5 Yoga Poses for Tight HipsAs a yoga teacher, I often ask my students what they would like to focus on in class and it is not unusual to hear them cry out: “hip openers!” There are various reasons for tight hips and yoga students of all levels can find benefits from soothing and stretching the muscles that affect hip mobility.
One of the most common ways we create hip tightness and inflexibility is through an excess of sitting. Many of us are seated for many hours in a single day; at the computer, in the car, eating meals, in front of the TV, etc... This abundance of sitting shortens and tightens a group of muscles called the hip flexors. Since these muscles connect the thighbones to the pelvis and spine, discomfort may originate in the hips or in the low back.
Another culprit of tight hips? Exercise! Runners often complain about hip tightness. Running, walking, cycling, and hiking strengthen the hip muscles but do not stretch them. Sports that emphasize one side of the body, like golf or baseball, can also cause hip issues. By always swinging a golf club in one direction and not the other (which is the point of course), muscular imbalances can occur along the hips and spine. Athletes who incorporate yoga into their routines not only feel less joint discomfort, but often also notice their overall athletic performance improved.
Hip openers may feel intense while we are practicing them. But, as we become more flexible, we are left with less pain and greater mobility. Keep in mind when practicing the postures that dull aching sensations in the muscles are normal while sharp or shooting pain is a signal to back off.
Eye of the NeedleThis is a wonderful pose for both beginners and individuals who find the hips excessively tight. In my yoga classes, when we are practicing more advanced hip openers, I often suggest this one as an alternative.
Start by lying on your back with both feet on the floor and both knees bent. Bring the right ankle to the left knee. Pick the left foot off the floor and interlace the hands behind the left hamstring. If this is too deep, modify the pose by bringing the left foot to the wall and not interlacing the hands. In either variation, the back of the head should relax comfortably on the floor. If the chin is lifting up towards the ceiling, place a rolled towel or yoga blanket under the neck. Change sides.
Low LungeThis pose stretches the psoas muscle, a deep muscle, which connects the legs, spine and pelvis and is responsible for hip flexion.This pose also effectively stretches the groin and thighs.
From a kneeling position bring the right foot forward while keeping the left knee on the floor. Begin to slide the left knee backwards (or walk the right foot forwards) until you achieve a lunge position. This pose can be done with the hands resting on the front leg, or with both arms up alongside the ears. Let the right femur bone draw forward as the tailbone relaxes down toward the floor and the sternum and crown of the head lift towards the sky. Change sides.
Pigeon PosePerhaps the most well-known yoga hip opener, this pose stretches the outer hip and groin of the forward leg and the hip flexors of the rear leg.
Come onto your hands and knees on the floor. Bring the right knee between your hands. Sit down on your outer right hip. If your right buttocks cannot comfortably rest on the floor, place a blanket or pillow underneath it, as both hips should be on the same plane. The left leg will be outstretched behind you with toes turning down to the floor. To decrease sensation in the hip, bring the right heel closer into the groin. To increase sensation, bring the right heel away from the groin, closer to 90 degrees. Walk your torso out over the right leg keeping the hips level. Using a bolster or blankets under the chest can create a more soothing, supported feel in the pose. Change sides.
Piriformis StretchThe piriformis is a small muscle that attaches the back of the sacrum to the thigh bone. Its job is to rotate the femur outward. When tight, it can cause what is called “false sciatica”- a discomfort in the buttocks area caused by the muscle irritating the sciatic nerve (“true sciatica” is when a herniated disc compresses on the nerve). Stretching the piriformis can feel intense at first and becomes less intense when practiced regularly.
Sit with the hips raised on the edge of a folded blanket and both feet on the floor. Bend the left leg and bring the left heel in towards the right buttock. Place the right foot on the floor to the outside of the left thigh. Let both sitting bones rest evenly on the folded blanket and gently lift the sternum and crown of the head toward the sky. If needed, use more blankets under the sitting bones. You may hold onto the right leg with both hands to help stabilize the pose. Change sides.
Reclined Hero PoseThis pose is wonderful for those who suffer from hip or low back pain due to sciatica. It is also beneficial for general hip and low back tightness and for stretching the quadriceps.
Place one or more folded blankets or a yoga bolster behind you. Sit upright on your knees with the bolster or blankets behind you. Spread your knees apart so your thighs create a “V” shape. The heels will be snug under the sitting bones. This may be enough for beginners. If you would like to go deeper, lie back onto the bolster/blankets. Make sure to use as many folded blankets as needed to lie back comfortably. Another option is to sit between the feet and calves instead of on them—in this case your buttocks would be on the floor.
Cory Sipper is a certified yoga instructor and author of the popular ebook "Yoga for Conception." She lives in Ojai, CA with her husband and two daughters.