If a yoga class worked like request radio, hip openers would be a chart topper. Tight hips are a major roadblock for many students who want to deepen their yoga practice and master a wider range of poses. Without suppleness in and around the hip cradle, Padmasana (Lotus Pose), many of the seated forward bends and even some arm balances and inversions will continue to be a struggle.
The bad news is that there’s no magic bullet that will have your entire front body pancaked on the floor in Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend) tomorrow, next week or next month. Opening your hips takes time. The good news is that, as with every journey connected with physical change, every step on the path takes you to a new level of opportunity.
Working on opening your hips pays benefits that go far beyond your asana practice. Counteracting tightness in your hips can help to ease back pain, improve circulation to your legs and even improve the way you walk. It can also be an important key to releasing stress, emotion, fear and negative memories that are energetically stored in your hips. In an article for Yoga Journal, San Francisco yoga teacher Stephanie Snyder calls hips “the junk drawer of your house.” Cleaning out that drawer lightens your spiritual load, making room for prana to flow through the entire pelvic region and allowing breath and vitality to move freely throughout your body.
To get your journey under way, try sampling this menu of hip openers:
Anantasana (Side-Reclining Leg Lift)
Benefits: This pose opens the hamstrings and the sides of the torso, both key areas that need to be lengthened to support flexibility in the hip joint.
How to do it: Begin lying on your right side. If you need to, brace the sole of your right foot against a wall. Stretch your left arm parallel to the ground. Bring your left knee in toward your torso and grasp your big toe with two fingers or use a strap. Stay in the pose for 30 second to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.
Marichyasana I (Pose Dedicated to the sage Marichi I)
Benefits: The pose releases the lower back, which is a key component of releasing the hip socket.
How to do it: Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Bend your left knee in as close to your hip as possible and place the sole of your left foot on the floor. Reach your left arm forward. Then, on an exhale, sweep it around the left shin. With another exhalation, wrap your right arm around and clasp your left hand. Focus on pushing your shoulders away from your ears. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute and repeat on the other side.
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
Benefits: This pose stretches the knees, hips and groins. It’s also a good stretch to do in pregnancy.
How to do it: Begin sitting with your legs out in front of you. On an exhale, bend your knees, pull your feet in as close to the groin as possible, and open your knees to the side. Using your first two fingers and thumb, clasp the big toe of the same-side foot. This will open your feet gently outward. Remember to keep the outer edges of your feet on the ground. If you can’t reach your feet, grasp your ankle or shin. Remain in the pose for one to five minutes and release.
Garudasana (Eagle Pose)
Benefits: This pose stretches the hips by activating internal rotation.
How to do it: Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Bend your knees slightly. Lift your left foot and cross it over your right thigh. Stretch your arms out in front of you. Cross your right arm over your left arm, palms facing away from each other. Turn your hands and press the palms together as much as possible. The thumb of your right finger should be in front of the little finger of your left hand. Focus on lifting the elbows toward the ceiling. Remain in the pose for 15 to 30 seconds, return to Tadasana and repeat on the other side.
Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
Benefits: This pose opens the hips and also stretches the hamstrings.
How to do it: Begin in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) with your right foot in front and your left hand on your hip. Bend the right knee and slide your left foot six to twelve inches forward. At the same time, reach your right hand forward and place on the ground at least a foot ahead of your right little toe. Exhale and press into your right hand and foot. Lift your left leg so that it is parallel or slightly above parallel to the ground. Turn your torso to the left so that your entire body is in one plane. Focus on keeping your left hip slightly forward. Remain in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.
Talk to your yoga teacher about which poses would be best for starting your quest for more supple hips or for exploring new edges. There is no one-pose-fits-all solution. Every body is different. Your teacher can help you to understand better how your body works—whether a tight lower back is aggravating your tight hips or whether your challenges are more the result a tight psoas muscle or just the way the hip joint is constructed. Enjoy the process as your hips begin to respond to your intentions. Celebrate the fact that, as you see progress, you’ll relax more into the poses—finding more room in your body and mind to expand your horizons.