Q: Despite stretching, my knees stay at least a foot off the ground when I sit or lie down in butterfly. When I gently push my knees down, I feel a sharp pain deep in the hip joint. What can I do?
A: There are wide variations in hip-joint shapes and facings. The socket can face more forward or more to the side, and the femur head (or ball) can also vary in its angle to the hip joint. All of these structural variations (meaning you were born with them and they will not change) influence your ability to sit in the butterfly position. Don’t push your knees down in this position if it creates pain. That’s a good indicator that this position is not optimal for you to work out inner-thigh tightness—the primary purpose of stretching in this position. We don’t want to stretch in positions that don’t allow us to start from neutral.
You can test if the butterfly position is useful for you by noticing if you can sit up easily with your feet together even with your knees way up, or whether you roll onto the back of the pelvis. If you can’t easily sit upright in neutral, try stretching out the hip flexors and hamstrings to see if that makes a difference. If that doesn’t work, find other ways to stretch out your inner-thigh muscles—such as placing one leg on a chair and slowly flexing forward as you drop your weight into the sitz-bone area of the leg that is elevated.