiquette’.
I was searching for my next blog post to read with my legs crossed when I noticed your title! Great reminder, thank you. I do suffer from lower back pain and I am only 36 years old! I will give the YTU poses a try to restore and send some love to my poor QL! I will also add a sticky note to my laptop 😉
Thanks for shearing, something that I’m always keeping in mind
Isnt Pain a wonderful teacher? Who knew leg crossing was not only the culprit of broken veins but lower back pain too! Thanks for being a great teacher, healer and inspiration Amanda. I enjoy the YTU – Sidewinder, Triangle and Boomerang, so cheers to reducing back pain in our future.
What a great article. Thank you for this, it is concise, informative and most of all, helpful.
This should be taught in schools!
Thank you for this. It is very hard to uncross my legs, habitually…and I’ve to consciously remind myself not to! And the stuff i’ve done to my QL, pelvis and rotators!
Thank you Amanda for sharing this piece of information! I have the habit of crossing my leg which seems more of an automated action from the body before I am even aware of it. So i will take your tip and will paste a sticky note on my computer to unwind the cross.
Thank you for this. This may be part of my issues with my back pain as I already have scoliosis so I need to do whatever I can to avoid more back imbalances. We went over this in class today and Dineen references your article! I am already starting to cultivate more wholesome habits for my back. Thank you!
Isn’t it funny how the most seemingly innocuous thing could have reasonably serious implications. Thank you for this piece.
Thank you for sharing. As a massage therapist I always as my clients how they sit. When I talk about legs being crossed they understand they shouldn’t do it but almost always during a treatment I have to remind them to uncross the feet or legs. I usually joke with them and one day they are just going hear my voice in their head.
Leg crossing causes so many pain spots! I’ve found switching to crossing at the ankle (feet on the ground) is an easier way to break the full leg cross habit, rather than trying to sit with legs apart.
I knew that the QL was a major part of lower back pain, but i didn’t know that hours of sitting cross legged would play a role in this. I’ve heard a lot of things about sitting one leg over the other was ‘bad for you’ this explains clearly a part of the problem. Its something for me to check out with clients who have lower back pain, thanks
A favourite pastime I have as an RMT is startling clients with what they think is some psychic ability I have to know what they are up too on any given day. As I dig into their QLs and feel the diagonal pull of their Thoracolumbar fascia, I ask how much time they spend in a day with their legs crossed. Then they usually and sheepishly admit to their postural transgressions.
It still amazes me how many of us have this habit. The combination with prolonged sitting will help me pay my mortgage off in no time.
Thanks for the insights.
I have a lot of tension in my QL’s but more so on one side, I didn’t understand how I was contributing to the “tension” through my own habits. I’m now I’m beginning to notice and change my posture to adjust those areas of imbalance. Looking forward to trying more of the exercises you recommend to help restore balance.
Thank you Amanda for this article. It clears things up for me. I was told years ago to stop crossing my legs, that it was bad for my body, and I didn’t know why… and now I do!
Thanks Amanda. I often catch myself crossing right leg over left and rarely the other way. Of late I’ve noticed some different feelings in my right SI joint which could be a result of habitual leg crossing whilst working at my computer. I’m a huge fan of post-it-notes so your suggestion of sticking one to my computer as a reminder to ‘uncross the legs’ may just help. I’ll keep you posted…pun intended!
Good to know and totally makes sense, the body adapts to a pose, muscles get’s shorter and when you get up, there’s the pinch! Great recommendation of poses to stretch the QL
OMG I have crossed my legs for years! Time to pay attention to this. Now what about when we lead class, mediation , etc. I have to train myself to change legs and be more balanced and equal. Will most definitely train my QL with more conscious thought from now on!
Ok I am convinced!!! Shall now have my QL’s and lower back in mind each time I think of crossing my legs!
I’m currently trying to cure myself of chronic leg crossing!
I had an athlete come to me the other day after trying to get his low back to release and I showed him Boomerang at the Wall and he instantly felt better. Such an awesome pose to target this often tight but forgotten muscle!
Thank you so much for the post Amanda. It’s amazing. I had been suffering from low back pain all my life . Most of my life I was not physically engaged and spent a lot of time sitting, and always believed that that was the reason of my back pain. Recently, I am much more physically active, my lower back is much better , although some times it reminds me of it’s existence. I would never guess that crossing legs while sitting (what I always do) could be the reason. I was always taught to sit leg crossed as a sign of good manner. And I could transfer this unhealthy habit to my daughters.
I cross my legs without even realizing I’m doing it. Thanks to YTU I’m becoming more conscious of my body so when my QL and low back start to get grumpy I’m noticing quicker the need for correction – come on lady, uncross your stinking legs! Thank you for this pose advice “Do the following Yoga Tune Up poses to restore balance to your QL: Sidewinder Pose, Boomerang at the wall and Triangle in Parallel.”
Thanks for writing about how serious back problems can be created by avid leg crossing. Therapy and rehab are so important as well as stopping this action for our low and mid-back health. I will introduce these rehab exercises to a few of my clients. 🙂
I’m such a leg crosser and have suffered from the same nasty QL issues and hip elevation.
Here’s to uncrossing!
I am retraining myself to sit with both feet on the floor because I know it’s not good, and your article gave me more insight into the “why”. It’s hard to imagine a room full of women sitting like this, rather than with legs crossed. I will be sure to pass this tip on to all my friends, colleagues and students who habitually leg cross.
This is SO helpful! I have had horrible lower back pain that hits on and off. This week I noticed it more because I had been sitting more.. and when I sit, I cross my legs! This is a valuable piece of advice that I will pass along to my students.
I first found out about my QL in a YTU class and it had a profound effect on changing my back pain and the way I lived in my body. I too was a leg crosser, then knew it was not good but because of imbalance it felt “better” to cross my legs. Now Im working to correct the imbalance and not cross my legs ever. Your article is more fuel to the fire and Im looking forward to seeing how the suggested poses effect me and my QL!
Thank you for this article! Rather coincidentally, I was in class today and we practiced the very poses you mentioned ( and quite a few more!) , some for the first time! As I am sitting here reading your blog, I am acutely aware of my QL contributing to my ‘core’ by adding stability to my mid section. And, I have been working on balancing left and right hip/ low back for quite some time now. So thank you for the easy test/ re-test by crossing and uncrossing legs. I am quite sure that with just a little more rolling and effective poses for hips/ buttocks, I will be in tip top shape!
Thanks for this article Amanda, it seems so obvious and yet it is often sooooo hard to change old habits, we do need reminders. Great tips on the YTU postures as well : )
Love this article. A great reminder that what we do most of the time has a huge impact and whilst an hour of YTU and rolling can make a major difference “undoing” unhealthy movement patterns and habits also needs to be addressed!
It was very refreshing and “liberating” to read this. It was “drilled” into me at a very young age to cross my legs because it’s the proper, lady-like way to sit.
I was very enjoying to try this posture on my training course. Its a good flow to learn how to use our legs a way different. Very good warm up
At every seated opportunity, I do my best to be aware of releasing my crossed legs. Thanks for the article. I’ll keep practicing.
I am so glad that I read your post. It is not always easy to change long standing habits, such as crossing ones legs. I see patients who have back pain all of the time and although we discuss sleeping and sitting positions along with posture, leg crossing is not really addressed. I am going to watch myself more closely
and look for that as a possible pattern to clients lumbar pain. I will begin to give them the sidewinding and boomerang posture before or after the massage session….these self care techniques will go a long way in
a self-care practice. Also, there is a phone app called habit minder. You can add that to your phone and it will set reminders so you can remember to check yourself at work.
Thanks for sharing Amanda!
Crossing the legs is one of the hardest habits for me to loose. Until I saw the title of this article I did not even realize I was sitting with my legs crossed. I have heard and was told about the problems it causes to my lower back yet somehow my legs always find their way to each other and cross. I will need to keep the post it notes on me all the time. I will have to start doing more of the sidewinder and QL massage we did in the training to help undo some of the damage I did to my body.
Thanks for the article. It makes me wonder if my uneven belt line (lateral pelvic tilt) is due to imbalances between my left and right QL. Or I wonder if I have one leg longer than the other. TBD!
Thanks for sharing this Amanda. I am starting to like the sidewinder, now that I get how to move in it.
