As a runner and yogi, I have a love-hate relationship with hip openers. Sometimes I want to grab my mat and run for the hills when I hear the word pigeon and other times the yoga teacher has to practically pry me out of the pose.
If this sounds familiar, don't fret; most people carry a lot of stress and tension in their hips. There are the lucky few who are very open and flexible but because we spend so much of our daily life sitting in chairs (and just sitting in general), the majority of us have found ourselves in a complicated relationship with our hips.
These are my favorite poses for increasing hip mobility and openness.
Don't go running for the hills, embrace your pigeon; your hips will thank you.
- From downward-facing dog, sweep your right shin toward the front of the mat.
- Place your right knee toward your right wrist and right ankle toward your left wrist (if your right hip remains elevated, you can set a blanket or bolster beneath it).
- Crawl your hands forward until your head is on the ground and breathe.
- Repeat on the other side.
As if one pigeon wasn't enough! This is one of my very favorite poses as it's so easy to track your progress once you're in it.
- Begin seated with both legs extended straight out in front of you.
- Bend your right knee to approximately a 90-degree angle and bring the outer edge of your bent right leg to rest on the mat in front of you. Your right shin should be parallel to the front of the mat and the right foot should be flexed and active (foot should be perpendicular to your shin).
- Bend your left knee and pick up your left leg to stack it on top of your right. The idea would be to stack the shins directly on top of one another. Again, try to make sure your left foot is flexed and active (this will help protect your knees).
- Keep your fingertips on the mat beside your hips and draw your shoulder blades down your back.
- If you're OK moving a bit deeper, try taking your hands on the ground in front of your legs and walk yourself forward over your legs, trying to maintain a nice flat back.
- Hold for a few breaths and then repeat on the other side.
*If stacking the hips seems impossible, straighten your bottom leg out in front of you. If the legs are stacked but the knee is lifted uncomfortably high, use a blanket or bolster under the knee for support.
Yes, yet another animal-themed pose that we all love to hate.
- From downward-facing dog, lift your right leg to the sky and open up your hip and bend your knee.
- Step your right foot outside of the right hand and then gently lower your left knee to the ground.
- If it feels good, gently lower your forearms to the ground and breathe.
- If you are still pretty comfortable, you can also walk your right foot out more to the right and start to rotate your foot to the outer knife edge.
- Breathe and relax into it and then repeat on the other side.
Wide-legged seated forward fold:
Wide-legged seated forward fold is a great way to stretch the inner thighs while also opening up the hips.
- Begin seated with the spine tall and legs extended straight out in front of you.
- Take your legs out as wide apart as you comfortably can, keeping feet flexed and active so the inner thighs don't collapse inwards. Kneecaps should point straight up toward the ceiling and heels should be rooting firmly into the ground.
- Place fingertips on the ground in front of you, just between your legs. Maintain the length along the spine, keep shoulders relaxed and chest open. Inhale.
- Exhale and slowly walk fingertips forward until you find an edge that feels appropriate for you. Avoid going too deep; if your spine starts to round and shoulders collapse, back off!
- If it's comfortable, come down on palms and forearms or take your torso down onto the ground between your legs.
Yoga squats are a more active way to open the hips and can also be used as a foundation for crow pose.
- From standing, heel-toe your feet a little more than hips width apart, pointing your toes out so that the hips are open.
- Start to soften and bend your knees, releasing your hips toward the ground, staying at whatever height feels good for you.
- Use your elbows to push lightly on the inside of the thighs and take hands together in prayer at the center of chest.
- Try to keep a long spine and breathe.
Whether you’re a runner, work in an office (and sit at a desk all week) or just have super-tight hips, try the above poses to increase your mobility and flexibility.
Photo credit: Jen Grantham/Getty Images