Taking part in a ‘hip-opening’ yoga class is either your best friend or your worst enemy, often it can be both at once.
Some people love to feel the hips open while others hate the difficulty of it. Hips are a place where we hold a lot of tension, similar to the shoulders, but often overlooked, our hips hold tension for many reasons.
It can be an emotional thing…
Yoga and stress
The shoulders are the area which we focus on the most because of stress, posture and the overall health of our spine and back muscles. So shoulder tension is very common.
But hip tension is just as common, it’s just that we don’t notice because our hips are used only in the same planes in everyday life.
For example, we are simply walking, or sitting in a chair, or standing, or lying horizontally. It is only when we sit on the floor, or practice certain yoga poses when we notice how tight our hips have become. Also, it is not as obvious in our posture as the tension in the shoulders can be.
The hips are a ball-and-socket joint (much like the shoulders-hence the tension spots!), attached to the head of the femur.
Various muscles attach into the femur, from the pelvis, spine, sacrum or lower down the femur. Hip openers can affect any of these muscles, depending of the position of the joint when in a pose.
When we stretch we lengthen a muscle, moving the two attached bits away from each other. When extending the hip backwards (i.e. the back leg in pigeon, the back leg in full splits), we are opening and lengthening the psoas (one of the hip flexors).
When we flex the hip forwards (i.e. forward folds) we are shortening the psoas.
Opening from the psoas and stretching any muscle attached to the femur is classed as hip opening, so even virabadrasana and other standing poses are great in a hip-opening class.
Here are a few poses which are great for opening the hips
1. Baddha Konasana/ Bound Angle Pose
This pose is great for strengthening and stretching the hips flexers.
- Sit with the soles of the feet together, heels can be far away from the perineum, or closer to it, if your hips feel comfortable.
- Allow the knees to fall open.
- As you inhale lengthen the spine, and on the exhale begin to fold forward from the pelvis (if your knees are very far off the mat, use bolsters/blocks/cushions under the knees).
2. Kapotasana /Pigeon Pose
This pose is great to stretch the abducting hip flexors.
- Bring the leg forward into a lunge and drop the knee out to the side.
- The closer the leg is to a right angle, the more intense the stretch will be.
- You can use a rolled up blanket/mat or even a block under the front leg or hip if this is uncomfortable.
- Many find this pose strenuous, so be patient, and give it time!
3. Malasana/the squat
This is a great pose if you have been sitting down for a long time and generally feels pretty good.
- Stand with the legs wide (mat width), slowly sit down into the squat.
- If the heels leave the ground, use a blanket or roll up your mat to rest them on.
- If you have very tight hips, use caution in this pose, and take child’s pose to leave the pose.
4. Legs to the wall
- Low down on your mat (bring the mat to a wall)
- Bring the legs up against the wall, press your buttocks and heels to the wall.
- To bring in the hips, widen the legs.
Hips open slowly, but surely, they are a part of our anatomy which we have to have patience with, our everyday life does not encourage hip-opening, but your yoga practice can. Even if nothing happens for a while, your hips will be opening, don’t worry!
Open hips make a huge difference, not only in yoga, but in your daily life.