Very interesting read. I often mention to my students to consider the way they sleep, especially when one is sleeping on their side with one knee up, and not elevated. Most people do so for 8 hours a night and when you spoke about your personal story today in training I did relate the two and image that sleeping in such a position would also likely cause Quadratus Lumborum issues. 🙂
Thank you! What a simple explanation for such a serious problem. It’s like a dis-ease, whereby you think you are doing nothing harmful to your body but you wake up one day with a pow! “I have low back pain, and how did that happen?” There are so many little things we do that have big impact. Thanks again for sharing.
Going through the YTU teacher training is like navigating a treasure map to your own body. The teachers manual, the actual training, the anatomy book, and these great blogs are revealing more and more bad habits that may be creating pain and imbalance in my body (and my students bodies). Thank you for sharing the dangers of crossing your legs!!
Thank you Amanda…perfect reminder as I have a fantastically cranky QL. As well, a reminder to offer to my clients as a prevention of possible back pain. Uncross your legs ladies and gentlemen!
Ahhh Amanda – I need your voice in my ear while I’m at work! I sit as a therapist a lot of the day and am often crossing my legs. I like the idea of the post it reminder and I also use a yoga back tool that prompts me to sit up straight and not slouch. The intense feedback I get from my QL when I roll it out is clearly telling me that I need to be more vigilant about keeping my legs uncrossed. Thank you for the reminder and the exercise suggestions!
This was such a good reminder to pay attention to how I sit. I had to uncross my legs while reading! I’m always amazed why legs crossed while sitting is such a comfortable place to sit when it puts the body into such uncomfortable positions. Yesterday my Quadratus Lumborum and I became best friends with the YTU balls so I’ll be making sure there’s less leg crossing and more QL loving in my day!
what a great reminder about the importance about a balanced Quadratus Lumborum- thanks for the tips. I am going to try the post it note- its a habit of mine to cross my legs. Thanks!
Just as I saw the title of the post my legs were crossed! Thank you for sharing this Amanda and grouping together the exercises/poses that help balance the QL to alleviate low back pain. My massage therapist once told me that my right hip is always in an elevated position as I lie down on the treatment bed. I also notice a similar pattern in my upward facing dog recently which totally makes sense. Talking about imbalances haha. I’m going to try these exercises in my practice and continue to remind myself not to cross my legs!
I sit at a desk at work for a large part of the day and try to remember to uncross my legs. This makes a big difference in how my back feels. Along with your good advice on uncrossing the legs, another piece of advice is if you carry a wallet in your back pocket, remove it before you sit down. A bulky wallet will also hike up your hip and cause back pain. I think so many men would benefit from doing this one thing.
Wow! Talk about some serious insight here…my QL has been the culprit of some aches and pains but I had no idea that sitting cross legged for hours would shorten the QL and cause debilitating pain! Reading this article makes me want to examine a student who is an office worker to see what there body looks like from when they get out of bed till when they leave work. I do not have a desk job (thank goodness!!) but I would love more insight to help these people as most of my clients/students sit a desk for HOURS at a time. While we can assume their back is tight from sitting in posterior tilt/flexion for most the day it would also be interesting to see what some people’s anatomy would look like with thing new tools like standing desks becoming available, how does that affect the average workers body – help, hurt, does pain level feel the same? Lots of research to do now!
I see this issue a lot in my massage clients and they don’t realize they are creating it so simply. Great article!
This is a major light bulb moment for me!! I have a habit of crossing my legs while sitting and have never really considered the shortening of the QL, as a person with ‘hip issues’ I feel sure this awareness will make a difference!
This seems so obvious that seated leg crossing would impact the QL, yet I think its a connection so many people miss. We learned sidewinder today in YTU Level one – I loved it.
Based off the comments, this seems to be something so many of us do! We know we shouldn’t, but I find that I’m in a weird body position when I’m working on my computer that I’ve been in for way too long. I try to mix up which leg is crossed over, but it’s amazing when your brain is elsewhere how quickly we go back to our patterns. I think one of the best positions I’ve found has been to sit on two blocks in a squat position at a low side table. It definitely minimizes the leg crossing.
I have caught myself sitting in the same cross-legged position for hours in front of a computer. This habit is insidious. I have often considered it a wonder that my limbs haven’t withered and fallen off. But the damage to the QL is something I never considered. Thank you for sharing the perils of leg-crossing.
Many year ago I was told to always cross my ankles, not my knees to help with my posture…I only passively listened and wished I had paid closer attention!! now, many years later I have the YTU sequences to help and am loving learning the teacher training intensive in Ottawa! I am learning and re learning so many things that I will use and share with my family friends and clients! thank you for sharing! I am still struggling with trying to re set the patterns I have created over the years with poor posture! with time and YTU I am finally confident I can actually heal my own body! Yay!
I too used to suffer from lower back pain only on the left hand side! ( I was a leg crosser and worked myself away from this terrible habit) but i still had lower back pain on the left side. Working with the YTU balls, i discovered that by cross fibering the Quads with the alpha ball, and doing alot of hip opening exercises as well as Glut activation exercises, I have finally rid myself of this lower back pain.
“Sit like a lady and CROSS your legs”, my mother would say to me growing up. Well…this ‘lady” is all grown up now and sits with her legs UNCROSSED, pelvis in neutral and under each foot? Why…a Yoga Tune Up ball of course!
Great Post! “Sit like a lady with your legs crossed!”, I remember hearing my mother say to me growing up. Well…now that this lady is all grown up, I sit with my legs parallel, pelvis square and level and under each foot? Why a Yoga Tune Up ball of course!
Growing up sit like a lady cross your legs. Wow Danger is right. you have to be sitting to cross your legs. when I catch myself doing it I stand up to remind me, and standing up is good for me Keeping your both feet flat on the floor Parallel,joint stacking the knees over the ankles. I like to remind my students how much better their whole posture will be if they start with the feet.
If they want to cross their legs (as a joke) I tell them to stand up and do Garundasana, I am really happy when some of my students say they do stand up and do Eagle Pose. They really are living better in their body
When I was younger my grandmother used to tell me to stop “sitting like a boy,” a term which has now been deemed “manspreading” and the only way to counter it was to cross my legs. My mother told me not to cross my legs because we weren’t rich. Well I had to cross my legs, despite the possibility of appearing snooty and also, who wants to listen to their mother when they are young. Anyway, I am now aware of the perils of leg crossing and unfortunately wish id listened to my mother. Sidewinder is extremely hard for me to do and I can feel it helping already. Thanks
I’m not sure I’m a “leg-crosser” necessarily, but I have recently been experiencing some QL trouble, so the sequence of YTU exercises you have suggested are absolutely perfect! I just learned Sidewinders, Boomerang, and Triangle in the last couple days as I endeavor into Level 1 Yoga Tune Up TT. I love that in each of the exercises you’ve chosen, the QL length is lengthened in completely different angles relative to gravity! That is very logical and I definitely noticed reduced sense of stagnancy after performing your that sequence! THANK YOU!
Oh man! (uncrossing my legs as I read this…habitually and mindlessly crossing them…catching myself in the action, then uncrossing…again.) Clearly, this has contributed to the asymmetry I have noticed in my body.
Thanks for the AHA moment!
Heading to the wall right now for Boomerang 🙂
Merci beaucoup pour ces informations pertinentes! J’ai moi même des douleurs au bas du dos et la fâcheuse habitude de croiser mes jambes en position assise! Je vais porter attention.
I love it! Straightforward and to the point! What to do and precisely what not to do.
Thank you for this blog Amanda. I have been relating the imbalance or the
QL’s to poor posture (leaning into one hip) but this makes a lot of sense.
I got rid of my office chair to get myself out of the habit of leg crossing- then I found that I even managed to leg cross sitting on a Swiss ball and just wedging myself under the desk for stability. Then I got rid of my Swiss ball for a standing desk- and yes – still have a hip hike. Awareness is the key – I like your ‘cue’ on the monitor idea- I am going to get a big sticky that says “YOU. Stop crossing your legs”
I knew crossing the legs was horrible for you. Growing up I was always told to uncross my legs, however I never really tuned into what it was ACTUALLY doing to me physically. Now when sitting with my legs crossed, I am able to look down and mentally paint a vision of what my QL looks like in this cross legged position. Remembering that sidewinder, boomerang, and triangle parallel are a cross-leggeds best friend, will certainly help me while teaching- especially when thinking of context grids. People want to know why they are doing these poses, and telling them it counter stretches to a cross legged seat might keep most ladies engaged.
