Yoga Tune Up® Yoga Tune Up Blog » Danger: Do Not Cross! (your legs)

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.


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.

Danger: Do Not Cross! (your legs)

  1. Wendi Jack says:

    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!

  2. Dandy says:

    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 : )

  3. 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!

  4. Tam Nguyen says:

    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.

  5. Dominique Pelletier says:

    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

  6. Therese says:

    At every seated opportunity, I do my best to be aware of releasing my crossed legs. Thanks for the article. I’ll keep practicing.

  7. 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!

  8. Eva Jedlovsky says:

    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.

  9. John says:

    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!

  10. Jen Montes says:

    Thanks for sharing this Amanda. I am starting to like the sidewinder, now that I get how to move in it.

  11. Penny says:

    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. 🙂

  12. Karen Stillman says:

    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.

  13. Genea Crum says:

    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!!

  14. 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!

  15. Sarah Harmon says:

    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!

  16. Katy Loomis says:

    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!

  17. jaclyn says:

    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!

  18. Miao Zhang says:

    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!

  19. Juliet Hewitt says:

    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.

  20. Jessica Haims says:

    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!

  21. Allison Pfeiffer says:

    I see this issue a lot in my massage clients and they don’t realize they are creating it so simply. Great article!

  22. Lauren Reese says:

    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!

  23. Eva Hamilton says:

    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.

  24. Kate says:

    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.

  25. Keiko Johnson says:

    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.

  26. Sharon says:

    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!

  27. Carol morgan says:

    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.

  28. “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!

  29. 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!

  30. LIZ TYBURCZY says:

    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

  31. Maggie says:

    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

  32. Emma says:

    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!

  33. 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 🙂

  34. Line Bernier says:

    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.

  35. April says:

    I love it! Straightforward and to the point! What to do and precisely what not to do.
    Thank you!

  36. Heather Dawson says:

    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.

  37. Ali Bell Ali Bell says:

    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”

  38. Hana says:

    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.

  39. 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!

  40. Nicole Garratt says:

    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.

  41. Samantha Martin says:

    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.

  42. C. Chiu says:

    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.

  43. Chloe Whitfield says:

    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!

  44. Erin says:

    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!

  45. Sarah says:

    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!

  46. Catherine Jervis says:

    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.

  47. Janie Hickman says:

    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.

  48. Kerry Cruz says:

    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.

  49. 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:)

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