Often in yoga, you may hear phrases like “here’s a pose to open your hips” or “let’s work on opening the hips” but, what does that even mean? What’s wrong with our hips? Which part of our hips? The bones? The muscles? Where exactly are ‘my hips’? And, when did they close?
In general, those who sit for long periods in work, for example, tend to experience a weakening of the gluteal muscles and a tightening of the hip rotators and hip flexors. This can result in low back pain, muscle stiffness and, to the extreme, postural issues. Over time, range of motion in the hip joint can become reduced. Regular exercise will ensure ‘happy healthy hips’ however, the hip ligaments are strong, so it is important to take it slowly. Start with a few rounds of sun salutations to warm up and then try some of these postures to help get the hip joint mobile again.
Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana)
Lying on your spine, bring your knees in towards the chest. With the elbows between the knees, place the hands on the outer edge of the foot and open your knees apart. Press the feet into the hands and the hands into the feet to create resistance. Breathe into any tension or tightness you may be experiencing. Hold for a couple of breaths and even try rocking from side to side. This can feel really nice on the lower back.
Thread the Needle (Sucirandhrasana)
Lying on your back with the soles of the feet on the floor and knees bent, raise the right foot off the floor and place the ankle on the left thigh. Thread the right arm through the open space between the thighs and clasp the hands behind the left thigh. Raise the left foot off the floor and encourage the left knee towards the chest while using the right elbow to press the right knee away slightly. Keep both feet flexed. Hold for a couple of breaths and try to focus the breath towards releasing any tension in the thighs. Repeat on the other side.
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Starting position is a runners’ lunge. Right leg forward with the knee over the ankle, left knee on the ground with the top of the foot (where the shoelaces go) resting flat on the mat. Place both hands on the right thigh and lengthen through the spine to lift the torso. Sink the hips a little lower making sure the right knee does not extend past the ankle. Hold here for a couple of breaths. On each exhalation, see if you can sink a little deeper into the stretch. For more of a challenge, raise the arms overhead, biceps alongside the ears, stretching up through the fingers, thumbs facing the back of the room.
Reclined Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Lie on the mat with knees bent and the soles of the feet flat on the floor. Then, bring the soles of the feet together and lets both knees fall out to the sides. Place your left hand on your heart and the right hand on the belly, below the navel. Or grab hold of the opposite elbow overhead. Close your eyes and slow your breath. With each exhalation, get a little heavier. Stay here for a couple of breaths.
Half Pigeon Pose (Ardha Kapotasana)
Beginning in a runners lunge, right leg in front, heel toe the right foot towards the left hand. Keeping the right foot flexed, right ankle in line with the left wrist, right knee in line with the right hip, drop the right shin and thigh towards the floor. Inch the left leg back a little further and untuck the toes so that the top of the left foot faces down. Make sure both hip bones are facing forwards. Breathe into any tension or tightness here. After a couple of breaths, test the waters and see if you can gently hinge forwards from the hips and rest on your forearms for a couple of breaths. Eventually, see if you can extend through the spine to lower the torso towards the floor, resting the forehead on the mat or the forearms. You may want to prop your right buttock with a foam block or blanket here if it does not sit comfortably on the ground.
High Lunge (Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana)
From low lunge, arms raised overhead, right leg forward, right knee directly over the ankle, tuck the toes of the left foot, press into the ball of the left foot and the toe mound to raise the left knee off the floor. Lengthen through the tailbone and sink the hips a little lower. Stay here for a couple of breaths and then repeat on the other side.
Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
Kneel on your mat with your hips directly over your knees. Place the heels of your hands on your lower back, fingertips pointing downwards. Encourage your shoulders and upper arm-bones back and inhale to lift your chest. Slowly, begin to lengthen through the spine and lean the torso back, keeping the hips above the knees. From here, extend your right hand back and place it on your right heel. Do the same with the left hand making sure that your hips are still above the knees, press your thighs forward. If it is difficult to reach the heels, turn your toes under to close the gap! If not too much of a strain, lengthen through the back of the neck and gently drop the head back. Stay here for a couple of breaths and then bringing your hands to your hips and leading with the chest, lift your torso to an upright position.
Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana)
Starting from Downward Facing Dog, look between your hands and step the right foot between them into a lunge. Inch the right foot to the right edge of the mat and bring the right arm to the inside of the right leg. Stay here for a moment and as you feel the hips begin to release, maybe come down onto the forearms. Maintain a strong, lifted left thigh as you create length in the spine by reaching the heart forward. If this is too intense, place the forearms on a block or rest the back knee onto the mat. Stay here for a couple of breaths before repeating on the other side.
Garland Pose (Malasana)
Step your feet approximately mat width apart with the toes turned outwards. Aiming to keep the heels on the ground inhale and as you exhale lean the torso forward as you bend your knees and lower the sit bones towards the ground. Bring your palms into prayer position or Anjali Mudra and press your elbows against your inner thighs to create resistance and lengthen through the spine. Press the outer edges of the feet into the mat. Stay here for a couple of breaths before straightening the knees and standing into a standing forward fold.
To finish, sit back into a delicious Child’s Pose for a couple of breaths before laying back into a scrumptious Savasana (Corpse Pose) and there you have a variety of poses for a variety of different levels that will work on the hip flexors as well as the inner and outer thighs. In addition to the physical benefits of increased flexibility, easing lower back pain and improved posture, hip opening poses can also help relieve stress and negative emotions we may be carrying such as fear, anger, guilt or sadness. The hip and pelvic area is the seat of such emotions. This is the time of year where we need to begin to take stock of what has happened over the past twelve months and let go of any extra emotional baggage we may be carrying.
Don’t be surprised if you feel a little grumpy or want to have a little cry in a corner after a hip opening sequence but just welcome it and go with the flow.
Better out than in I say!