I really appreciate this post. As a PT I often teach my patients how to sit in proper alignment, and I have to correct myself several times a day! It definitely makes a difference in how we feel in our own bodies! I also try to sit much less than I used to (we turned our computer desk at home into a standing desk using an inexpensive end table to prop the screen up on which definitely helps cut back on sitting). When I do sit, I still want to try and cross my legs several times a day, this is a great reminder to not allow myself to get back into that habit. I just learned the boomerang at the YTU training today and LOVE that pose, and looked up sidewinder which is terrific too! Thanks Amanda!
I actually hadn’t thought of how leg crossing could relate to back pain issues! I always thought how we sat had been a huge factor, but this is another piece to that puzzle. This is definitely going to create awareness for myself when I’m sitting now.
Great information! I have the same issue of habitually sitting with my legs crossed or sitting on top of one leg. I know how bad it is but didn’t realize it was also causing low back pain! Now armed with this new knowledge of the affect on the QL and the sticky note as a reminder…I should easily be able to kick this bad habit.
Excellent article: a personal story, danger warning using anatomical evidence, and recommendations. I knew crossing my legs was bad for my “posture” but never understood the reasons why. Thanks for putting this into an easy-to-understand package.
I knew that sitting cross legged was bad for you because it can be one of the many reasons why I have varicose veins, but I now have an additional reason not to cross my legs when I sit. I definitely tend to cross my right leg over my left and I first noticed lumbar pain on my right side. Thank you!
This is something I preach continuously to my ‘desk jockey’ clients who come for regular massages. They so quickly fall into old habits and I see the same recurring issues. I believe movement is the best tactic to break this cycle but the challenge comes from moving out of our heads which is easier said than done. This is especially true when work is extra demanding!
I am also a chronic leg-crosser… always right over left. I HAD suffered for years and years with low back pain, but always on my left side. Among other things that might be contributors, I am wondering if always hiking up my right hip (thus contracting my QL on the right side) had rendered my left QL weak and flabby in comparison!
Very interesting you post this! I work up with my back seizing up and experienced Sciatica pain 24 hours sitting on a plane for multiple hours with my legs crossed. It took 6 weeks of physio & massage therapy to cure but the movement professionals never pinpointed the exact event that triggered it.
I have read crossing your legs not only causes lower back pain but varicose veins. Try as I might, I often find myself wth my right leg over my left or switching back and forth from side to side knowing all the while it is causing damage. I like your idea of the post it notes as well as the awareness of what it does to your hips, waist and QL. Hopefully this will help me keep my legs parallel…the next hurdle will be feet flat on the floor.
LIGHTBULB! This makes me even more diligent in uncrossing my legs to sit. It was a wonder my right QL and my right low back was screaming! Great artiicle as so many of us habitually do this on a day to day basis.
I’m so greatful to read this post tonight! My legs are parallel and feet flat on the floor as I type this (for the in a long time today) and I didn’t make the connection to the imbalance being from crossing my legs! Mind blown. Today during my YTU teacher training we did a sequence that “rebalanced” my perception in my legs and hips and showed me a new normal. I noticed it immediatly when I sat down for lunch. There was NO need to cross my legs and a new awareness in the postural awareness of my spine. I am going to be vigilant around this habit (which was feeling more like an addiction that the more I did it – the worse i felt and the more i needed) Dare I say it – I’m a leg crossing addict. Well, they say admission is the first step towards healing:)
Hi CLAIRE. Great question! Unfortunately, if you sit for hours a day for weeks/months/years with your legs crossed one way you will not be able to undo the effects of all of those accumulated sitting hours with a few minutes of stretching. The best remedy is to watch your posture closely in sitting, standing and movement and to clean up the movement habits that CAUSE you pain.
Stretching is a band aid solution. If you want to fix your pain, then you need to go right to the source of the problem – the movement habits that cause you pain in the first place.
ANDREW BATHORY, this is going to be kind of a general answer, but: sitting any one way all the time is going to create some kind of imbalance in your body. In the scenario you’ve described you would be sitting with one hip in external rotation all the time – which would naturally lead to tight hip flexors, and possibly, a host of other problems as a result of that imbalance. Katy Bowman explains it like this: “You need lots of movement vitamins”. Your body isn’t going to thrive on one movement pattern in the same way that your body can’t thrive on just Vitamin C. If you must sit, sit in lots of different positions.
I agree with everything your saying but what if one continued to cross ones legs provided one did a daily practice with poses that would stretch that wickedly stuburn QL. I hate to live and not be able to enjoy simple things even if it’s just crossing legs. If you cross then do boomerang and QL stretches a couple times daily. Life is to live and to live your going to have to do your work too!
I appreciated how you just didn’t say that crossing your legs can contribute to low back pain, but explained how it elevates the hip and shortens the QL. I experimented to see which way I cross my legs. I am right dominate however I cross my left leg over the right. Interesting, my Left QL is tighter and more sensitive than the right. Hhmmm, something as simple as uncrossing the legs….
Thanks for the sidewinder suggestion, what a great strengthening dynamic pose.
As someone who has for year crossed one leg over the other while sitting, this makes a lot of sense. I have just learned the Boomerang pose and will incorporate it daily to help with the imbalanced/over stretched QL issue. Wondering what your thoughts are on someone crossing their ankle over their knee with their hip in external roation, would this diminish the risk for the QL? There’s something so stylish about sitting and waiting that way, but if it means a healthier lower back, I might have to retire that too.
I’ve heard from various sources that people cross their legs as compensation for lack of strength in the pelivs. Do we habitually cross the leg of the weak side over the stronger side to compensate? I’ve also read that to sit well, in addition to the legs being uncrossed, that one foot be in fromt of the other. That is, one knee is more extended and the other more flexed and underneath the chair. For myself , I find that this helps to ground the hips down creating a sense of stability.
I continue to find myself crossing my legs :/ as well as, leaning into one hip or the other when I stand. Hmm, maybe linked to my right hip issues… The theme for my Yoga Tune-Up week is “be mindful of my posture”!
I always cross my legs. So much so that I’m rarely not doing it…except maybe when driving. I’ve got a lot of work to but now have postit notes all over my home and office. Thank you!
Thank you for this blog post. It is one of the most difficult habits to break, isn’t it? But I always feel better when I follow this rule. I love the idea of a post it note on the computer screen, brilliant!
I can not seem to break this bad habit of sitting with my leg crossed. I know this throws my posture off to have my hip elevated but it is a habit that feels comfortable in my body. I catch myself sitting crossed leg but a few minutes later they are crossed again. It is a tough habit to break.Maybe we should invent a device to brace the legs in place for chronic leg crossers like me.
This is such an important and helpful reminder, as many of us sit in offices, classrooms and on buses and subways for a good part of the day. I get knee pain after crossing my legs for just a short time, so thankfully I’m not in the habit of sitting like that. It’s helpful to know ways to help people who are suffering from back pain, possibly due to habits like this.
I sit in a chair for about 10 hours straight every day, and I’m constantly reminding myself to uncross my legs. I always knew it was bad, but now I understand why. It’s amazing to think that so many people suffer with lower back pain every day, and may not understand this simple mistake is the culprit. Thanks for the poses to help balance my QL. I hope no one minds when I start doing them in the office restroom!
Wow, I’m just as guilty as the next person — I love crossing my legs. I had no idea what the long term effects were, and the pain it can cause. Additionally, I find my adductor muscles weak… Not crossing my legs and still sitting “lady like” is an opportunity for me to strengthen my adductors. Thanks for this post and the reminder!
Quadratus Lumborum, Quadratus Lumborum, Quadratus Lumborum, why do you pain so many of us!!! As a marathon runner (with bad form), my QL muscles were ridiculously tight where I could not even sit on the ground. I see many of my yoga students in pain when we move into seated poses. The traditional modification to add blankets under the hips and possibly blocks under their thighs gives support, but like a bandaid we cannot rely on our props forever. Once I released my QLs through twists and lateral flexion poses, like sidewinder and boomerang, I am comfortable now in seated postures. I try to offer one QL exercise each class and we yogis are finally finding relief. Yoga is not just about stretching the hamstrings but creating good habits in our body the other 23 hours you are not in yoga.
