Yoga Tune Up® Blog


Danger: Do Not Cross! (your legs)

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.

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 Yoga Tune Up 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 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.


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About This Author

It was love at first Sun Salutation for Amanda Tripp ... who was introduced to yoga as a teen when her mom brought home a video. Eventually, she sought out living, breathing teachers to help direct and deepen her practice. Her teachers have been inspirational; her yoga practice: transformational. Amanda felt the call to share the healing benefits of practice with others and completed a 250-hour teacher training program at the Yoga Centre of Burlington. Continuing studies led her to the work of Jill Miller and certification as a Yoga Tune Up® teacher. Amanda's classes speak to the body, breath, mind and heart as she guides students toward greater ease of being.

139 Responses to “Danger: Do Not Cross! (your legs)”

  1. RM says:

    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!

  2. Dawn says:

    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!

  3. Chrissy says:

    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.

  4. Julie says:

    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!

  5. Anne says:

    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!!!

  6. jackie leduc says:

    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!!!

  7. 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.

  8. Pete Shaw says:

    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.

  9. Christine Heroux says:

    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!!

  10. Rob says:

    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.

  11. Kaiitrin Doll says:

    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!!!

  12. Lisa Hebert says:

    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!

  13. Chantal Gray says:

    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!

  14. Shelby says:

    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!

  15. John Greenhow says:

    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.

  16. Jackie says:

    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?

  17. Yvonne Duke says:

    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.

  18. Gennifer Morris says:

    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.

  19. Meghan says:

    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.

  20. Nancy says:

    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.

  21. Melissa says:

    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” !

  22. Debi says:

    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.

  23. Nikki Wong says:

    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.

  24. Steeve says:

    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.

  25. Jenn says:

    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!

  26. Pam says:

    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!

  27. Steeve Monpremier says:

    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.

  28. Rachel says:

    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.

  29. Tomoko says:

    Woops! Correction!!
    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.

  30. Tomoko says:

    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!!

  31. Jane says:

    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…

  32. Sophie Maranda says:

    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…

  33. Sophia says:

    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!

  34. Mary Ruth says:

    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!

  35. Genevieve says:

    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!

  36. Aranzasu says:

    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!

  37. Rachelle Tersigni says:

    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!

  38. 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!

  39. Lisa Cassidy says:

    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!

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Jill Miller, Creator of Yoga Tune Up®

After studying yoga, movement, and the human body for over twenty years, I created Yoga Tune Up® as a simple way to restore my body and mind, keeping me balanced and free of pain. Using a specific and unique set of poses, movements and self massage tools, you too can LIVE BETTER IN YOUR BODY WITH YOGA TUNE UP®.

 

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