The lunge is an essential tool in any movement practice. In yoga asana, it can be found in a majority of the standing postures making it a staple part of the practice overall.
If we break down the articulations (angles) used in the lunge. We find that it is mostly hip flexion in the front leg and hip extension in the back leg. The front knee and ankle are roughly at 90° angles and the stretch is felt (stretch reflex) in the back hip for end range hip extension.
In the practice of yoga, we tend to use three different variations of this lunge. The differences are subtle and can be seen in the back foot and ankle.
The three types of lunges in yoga
Heel Up – The classical lunge position features a back heel pointing straight up towards the sky. Be careful leaning into ankle dorsiflexion instead of actively plantar flexing.
Heel Down @ 90° – This variation of the lunge takes the back heel to the floor at approximately 90° to the leg.
Heel Down @ 45° – similar to the previous lunge position, however the back foot is at an approximate 45° angle.
Top Views of 90° and 45° Angle Lunges
Which lunge variation do you use, when?
- The 45/ 90° angle variations are found in poses like Warrior I, II, extended side angle and pyramid.
- The heel up variation (original) can be done in all positions.
Why do we use these lunge variations?
The 45° and 90° angle variations tend to be more traditional than therapeutic. In fact, I haven’t been able to determine why it’s beneficial to have the heel down like this, aside from it making the pose “easier” by creating a stronger foundation in the back leg.
One could theorize that these variations are merely aesthetics done for the look of a pose or just, “the way it’s done”.
While there are three different lunge variations used in yoga, realistically you only need to use one.
Keeping in the back heel grounded can provide more stability and some variability, but nothing groundbreaking. You’re probably better off sticking with the original lunge and building plantar flexion, or at least trying to planter flex/evert the ankle while in the variations. (This should feel like your pushing floor away.)