I ALWAYS cross my legs and have a hard time not doing so. Even with reminders (and two young kids who keep reminding me to sit upright and place both my feet on the floor), I uncross them for a few minutes and then, an hour later, realize that I unconsciously crossed them again! I tried working sitting on a workout ball, but managed to end up sitting crossed-legged without losing my balance. Fortunately, Yoga Tune-Up poses have helped me restore balance to my QL and get rid of back pain. But I still have to learn to sit right! I also have the chance to teach many yoga classes this fall, so I don’t spend too much time sitting at my desk!
No wonder that little YTU therapy ball’s inaugural visit to my QL made me see spots! I cross my legs all day long – EVERYDAY. The sticky note is in place and I have started your prescribed postures. Thanks Amy!!!
Maybe cutting this habit will help me resolve my battle with QL pain and one day I will not go into such intense spasm in moves such as leg stretch # 3. Looking forward to easy hip extensions on the floor…. or bed!!!
It’s funny I am always trying to be conscious of my posture but rarely do I consider the crossing of my legs an infringement. But after the work in class and reading this article it makes so much sense. One more thing to pay attention to.
This is so true. I never thought of it this way. Why are so many cultural habits terrible for the body!!?? Why can’t they all be good for you? Haha.
Another reminder to stay present and take a moment to do a body scan every now and then. Sit down at your desk or at dinner, take a deep breath and then notice what kind of postural habits you body falls into. A great reminder that one’s QL is a hip hiker and when sitting with one leg crossed over the other the hip on the superior leg hikes. Yikes!!
Reading this I realize I tend to cross with one leg only (due to injury), and also have a tight QL on the same side. Something new to work on!
Would alternating the leg that is elevated address an potential imbalance of one hip hiked? Or would trying this route set up for disaster? I understand this would probably end up making both QL’s tight, requiring some stretching/rolling. Also being mindful that a person should not be sitting for lengthy periods anyway..
Just wondering how much wiggle room there can be or if we should make hard rules.
This really resinates for me, I have suffered from bouts of lower back pain off and on for years, I’ve done many exercises for and decompressing the lengthening the spine. What I haven’t done is pay attention to the relationship between my QL and lower back. Uncrossing our legs is a proactive way to avoid lower back pain but it’s just become so habitual (I even do it on my ball chair) that I don’t even realize i do it. Someone should invite an app that reminds as to uncross our legs!!!
My chiropractor made me aware of this when we discovered that I have a hyper mobile sacrum, which kept shifting out of alignment. Her first homework for me was to notice whenever I was crossing my one leg, and then switch the legs. It felt like interlacing your fingers with the opposite thumb on top. In a word it felt goofy. It also made me deeply aware of how I was compromising my low back and pelvis. The inevitable result was that I eventually, naturally stopped sitting with one leg crossed. So often the simple awareness of a habitual body posture can spark and inspire the desire to change!
I knew that leg crossing was bad for circulation but never considered the hip elevation and subsequent shortening of the QL. My left QL is definitely more restricted than my right – could definitely be the result of leg crossing. I’ll be sure to be mindful of this in the future. Thanks for sharing!
I’ve been suffering with all over back pain more recently. I notice that my hips ache and my muscles feel imbalanced and I’ve crossed my legs for YEARS! I just thought I was being lady-like, but turns out I am suffering with tremendous pain for 7 years now due to crossing my legs (usually the right over the left). I’ve even already had a spinal fusion at L5/S1 with a still herniated disc (if not ruptured now) right above that. After the spinal fusion, I was scared of hurting myself or not healing properly and was very careful when moving around. I’ve been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, but I am really questioning the diagnosis. I’m currently trying to rebuild my buttocks and leg muscles and trying to get myself balanced again. Hope you’ll have more tips coming in!
Thanks Amanda! I caught myself crossing my legs while reading this. Not just passively either, but really twisting my legs into a tight wind and pressing my legs firmly together.
I’ve been taking it on myself to really observe and question how I move my body through my day. Last night I was BOUNDING up the stairs in my house, two at a time, and I almost fell over when I reached the top.
I think I had to get a pen. Really no reason to rush. Just a silly habit that I treat stairs as a deathrace.
I’m thinking that kind of reckless stair climbing is probably also affecting my QLs, especially when I think sit down and twist my legs up for an hour.
I started reading this article with my legs crossed. Then when I uncross them the chair becomes uncomfortable. When I worked in an office I talked to the ergonomics person about having a desk that could lower all the way to the floor and then lift all the way to standing. Apparently it wasn’t cost effective so I started working from home more. I love those YTU poses so it won’t be a chore to practice them. Maybe I love them so much because of my leg crossing habit?
I’ll admit it….my legs were crossed, but thanks to this article, I will put that post-it note a few places. I do suffer with back issues from time to time, so I appreciate this information. My QL needs some TLC…bring on Alpha.
Another terrible habit that I have created havoc in my body with. How have so many “normal” movements become the norm in society? It is so liberating knowing that with some simple knowledge on how our body moves we can create an existence of no pain.
Oh the perils of being a lady! If we all still crossed our ankles it would be better. And better still, keeping the legs adducted, unfortunately the perils of not having strong adductors is a Brittany Spears moment. We need to reestablish a new sitting posture for back health and good manners.
Wondering if leg crossing is the same body language as arm crossing? Protecting our sacral chakra and heart chakra respectively ? I’m going with that, as since I have stopped crossing my arms my heart has opened and I have grown an inch. Who knows what will happen now when I uncross my legs besides low back pain disappearing ;). I love the Alpha ball on my QL.
I was crossing my right leg over my left JUST as I was reading blogs, I found your blog and with shame uncrossed my legs! It is such a natural processes to sit with one leg crosses, and ingrained into our society as the “way to sit for ladies” especially when wearing skirts or dresses!
I love that there are so many natural ways to relieve back pain, it just takes conscious awareness and commitment! I’m going to spread the word on “anti-leg-crossing” !
The majority of my students that have low back pain it is there QL. I am going to start asking them if they cross their legs. Sidewinder is going to be included in my teaching.
I totally agree Steeve. Fidget fidget fidget. I can’t stay still when I’m sitting. Every part of my body aches when I’m sitting so I constantly have to shift positions from one knee to chest, figure four, hips abducting and adducting, toes flexing and extending, ankle rolls, knee flexion and extension and even criss cross applesauce in my chair. It’s worse when you’re short like me because the chairs are always too big and tall. If pain is the price you pay for sitting “properly” (as a female) and having long sexy legs in high heels, then I opt for being rude and stumpy.
Here I am (doing Yoga Tune-Up homerwork) sitting at a table, with my legs… TOGETHER!!
For the record, I hate to sit. I don’t like it AT ALLl. However, I know that I can’t stand-up all day, so I figure sitting is something I have to do. Not good.
Sitting, doing homework, and pissed at the fact that I have to sit doing the homework that I enjoy doing, I think of this… THERE IS A BETTER WAY TO SIT!!!!!!!!
So I re-adjust. Place my body in a way that “i ENJOY.” Legs externaly rotated, hips flexed, core activated, Scapula is my base on the chair. Palms of feet togerther and hugging. Big toe in extension while the other 4 are flexed. My 10 toes firmly planted on the floor.
Let met not forget… Anterior tilt of the pelvis. Very Important. when sitting back. Not so much when typing.
Not sure of the sequence, but I know what “I” like.
Fiddle, fiddle, fiddle… Fiddle some more.
Feel free to try your own.
Sitting can be reclaimed.
Although I am a reformed leg crosser, I do have a habit of standing and resting on one hip (while elevating the other).
My QLs are finally getting the hang of full engagement (jathahara parivartonasana) and stretch (parighasana) and my low back is feeling much better.
The information and practical application of the YTU training is truly life hanging.
Thanks for this post Amanda!
what a wake up call for me in 2013… I have chronic left SI joint pain and I am now sure it is due to my chronic crossing of my legs… hard to believe that such a small seemingly insignificant action can cause so much havoc to your body. But it does!
Understanding how the habit of sitting with your legs crossed and it’s relationship with creating an imbalance of the Quadratus Lumborum and also comparing this idea with how society embraces the idea of sitting with your legs crossed is an interesting concept. Being aware of such little daily tendencies that we adopt, such as crossing our legs on a daily basis for hours on end, understanding how it affects us in the short and long-run, is a key component to an overall healthier personal life.
The fewer people with QL imbalances is a better world in my book.
