October 9, 2013

5 Yoga Tips to Open Up the Hips.

For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from tight hips.

My first memory is sitting “Indian style” in Mrs. C’s kindergarten class and noticing that unlike most of my classmates, my knees could not touch the floor. Fast forward 20 years later, shortly after I first established a yoga practice and just the idea of doing lotus pose is enough to make me laugh and grimace in agony at the same time.

I am not alone in my struggle.

Many of my fellow practitioners and students have tight hips. Our modern life does not do much to help alleviate this, either. Tight hips can be genetic, but they can also be as a result of sitting in chairs and spending a lot of time driving or sitting on a train or plane.

It’s been over a decade since I first came to yoga and since then my hips have become a lot more open, but they are still fairly tight. While I am never going to be like some instructors who can sit in lotus for hours and not even flinch, it’s still pretty amazing how far they have come.

So, without further ado, here are five poses and tips that have helped me immensely in my journey towards open hips.

These are good for anyone from beginners to advanced yogis. However, those with serious hip injuries and/or who have had surgery should check with a healthcare professional first:

1. Tip: never force your hips open before they are ready.

In general, you shouldn’t force yourself into yoga pose you aren’t ready for, but forcing the hips to open when they aren’t ready can be a disaster. Hips are delicate. Joints, ligaments amd muscles can easily be damaged. Plus, as anyone who has ever had a hip injury can attest to, they can be agony.

Therefore, listen to your body. It doesn’t matter if you are the only person in the room whose head cannot touch the floor in boddha konasana pose.

Speaking of which…

2. Pose: baddha konasana or bound angle pose.

This is one of my favorite poses and a great one for stretching those hip flexors. Start by sitting on the floor with the soles of the feet together and the heels coming towards the perineum. Open the soles of the feet like the pages of a book. You may have to drag the heels further away from the body to accommodate this.

One of my favorite way to do this pose is with a blocks. If you are ultra tight in the hips, then just having blocks underneath the knees and letting them rest there is the best way to start.

Let gravity work with you here. As the hips start to open, try to see if the knees can reach further towards the ground.

Then, tip forward from the pelvis and allow the forehead to reach towards the floor or a block resting in the feet. Ideally, the back should be straight, but some bend or rounding in the back is okay. (In fact, bend deeply if that allows you to get further in the hips.)

3. Pose: pigeon pose or kapotasana

Photo: Bernie Clark

Nothing beats the good old pigeon pose for stretching the hips. I like to start by first taking my leg forward into a lunge and bending and straightening the knee a few times to warm up the hip.

When it comes to pigeon, the closer the leg is to a right angle, the more intense the stretch. The closer the front foot is the opposite thigh, the less intense.

I usually prefer to start somewhere in between the two, but again, if you are ultra-tight, start out with less and gradually see if you can get to more.

Some of my students are so tight that they cannot even get the front leg to touch the ground. If this is you, then a rolled up blanket, towel or even a block may be very helpful to place under the front leg.

4. Pose: malasana or garland pose aka “the squat”.

Photo: Elsie Escobar

This is a great one to practice if you have been sitting for an extended period of time.

Start with wide legs (wider than hip distance) and turn the feet out to the sides Charlie Chaplin style. Slowly start to come down in the squat.

If doing so causes the heels to leave the ground, then place a rolled up towel or blanket underneath of them. (You can also roll up the top of your mat and see if that works.)

Once you are in the squat pose, move around. I like to rise up a bit and then perhaps go a bit lower. I may also shift my weight from the balls of the foot to the heels.

Again, though, use caution if this is the first time you have done this or have very tight hips.

A great way to come out of this pose is to take child’s pose.

5. Pose: variations on legs up the wall pose.

This is a good way to incorporate both an inversion and some hip opening at the same wall.

Come to a wall and place your legs up against it. Then, press your buttocks and heels into the wall. For the hip opening portion, start with wide legs. (I like mine to form a wide “V”.) This may be enough.

If you desire more, than take the soles of the feet together and drag the heels down the length of the wall until you get the place where they aren’t going to go any further. Next, gently place the hands on the knees and press them allowing those hips to open just a bit more.

In closing, even the tightest hips can become more open with time.

As I tell my students, the goal is not to be able to sit in lotus for hours.

Even if you can achieve that, nothing magical happens as a result of it, nor is one a “better” yogi/yogini as a result. However, having hips that are more open may make a huge difference in your yoga practice as well as your day-to-day life.

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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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