We love to hate hip-opening exercises for the uncomfortable challenge and the concurrent feeling of release. Yet, our bodies crave the stretching and opening that becomes more difficult to achieve when we spend most of our time sitting in chairs and cars. These habits shorten our hip flexors and tighten our hip rotators.
People of traditional cultures typically spend more time sitting on the ground or squatting close to the ground. This keeps their hips open and flexible while also supporting a well-functioning digestive system.
As with all parts of the physical body, hips have an energetic quality that influences our consciousness and daily experiences. Associated with creativity and the emotional connection to self and others, this energy in the hips also impacts our ability to take a fluid, flexible, go-with-the-flow approach to life. That makes nourishing these energetic qualities critical to a modern lifestyle packed with busy working schedules, activities, a continuous stream of media of all forms and lots of unhealthy sitting.
By practicing these hip-opening poses, you can help boost your creative flow, balance your emotions, and improve your digestive and reproductive health.
1. Warrior I Pose (Virabhadrasana I)
The action of reaching through the outer edge of the back foot while squaring your hips toward your front knee activates a hip-opening stretch.
- Start in downward-facing dog pose.
- Raise your right leg and step forward into a high lunge.
- Place your back heel down on the mat, aligned with your right heel, with your toes facing forward at a 45- to 70-degree angle.
- Press the outer edge of your back foot down and square your hips forward.
- Inhale and raise your arms over your head, relaxing your shoulders down. Breathe into your hips, squaring them forward progressively more with each exhale.
- Hold this position for at least five full breaths.
2. Warrior II Pose (Virabhadrasana II)
Because we associate hips with the energy of emotions, connection, creativity and flow, opening them through these very powerful, standing poses provides an interesting exercise.
- From downward-facing dog pose, step forward with your right foot into a high lunge.
- Place the sole of your left foot down on the mat, perpendicular to your right foot, with your right heel aligned with your left arch.
- Square your hips and shoulders toward the long edge of your yoga mat.
- Open your arms so they are parallel to the floor and then deepen your lunge, keeping your back leg strong and straight.
- Gaze out over your right fingertips and breathe. Allow your breath to make space for your right knee to open.
- Hold this position for at least five full breaths, sinking down and opening the hips out with each one.
3. Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana)
Getting close to the earth in this low lunge will allow you to manage the depth of your stretch. Moving with attention to your body, use your breath to guide your hips open at small incremental stages for an intense muscle release.
- Starting in warrior two pose, cartwheel your hands to the mat on an exhale — framing your front foot. Lift your back heel off the mat, coming onto the toes in a high lunge.
- Drop your back knee onto the floor. Bring your hands to the inside of your front foot and walk your toes out diagonally to the corner of your yoga mat.
- Now begin to rock your front knee open and closed, coming onto the outer edge of your foot and back onto the sole with each breath.
- After a few breaths of rocking your knee, choose a challenging, but comfortable angle to stretch and hold while breathing.
- In the spirit of the fluid, creative energy of the hips and the sacral chakra, start to visualize your breath moving through your hips as you progress through the steps of this pose. You are not static. You are not one thing or the other. You continually transform and recreate yourself.
4. Half-Figure/Four-Chair Pose (Ardha Utkatasna)
Begin to think about the full range of motion in your hips. In this pose, once you steady your balance, explore the movement available to you by adjusting the depth of your squat.
- Standing in mountain pose, ground yourself into your right foot, raise your left knee, and cross your left ankle over your right knee.
- Now set your intention on shifting your left knee to the left, opening your hip without pulling back on the knee.
- Bring your hands together, with your thumbs touching the heart center, and fix your gaze on something that will not move.
- Keeping your chin tucked and your spine straight, start to sit into your hips by squatting on your right leg. Your left knee should continue to shift out to the left.
- Hold this pose just above your deepest squat and breath for five full breaths.
- Rise up steadily, extend your left leg in front of you, and then bring your left foot to the mat.
- Repeat this process on your other side.
5. Yogi Squat Pose (Malasana)
At once earthy and fluid, the yoga squat is a nurturing posture for the energy of safety and stability. With this foundation in place, your hips will begin to ease open. DO not hesitate to use the modification in the second instruction below if it will help you relax.
- Standing in mountain pose, open your feet as wide as the short end of your mat and then turn your toes out.
- Bring your hands together at your heart center and squat all the way down so your tailbone reaches toward the earth and your knees fold up close to your chest. (If your heels come off the floor, roll up a towel or another yoga mat to wedge under your heels.)
- Press your elbows into the inner edges of your knees/thighs to help guide your hips to open more deeply with every breath.
- Hold this pose for as long as you can. It’s very therapeutic and, ideally, you’d hold if for five full breaths. As long as you’re pain-free, consider holding it for five minutes or more.
- If you feel comfortable closing your eyes, do so and meditate again on the flow of breath swirling through your pelvis, making space in your hips for more flexibility, more connection to self, and more creativity.
6. Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)
Bound Angle can be challenging because of all the time we spend sitting in chairs. Practicing this pose is an excellent chance to practice non judgement and not striving – two essential principles of yoga. Give yourself permission to be where you are in this pose, return your attention to the breath, adopting the fluid, accepting energy of the hips.
- Sit on your mat — maintaining a straight spine — and bring the soles of your feet together, pulling the heels as close to the body as is comfortable for you. (You can practice this pose against a wall if your back starts to round out.)
- Rest your hands on your ankles and take several breaths while sitting upright.
- Now hinge at your hips and fold forward, keeping your spine long and your chin tucked in.
- Press your elbows into your knees, gently opening your hips even further, while reaching your nose to the floor just beyond your toes.
- Close your eyes and rest here, cultivating slow, easy breathing. Five breaths is a great start in this pose, but you can hold it for as long as you like.
As you develop greater flexibility and strength in your hips, you may notice your feelings begin to change, flare up, or otherwise make themselves more prominent. This is nothing to worry about. It’s just the multidimensional work of yoga. Become attentive to it and you’ll learn to gain wisdom about many aspects of your life through your physical yoga practice.