When you also get a haircut the hairdresser always reminds you to not cross your legs because it makes you shoulders uneven (which can cause them to cut your hair crooked), well thats there words, but actually its so cool that its not the shoulders which makes you look uneven but as you explained the QL because as the top leg crosses over that hip elevates shortening that side, making it appear as if your shoulders off. So instead of the hairdresser saying that its throwing your shoulders off what they should really be saying is its hiking up one hip making the pelvis tilted.
I meant if you cross your ankle, hips will be externally rotated, and if knees touch together and feet apart, hip will internal rotated position.
FOR SURE!!! Whenever I see a client who is complain about their lower back pain during assessment, this is the first thing I will address. “DO NOT CROSS YOUR LEGS!! Please!!!” If client complain hip pains,” NOT EVEN CROSS ANKLES!!” because your hip will be internally rotated. Looking after your own body is a full time job!!
Guilty as charged. I am trying to be more aware of this unconscious habit. I think my QL is definitely shorter on the right. I am bad for sleeping on my right side with my left leg crossed up and over my body, with my spine twisted slightly, and am now wondering if this also making the problem worse…
I have recently started paying attention to the crossing of my legs, dealing with an adductor problem, specifically my gracilis. Identifying that crossing my legs may be exacerbating the pain, whenever possible I try to keep my feet flat on the floor. The problem I face, as a petite woman, is that most chairs are too big for me! I can’t sit with my spine to the back of the chair and keep my feet flat on the floor, my legs hanging freely in space. I’m lucky that I don’t have a job that requires extended periods of sitting, but when I do sit, I am often uncomfortable (or look uncomfortable). I am still working it out, usually kicking off my shoes (when I can!) to cross both legs sitting in “easy pose” – both sit bones firmly rooted. No mini skirts for this mini person…
Yes, yes, yes, this is totally speaking to me as I have been trying to get this message across to a friend of mine – I am sending her this link immediately! Luckily, she’s already in love with the YTU balls where we’ve been working on the QL’s! I love the idea of the sticky note – I am going to use that as I still catch myself doing this! That and the one hip to the side – I am sure that’s another one that the surgeons talk about!
Something so simple, something we are even taught to do as young girls, that does such damage over time, Now add stress to that and you have a real mess!
I work in orthopaedics, and one of the first things the surgeons tell patients who have undergone a hip replacement is to never cross their legs! The stress it places on the hip joint is too great for those suffering from osteoarthritis. But imagine if someone had come along 30 years ago telling them not to do it in the first place? those poor surgeons would be out of a job! LOL! More and more, prevention is the key to healthy living, making good habits that will support the skeletal structure for years to come. Thank you!
I used to cross my legs all the time! I didn’t realize that my hips were shifting to. I’m really looking forward to paying closer attention to every single thing I do now. How I stand, where I stand, for how long? Do I need a break? Paying attention to how the body is doing is really important!
Interesting! I also notice that when I cross my legs which I love to do! It pulls on the bottom patella causing a pinching sensation. I must say I find crossing my body very comforting. I’ve investigated the urge to do it, and it somehow gives me a feeling of safety and security, almost making me feel warm. I do all sorts of weird things like stuff my hand between the legs crossed and the pressure on my hand also is comforting. But I’m sure it gives off an impression of being closed off and I would much rather transform that into open, ready and confident. The way we sit and stand says so much about us and also affects the way we feel mentally, so good reminder and yet another reason I should be weary of crossing my legs all the time. Thanks Amanda!
Once again. I’m finding every single post amazing. I used to not only wear hills every single day, but to cross my legs, a lot. even in kinda ‘garudasana’ leg form because i felt so cool! Now its kinda hard since I gain like 15lb in muscle with CF and my thinghts are bigger than before, but my hip started to pay a price. Is a combination of several stuff together. and Im sure this is one of them. Thank you!
I used to cross my legs all the time until I realized just how much trouble it was creating in my body. Now I truly make a conscious effort to sit with both feet on the ground and mindful of my posture. Sometimes I catch myself when I am sitting for longer periods of time, especially in an uncomfortable chair. Matter of fact, I was doing it just before I read your blog which is why your title caught my eye!
[…] http://www.yogatuneup.com/blog/2010/09/29/lower-back-pain-crossed-legs/ […]
“tune-ing” into the back core and in particular the tubular core (all sides) has made a marked difference in my body. I will be integrating side-winder and boomerang and look forward to checking out the corresponding ball work (to flush out the tight areas).
I always cross my legs sitting at the desk or even on the couch. I’m an athletically thin male and have back problems and more recently, issues with my hips. I was wondering if crossing my legs had anything to do with it. A few times recently my hip will slip when my legs are crossed and figured…uh oh…somethings wrong. Going to try and break the habit and see how much my aches and pains reduce. The hip slip is so very painful. I’m thinking to myself, gee I’m 47…how long before I need a hop replacement? I don’t even want to go there.
Try the dynamic pose of Sprinkler Garudasana where crossing and uncrossing the legs over and over again is permitted – and it feels so good, especially afterwards. Your hips and lower back are happy because of the action of your legs crossing, not cranky and crooked.
This is a great reminder to pay attention to those little things we do unconciously. I have a bad habit of putting all my weight on one leg and end up feeling alot of knee pain…and then I wonder why? Being aware of your habits can help you cure your chronic pain. One of the reasons I love YTU is because it helps you become aware of your bad habits and gives you exercises and knowledge to help you counteract them!!
Such a great testimonial and reminder.Those YTU poses suggested are wonderful for the QL and tubular core connection especially the internal and external obliques – what a great way to bring about the equilibrium within the back line of the body and turn some heat on in the body!
I am a chronic leg crosser that would be left over right. Recently I have noticed a shift and aches and pains that were not there before in the the whole left side of my body. As we speak I am changing the cross of my legs to experiment with how my left side feels. I definatley notice some shifting going on. thank yoiu I am uncrossing right now and going to put that post it reminder on my computer right now. Thank you 🙂
Great advice! I am also a chronic leg-crosser trying to break the habit, but this is a tough one! Awareness is the key, and commitment to “tuning in” to our habitual movements and poses that are doing us harm, and “tuning up” our choices. I found that while sitting at the computer I was often crossing my legs for long stretches of time, and so what I do now is keep a pair of Tune Up Balls under the desk and as soon as I sit down I scoot a ball under each foot. Sometimes the balls are just still, sometimes I roll them around – but Always they keep my feet on the ground! Trying hard now to keep my leg crossing and uncrossing to – Sprinkler Garudasana!
Eeek! As I was reading this article I noticed my legs were crossed! Thank you for highlighting another culprit of chronic pain in my body. I now realize that I am a leg crosser – add this to the list of simple lifetime postural habits that I need to un-do and one by one I am eliminating these pesky bad habits and restoring my body to health & balance. Add to that the fact that I “need” to do more of my all-time favorite YTU dynamic yoga pose: Sidewinder!! 🙂
Thanks, Bonnie! I’m going to try this out to see if it will help my teeth grinding and also share it with a client who I know has a lot of jaw tension and who seems to suffer from an inordinate number of ear infections every year. Maybe they aren’t infections!
Wow! What a flash from the past. I remember growing up and having it demanded of me to cross my legs when sitting because that was the way a “lady” was supposed to sit! If you didn’t cross your legs you sent a message you didn’t want to be sending. So for a large part of my life I had a chronic pelvic imbalance. Not only was the QL thrown off, but my right leg got trained to be more internally rotated and my left more externally rotated and I was always standing with my weight more on my left leg.
Another reason it would be great to teach body awareness and body mechanics right from first grade on.
After reading your article, I had to think.. do I cross my legs? The answer.. YES!! Blind spot.. ding ding ding!! This unconscious imbalance I have been created, is now conscious. I also like what Vivian has added below, when some of us are young we are taught to sit crossed legged. It becomes so habitual it is unconscious. What a wonderful gift to be able to share with others. I am looking forward to offering that awareness to classes I hold. Thank you Amanada! I am consciously uncrossing my legs while I drink my morning coffee!!
Chronic leg crossers are extremely prone to muscular imbalances throughout the spine. It can even lead to a functional and potentially structural scoliosis. Yoga Tune Up® poses are unique in their ability to accurately address tightness and weakness simultaneously. Thank you for shedding light on the poor imprisoned QL and sharing your story of self-discovery and recovery from back pain. Free the QL! Free the QL!
this makes total sense! Ever since i was little my mother would say “close your legs!” because I used to sit with my legs open like a boy. I then developed a habit of sitting with my legs crossed, I do it so often that sitting with legs side-by-side feels awkward and legs crossed has become my normal. This is going to take some time to reverse.
