A phrase you may often hear in Yoga practice is “Ok, now for a hip opener.”
But what does it actually mean when we say to open your hips in yoga?
In yoga when we refer to the hips what we’re actually referring to is the composition of the pelvis, lower spine and upper leg bones (also known as femurs) and all the muscles that gel them together.
That means that when we talk about loosening or opening the hips, what we really mean is we’re going to be moving all of those muscles, lengthening or centering the pelvis and straightening the spine.
Why? Because for a vast majority of us, we’ll experience tighter hip flexors and rotators as well as weaker femurs due to a more sedentary lifestyle, primarily caused by having an office job.
Related Reading: 5 Yoga Poses To Do If You Sit Down All Day
If those muscles get too tight, and our bones too weak, it has a detrimental effect on our posture. This then has a knock-on effect on the stability of our spine and our subsequent ability to walk, run, or move without injury.
So, just how can you loosen your hips with yoga? We’ve listed some easy to moderate exercises you can do below that will help you open up those stiff hips by targeting and moving each of the four primary muscles involved in hip movement.
1. Happy Baby Pose
Happy Baby is a yoga exercise that will bring a smile to your face, as well as your hips! This exercise gently stretches your inner thighs, groin and hamstrings whilst opening the hip flexors.
To perform the Happy Baby Pose:
Lie flat on your back. Exhale, and as you do so bring your knees up to your chest.
Inhale, and grab onto either the outside of your feet or if possible, the inner arches of your feet.
Spread your knees apart, bringing them up to your armpits.
Flex through your heels, pushing your feet actively into your hands to create resistance.
Breathe deeply, and hold the pose for at least 30 seconds.
To release, gently let go of your feet, and place them back on the floor.
2. Threading the Needle
Threading the Needle is a great move that can be performed in two varieties: Either on the knees for a full body strengthener, or as we’re going to do, on the back for a hip and thigh opener.
To perform Thread the Needle:
Lay flat on your back with your knees bent so that your feet are flat on the floor.
Lift your left leg, placing your ankle below your right knee. This should create a 4 like shape.
Now reach your left arm through the opening you have created, clasping your hands together behind your right knee.
Lift your right foot off the floor, flex your left foot and gently pull your right knee toward your chest.
Hold the pose for 30 seconds. To come out of the pose, unclasp your hands, lower your right foot to the floor and uncross your left leg so that you are back where you started.
Repeat the entire movement again on the opposite side.
3. Low Lunge
The Low Lunge is a great move to keep those hip flexors flexible! Plus low lunges benefit the gluteal muscles, quads and hamstrings too so it’s a great all rounder.
To perform the Low Lunge:
Begin in a runners lunge by placing your right leg forward, making sure that your right knee is over your right ankle. Your left knee should remain on the ground with the top of your left floor pressing firmly into the floor.
Find and engage your centre by lifting up from the pelvic floor.
Now lean your hips forward slightly, ensuring to keep your right knee behind your toes and you should feel the stretch in your left hip flexor.
Depending on your level of comfort there is an optional step here to create a deeper stretch by raising your arms above your head so that your biceps are by your ears.
Whether in the deeper pose or not, hold for 30 seconds and breathe deeply, then repeat on the opposite side.
To exit the pose, slowly lean your hips back so that you are centered again, then return to tabletop position by placing your hands on the mat and bending your right knee to match your left on the ground.
4. Pigeon Pose
Pigeon Pose is a moderate difficulty pose. Whilst it requires a much deeper stretch, it rewards the yogi by truly stretching the hip flexors, opening the glutes, and relaxing the piriformis and psoas muscles found deep in the hips.
To perform the Pigeon Pose:
Start in tabletop position. From there, lift your right knee, bringing it up and forwards toward your right wrist. Everybody is different, so if this is behind your wrist or toward the outer or inner edge of it - this is fine!
Settle on a position that feels comfortable for you, ensuring you are stretching the hips without causing discomfort to your knee.
Make sure your right ankle is in front of your left hip.
Slide your left leg back and actively flex through your toes by keeping your heel pointing toward the ceiling.
Draw your legs toward each other to bring the hips together. If you need to, use support like a block or pillow underneath your right buttock to help keep your hips level.
Inhale deeply, drawing your navel in toward your chest, lengthening your spine and opening your chest toward the sky.
Now exhale, slowly walking your hands forward and lowering your upper body to the floor. If at any point you feel discomfort, reach the level that is right for you and stay there. If it is possible to go deeper, rest your forearms and forehead on the mat.
Hold the position for five breaths, concentrating in order to release the tension in your right hip through each cycle of breath.
To exit the pose, place your palms flat on the floor, push through your hands, and then lift your hips to gently move your leg back onto all fours. Now repeat the pose on the opposite side.
5. Downward Dog Split
Downward Dog may be a resting position in Yoga practice, but did you know it comes with variations that are great for opening the hips? In Downward Dog Split you can strengthen your arms and core whilst improving awareness of the hip position and its flexibility.
To perform the Downward Dog Split:
Begin in downward dog.
Inhale, and as you do so lift your right leg off the ground behind you, keeping your hips square with the floor.
Extend through your right leg and the crown of your head, keeping a straight line from head to toe.
Hold the pose for 2-3 breath cycles. Then, bend your right knee and slowly begin to open your right hip by stacking your right hip on top of, or over, your left. Try to prevent the torso from bending whilst you do so. Keep active in the palms for stability.
After 2-3 more breath cycles, straighten your right leg, and square your hips back toward the floor.
To exit the pose, release your right foot to the ground. Remain in downward dog for 2-3 more cycles before repeating the pose on the other side.
At Firefly we have a variety of yoga sessions designed to revitalise and invigorate our bodies, especially those which sit at desks. One of these is our Hatha Yoga practices which are designed to increase body flexibility and encourage muscle toning. To find out more visit our Hatha Yoga page or try a session with us today to truly feel the benefits of full body yoga.