Never thought about that one, crossing my legs? I’m gonna look more into it. Makes sense. Just today I actually wanted to start researching how depressing the gas pedal every day for long periods of time must be throwing my entire foot to Femur out of whack. Been wanting to research that more.
It’s interesting to note that such a seemingly innocuous habit of leg-crossing can cause so much pain in our low back. I loved the experiment you offered to illustrate the shortening that occurs in the QL when we sit in that position. I just had an “aha” moment as I suspect that my leg-crossing habit has contributed to the tightness and occasional pain in my low back. Boomerang on the wall is now one of my favorite poses as I cultivate more balance in my body…..and I am definitely more aware of how I sit! No more leg crossing for me!
Its amazing the things we do out of habit without realizing it! I used to be a big leg crosser as well. The other thing I found out that I do daily is twist to the back seat to snap the restraint on my daughter’s carseat! I never realized what an imbalance this was making in my QL and erectors until YTU training where I had to level my pelvis in asymmetrical parsvottanasana! Thanks for the reminder to look at our habits and suggestions for poses to even them out!
I always know I have been sitting either in a class or in life with my legs crossed if my sciatic pain flairs up. Never fails! Now I try to notice when I do this and if the setting allows it just pull my legs up into a meditation position. SO much better! Now if only I could do that in a skirt in a fancy restaurant…..
Loved this article! I too am a chronic leg crosser and have experienced my fair share of lower back pain. It is an easy habit to fall into when you are so focused on your computer screen all day! This article is my challenge to place that post-it note on my computer, be vigilant and consistent with my efforts, and see if I reap the benefits! I am hoping this might also relieve a bit of sciatica as well!
This blog reminds me of the hundreds of people I have worked with that sit all day long, legs crossed or not. Their QL’s are disengaged for the majority of the day, while their psoas is shortened for the same portion of the day. They stand up at the end of the day, because they have gotten up even for lunch (which was eaten sitting at their desk), and their low backs hurt. The QL is nowhere to be found when the spine is in need of stabilization.
This is great information! I am a leg crosser…under my desk all day long…and needless to say, my back pays for it. I have issues on the right side (lumbar and hip/glutes) and think sidewinder may just be the thing.
Love this reminder!! I used to be a total leg crosser until I had recurring tightness in my QL on my right side. Not surprisingly I almost always cross my right leg over my left instinctually. Until, my hairdresser told me to uncross my legs one day so she could get an even cut. She pointed out to me how imbalanced this made my entire body and I had a total “AHA” moment!!
wow, I’ve experienced periodic lower back pain since college and could not figure out why. Post college I’ve held an office job where I’m sitting at my desk for at times 14 to 16 hours a day and likely most of the times, my legs are crossed! Thank you for sharing this insight, its too bad more people don’t know this! Seems like manner schools that teach our young ladies to keep their legs crossed, need to be re-educated…
Awareness is key…. what am I doing to my body on a daily basis? I find myself sitting cross legged all the time. I think this article also helps us to remember where in our lives we should re-examine and be sure that we are doing good and not harm…. even if it seems harmless.
This shows us how important it is to be in the moment.To be aware of the little actions that make a big difference.and with this awareness to make a change.Bring out the Yoga Tune up Balls and get rolling.
I am an occasional leg crosser, and I do get lower back pain once in a while. (I have herniated discs in my lower back as well) I am in the 200 hour TT and had the yoga tune up portion last weekend. After using the yoga tune-up balls on my lower back in class, it helped me so much and the pain has subsided. I have a question about an alternative to leg crossing; Is crossing at your ankles a good alternative? Someone told me that a long time ago and I try to remember to cross at the ankles instead of my legs, but I am curious to know if that is any better.
I don’t cross my legs but I do stupid stuff like lie on the couch watching TV in a brutally incorrect position, compromising my QL; hence, messing my low back. I really need to stop! Also, lying in bed on my side without support (not often but every once in a while). I have been so fortunate to have a solid back. I don’t want to lose it.
I am going to stop! 🙂
OMG, yes, my biggest problem is that I would cross my legs as well because of my being short I my legs just dangled under the chair, so I would end up crossing them, then Jill has really been drilling us, making me aware of my bad posture, boy do I have a lot of work to do!
I’m a leg crosser, and I always have to stop myself, uncross and observe. I also have slight scoliosis, and I tend to cross in a way that encourages that rotation of my hips. This is an excellent reminder!
I always like to be mindful to elevate my scapula and depress my hip as well in case the memory in my tissues reforms to it’s old habits.
Oh you are sooo right. I need to go to leg crossers anonymous. I have habitually crossed my right leg over my left that my pelvis is actually twisted to the left and I recently noticed I twist my pelvis to the left when I sit on the couch and watch tv. Uggg So great those poses you mentioned are the ones we were taught today in Jills level 1 Yoga tuneup training and they brought great relief to my lower back and sacrum. Thanks for the reminder!
I have always been a leg crosser and have been working on it because it had been hurting my knees (and i say this as i have crossed legs, which i have been crossing and un-crossing throughout reading the article! oops). With the pain translated to my knees that was my area of focus for the longest time. I did quadricep work to release the patella, but what really changed things was when the connection was made that the alignment of my hips may be the cause to the tightness going on in my quads, which was effecting my knee. I had focused a lot on the t-12 area hitting the QL and psoas major and minor. It is a work in progress always, however, since creating more balance, crossing my legs is uncomfortable–but no longer painful–and if i do it I am constantly shifting them. Its really great reading this and having a little more understanding as to why that may be, that is not a bad thing that my body doesn’t want to cross my legs, and bonus from this: my lower back pain has magically subsided, which I hadn’t even made the connection to!! Thanks, so informative!
THank you for the great suggestions. I am an avid leg crosser. I do find myself and un cross but after many years I even think my veins in the back of my legs are starting to look different. I am now going to try and combine the awareness of uncrossing my leg with a nice big belly or nose breath!!
I too am a chronic leg crosser and it wasn’t until the combination of this weekend and this post that I started to recognize some of the many dangers of constantly sitting this way. I now recognize every time I hike my hip up, whether it is due to crossing my legs or stepping over the large pile of laundry sometimes in my way in my apartment, I’m using my QL, yet extended contraction (aka. hour long meetings at work sitting with my legs crossed) certainly has consequences.
Such simple yet great advice! People tend to not realize what little things they can start doing to alleviate pain. The tough part is breaking old habits. I never really think about how my hips are at an angle when I cross my legs, and definitely have not considered how the way I sit may affect my Quadratus Lumborum. Pretty sure my legs are crossed as I type this…better change that!!
Allyson, you are so right and your post is very timely! I just finished rolling out my low back and buttocks – part of my regular maintenance program to keep myself out of pain – and it absolutely works!
Hmmm, now I wonder if crossing my legs may be the culprit to why my left side feels like it belongs on a different body? It’s true our everyday habits can cause imbalances that play a role in our physical ailments. YTU training has me analyzing my every shift and move, It’s very interesting.
Thanks Amanda! I’m glad you mentioned the YTU pose Triangle in Parallel, because this is often when we see the result of chronic leg crossing, or a QL imbalance. The illia are not even in this pose for most of us, and it takes a lot of work to level-ize the pelvis. Working YTU’s Moon Rises also helps bring awareness to this imbalance. I often cross my legs and am trying to stop, and this was a great reminder of why I need to stop now. There are several YTU Therapy Ball sequences for the low back and hips that will help release persnickety connective tissue in that area that has begun to grip on for dear life in order to stabilize your lumbar spine. Tune up and work out the low back and hip connective tissues to give your hips more mobility and reduce low back pain.
I am also a chronic crosser of my left leg over my right and do have just a little low back pain.
I loved Jill’s verion of the sidewinder pose with legs apart as opposed to legs glued together. Jill, you really are quite creative and wild!
Good way to end commenting on these blogs. It gave me a chuckle!
Woah! I’m a leg crosser too (with her best intentions, my mother informed me many times that ‘proper women’ should cross their legs) and from time to time I battle bouts of low back pain that attack right as I lay down for bed. Interestingly enough, my mom also has similar back pain (!). Amanda, I’ll try doing sidewinder and boomerang to lengthen the “QL”, and I’ll pass the good word along. Thanks for schooling us women about why it’s not always a good idea to “act like a lady”. 🙂
I’m an occasional leg crosser but I find that I have the same symptoms and QL imbalance from being a side sleeper (I favor one side) and as the top hip is perpetually elevated, the imbalance hurts both sides of the lower back. I’ve gotten into the habit of wrinkling the sheets both before going to sleep and upon awakening doing the sidewinder in bed. Thanks for the article, I will be more mindful of the leg-crossing.
Amanda, thanks for this! Two days ago, a teacher at my studio had us lying on our backs with our legs up the wall. There I was….chilling in my yoga brain; thinking I almost found enlightenment when my right hip slowly started to lift itself off the wall. I did not try to control my body at this point as I was very interested in conversing with my hips and as Shakira reminded us for so many years, ‘ Hips don’t lie!’. Of course, because I was so lucky to have recently completed my YTU level 1 training, I knew exactly the mischief that my right hip was upto. It was chasing after my gorgeous right QL. Thanks to Side Winder and YTU, I can now empower my QL to tell my right hip to to stay in line with left hip.
I am definitely a leg-crosser! As I sit each day thus far in my yoga teacher training class, I am aware of my body positioning and I definitely favor the leg crossing habit. I have had injuries specific to the lower left back and I now wonder if they can be attributed to this leg crossing. I will definitely have to be more conscious while I’m sitting and try to prevent the temptation to cross my legs.
It’s true – and one of the reasons why I’m such an enthusiastic practitioner of and advocate for Yoga Tune Up®! During the course of my Level I YTU Training, my chronic back pain dissolved – and not only that, the training armed with the skills and knowledge to take the matter of healing my tissues into my own hands. How wonderfully liberating and empowering!!
Sidewinder changed my relationship with my body. If you think your QL are the issue, then I would absolutely endorse your plan to experiment with trying on Parighasana and Side plank. I’ll be curious to know how it goes, so, please do stay in touch and let me know!
Amanda – you were our (Jill’s) Assistant in the YTU Level 1 YTU teacher training. I would have never guessed you suffered and corrected your lower back pain. Your physical body and upbeat attitude seemed as if you never suffered to tears. Your demonstrations were incredible and clearly you have rehabilitated yourself. What I find so incredible about YTU is your living proof, but what hit me the most is the way YTU teaches you to care for yourself and start a new with a ‘new normal’. I have just begun my teacher training but I would have thought before YTU training and your testimony that if people have stiff QL or pain in lower back – that the yoga they should attempt would be restoritive. Before never would I thought that dynamic poses such as Sidewinder and variations of that to be part of the process! Love the active poses that help rebuild and bring people such as yourself to the freedom to practise! Your Asana was so percisie, and your knowlege albeit some from personal expereince is much appreciated – I was wondering if Gate pose, and Side plank would be attempted aswell with lower back issue – I am experiencing a bit of a pinch myself for the past month, and of coarse leary of what to try.
I’ll be sure to repost on my updates. if you, or any one wants to reply on the two “Gate, Side Plank” that would be appreciated as I love these poses.
Legs crossed is definetly a habit to be changed and create a new balance with YTU. I can feel the tightening and discomfort in my QL and pain mi my SIs from only moments of sitting with my legs crossed. YTU has mad me more consciencious of my posture and has brought my awareness to the side bends my body craves.
oh, but what do you do to replace this horrible habit when you are confined to a cubicle? I move, I wiggle, my co-workers can’t wait to see what my next pose will be. I’m aiming for the large excersise ball to sit on. If approved by the Healthe and Safety person. 🙂 However the cross legged pose on the floor is giving me a hard time too lately. I have to find a sitting position somehow which is easy for my body type.
It seems like such an innocent pose, one leg over the other. We get away with this today or tomorrow but eventual bad habits build up and our body lets us know loud and clear to stop and live a life of pain and misery. It is good to know the reason behind the wisdom and Yoga Tune Ball ways to alleviate the pain immediately and eradicate the suffering forever.
Thanks for the reminder Amanda. Who would think sitting pretty could end up being debilitating, not to mention those nice little lines in the legs crossing creates. As I sit typing this message … (having uncrossed my legs) – I find my feet wedged under my chair and one hip bearing more weight than the other. One thing leading to another ….placement of computers on desks, phone placement and chair positions are so important in keeping proper posture and avoiding discomfort while computer tasks nessessitate excessive sitting at work or otherwise. Being consious of ones position constantly is helpful.
Taking into consideration crossing the legs in a seated position is one thing, then move forward to taking into consideration sports which cross the legs over (and in particular perhaps more to one side). This will enhance all of what Amanda is telling us in this post. Think of hockey players, speed skaters, roller balders, track runners and other track athletes – just to name a few. Try some of the poses mentioned above to rebalance your body back into equilibrium for better sport performance.
It’s very much a socially learned behaviour – and a result of sitting in chairs.
With regard to sitting cross-legged on the floor: Absolutely do switch up which leg is the top leg (as you would with any yoga pose) so that you are correcting any imbalance (imagine if you only ever did pigeon pose with the right leg in front!?)
Interesting! This makes me wonder why we cross our legs in the first place. After reading about the imbalances it causes, it makes me wonder if this is more of a socially learned behavior rather than a natural behavior. Since I usually sit with both legs crossed (Indian style), I wonder how it might affect the body as well, if the same leg is always on top?
I was recently informed by Tyr Throne that sitting crossed leg may prematurely ages you as you naturally slump and the wight of your body is distributed primarily on one sit bone, it puts a torsional stress on your sacrum
It’s think it’s best t o sit on the edge of the chair in a wide leg stance
Thanks Amanda for a great analysis of one of our day to day habits and how it impacts our QL and I found the comment of Ko on this article very informative. The relationship of QL and the Soas to the hips is so crucial to the entire body, not just the back ache, since all muscles are ultimately connected with each other. And as Yoga profoundly brings us home to the fact that yoga is union of the body mind and spirit, any action that we do repeatedly wrong, in a body part or parts, gives us the negative consequence in a ripple effect to not only body, but also mind and spirit.
Excellent! I became aware of my leg-crossing years ago…but not without his same awareness/information. I like the feeling of my both feet planted firmly on the ground, mostly because I spin/go so fast that when I sit, I need to be super conscious and orient myself to the Earth 🙂 it also helps with posture to align the ankles/knees and use the flexion of the hips to draw the femur into the hip socket and energizing the legs so thatI can use the floor to support my core/ I can feel the muscle engaging in the front and back body. Also the inner groin, I am sure, is effected by the adduction and the asymmetric position of the hips.
Oh my, I am a chronic “leg crosser.” And, I have lower back pain. OK, I will give it a try – nothing to loose except lower back pain.
I have stopped crossing the legs when I got pregnant 18 years ago. And I try to talk people out of doing it constantly. It seems like it’s a hard habit to break for most people nor had I enough explanation for them. Now I can back it up with the QL theory, Thank you Amanda!
As a chronic leg crosser, this article provides compelling information to stop that habit. Although it has not resulted in back pain for me, I have noticed that my right hip is higher than my left which suggests tightness in the QL on that side.
Karla points something critical out- it’s remarkable the way societal expectations play into postural patterns and its accompanying pains. At a certain point I stopped carrying my wallet in my back pocket long before I knew about yoga, because I felt the soreness that came with sitting that way for hours. Uncrossed legs- another yoga rebellion!
I know, I know it’s bad for me the same way that cracking my neck is, but I am so addicted. I think that bringing my consciousness to this will really help me be a better lady anyway. I get all types of twisted pretzelly when I sit and now that I’ve stopped (okay, not stopped all the way, but definitely cut back) I can feel the imbalance in my lower back. I will look up this Boomerang that you speak of…thanks.
There IS hope! In addition to the Yoga Tune Up poses mentioned in the blog post, also make a regular practice of Leg Stretch #3. If you’re not already acquainted with this dreamy pose, cut and paste this web address into your browser to learn how it’s done: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b36CoZk8_eE
All the best,
It took me years – but I just discovered the same thing. Years of being diagnosed with painful QL pain on right side only. I see now that it was very habitual – I keep having to stop myself from crossing my right leg over my left. Anything else feels awkward. Well, not that I am convinced that I found the major culprit I am hopeful for the first time that this “chronic” pain can be vanquished! Finding this post confirmed for me that I am not the only one 🙂
If your right QL is in pain, then you might try practicing Boomerang or Triangle in Parallel with the right side in Extension twice and do the left side just once.
I know, I know! I can practically hear my own grandmother ‘tsk-tsk’-ing me from beyond the grave. Sitting with your legs uncrossed seems like a pretty radical suggestion for those of us that have been schooled in embodying lady-ness. Some of it has to do with wardrobe choices – and I would venture to say that crossing your legs is entirely appropriate when wearing certain attire. Although it might be considered more lady-like to sit with legs crossed, like high-heeled shoes and tight corsets, it’s just not the most practical or healthful option available to us.
I only mean to suggest that we create awareness around our unconscious postural habits and change those habits that create pain.
What do you mean, do not cross your legs? Every women crosses her legs, we are taught that its more lady like then not. As I sit here with my great grandmother, I was reading her the article and she just shook her head. When I did the experiment with my leg crossed I noticed the difference and felt a little lower back pain. I will try to be more aware of crossing my legs but it’s going to be hard because I always want to look like a lady.
Wow, great tips – I am totally a leg crosser (always right over left), and it’s probably created a real imbalance. Are there perhaps exercises that I should only do on one side of my body to help even out my hips or QL muscle?
I never would have thought that crossing your legs could contribute to low back pain. Thanks so much for the info!
Thanks for the reminder. I cross my legs a lot. I’m going to be more conscious about it.
Guilty!! I have low back pain and cross my legs when I sit. I don’t have a job that I need to sit at for hours, so that helps. I will have to look up the Boomerang exercise. I haven’t heard of that one and I am ready to try anything that will help.
I constantly cross my legs. I don’t really favor one side though, so I don’t feel an obvious imbalance. After reading this though, I will make more of an effort not to cross them in the first place!
I’m unsure if I’m a chronic leg-crosser, but my back pain is definitely lopsided. I fully intend to not cross my legs while at work and try Sidewinder (it looks like fun!) and Triangle in Parallel.
I always sit at my chair with one shin underneath my bottom. I thought this was helping to tilt my pelvis and make me sit up straighter. Likely–it’s just messing up my hips and causing back pain.
Christine: I tried the kitchen sink stretch while brewing my morning coffee. Fantastic! Thank you!!
It is amazing how tiny unconscious habits can add up to big chronic pain. Its even better that there are tools out there for people to get themselves out of pain if they want to. Step one, stop the bad habit, step two do some Yoga Tune Up!
This is so interesting and something I’ve never thought about. I used to sit at a computer all day and I always crossed my right leg over the left. I would feel discomfort in my lower back and that area felt fatigued, so I requested a better chair and would sometimes put a heating pad in that area while I sat all day. Now that I don’t work at a desk I don’t have low back pain anymore and this makes sense because I’m no longer overusing my QL. If only I had known that the constant contraction in my QL was part of the problem!
Interesting. I broke my foot a few years ago and was in a walking cast for weeks…i experienced tremendous low back pain and now I know why…I couldnt find a shoe that was the exact height as the walking cast therefore causing an imbalance of my QL because the side with the cast was hiked up higher
I am also a hibitual right-over-left leg crosser. I love the idea about putting a post it note at my desk! Now, while sitting tall in my chair, I just have to be conscious not to anteriorly tilt my pelvis too far.
Being a habitual right-over-left leg crosser, I now have an additional piece to the “why is my right QL always tight?” puzzle. Another great stretch is what I call the kitchen sink stretch: stand with your left side to the kitchen sink in the morning while waiting for your coffee or tea to brew. Anchor the left hand on the lip of the sink, in line with the left hip. Flex the right shoulder, elevating the right arm, but keep the right shoulder depressed, and without flexing at the hip or collapsing forward, reach the right arm left, laterally flexing the left side waist while letting the hips drift right, supported by the left arm and hand. 3 rounds on on that side, then turn around and repeat.
Continue to practice and transform unconscious and undesirable habits that cause suffering (whether postural, mental or behavioural) with new patterns that reflect and express growing self-awareness!
Re: sidewinder confusion
I understand your confusion because, yes, the QL does contract in sidewinder – but that’s only half the story. In sidewinder, the QL on one side of the spine contracts while the QL on the other side lengthens. The incredible wellspring of RELIEF is found in the lengthening portion of this dynamic stretch.
Hope that helps!
Re: arching your back in Sidwinder.
Keep reminding yourself to tilt your pelvis posteriorly as you practice! That should take the arch out of your back.
I have been trying to stop crossing my legs for several years. I have to remind myself at least once a day to let go and sit properly. When I’m not being mindful about it, my body reminds me of it with pain later!
I remember being taught as a kid to “sit like a lady” which pretty much meant sit with your legs crossed. I will have to remind my mother she was wrong about that one! I think the post-it note or timer is a great idea, often hours can go by without changing positions when working or watching a movie and a nice friendly reminder to create some movement would be helpful.
I just learned of this today! I never knew crossing your legs could cause lower back pain. I will definitely be more aware and eliminate leg crossing from now on. I am glad I had the experience of sidewinder today.
When I do the Sidewinder, I tend to feel my lower back lifting higher and higher from the floor, which makes me feel like I’m arching my back. Any advice as to how to prevent this?
I had no idea that such a small thing could affect your body so much!
In answer to Lauren’s question it’s not only a matter of contracting the quadratus lumborium, It is a matter of frequency. Workouts will help strengthen the muscle when stressed periodically, but no muscle was meant to be constantly flexed or extended for long periods of time in an isometric manner. The single exception is of course the heart muscle, The QL originates at the iliac crest and the iliolumbar ligament and inserts into the transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae (L1~L5) and inferior aspect of the 12th rib. As you mention Lauren the result of the QL contracting will bring the hip closer to the ribs, effectively raising the hip. However, constant contraction of the muscle will keep the body in a constant state of having the hip raised. Remember that this will cause everything on the side of the raised hip to either keep other muscles flexed or extended in order to maintain this alignment. Of course this means that the same thing is happening on the other side. In other words contracting any muscle to move the body out of tadasana will affect the whole body. Muscles do not move in isolation. How long can you maintain warrior III without fatiguing? You may not be dripping sweat sitting with your hip hiked up, but maintaining this alignment for long periods of time will eventually cause problems in the hips, lower back and may even be felt in the shoulders and neck. It sounded like Amanda was implying that many women cross their legs while sitting down causing the body to go out of a neutral alignment, men also suffer from this problem. No they usually don’t cross their legs, but some carry a FAT wallet in their back hip pocket causing a similar lifting motion of the hip. Hope that helps 😉
I’m a little confused about something: Crossing the legs shortens the QL, which makes sense considering that the hip is elevated. But doesn’t doing the sidewinder pose that’s recommended shorted the QL too as it’s contracting?
Ahh childs pose!
Great advice. I am a leg-crosser. I do it unconsciously. I need to test this to see if this is the cause of my lower back pain!
Another perfect example of chronic unconscious habits that contribute to adaptive shortening which leads to imbalance and pain. Using imagery to help people see their hip bones elevating/depressing as a result of their leg bones over adducting is a great way to help people key into the physical realities of postural habits.
Never even realized how unbalanced this was making me. Simply uncrossing my legs and planting both feet on the floor makes my pelvis feel even.
I had no idea that leg crossing was such a bad habit! Its crazy that something you might think of as a trivial habit could be so harmful to your body. I will have to watch myself now…
Wow I sit at a desk for a long period and always adduct my left leg when sitting! Now I know the cause of my back pain!
I have lower back pain. I tried crossing my legs to see how it affected my OL on each side. Do I cross my legs when I’m at the computer? Hmm?? I may do it unconciously. I put on a note on my laptop to check for crossed legs. This may be the culprit.
I need to pay more attention to my habits.
Totally agree– I had always heard that it can create imbalance but this explanation really hit home with me. It’s amazing how our habits can affect our skeleton and create pain. Uncrossing the legs is also a good component of standing with our heart open and anatomically correct as we discussed in our YTU training today — not only is it great for our body, but our mind and heart will be much better for it as well.
Wow. I had heard about leg-crossing causing vericose veins, but I had no idea it was the culprit of back pain too!
I’ll think twice before crossing my legs again!
this is so true.
No more leg-crossing for me! Thanks for the tip.