As children, we are naturally flexible, gumby-limbed little beings who can bend and stretch in any way we desire without anything locking up on us. As we get older, and if we have put in years of trekking, cycling, running, skiing, or even if we are chronic sitters due to career choice or leisure activities, physical discomfort is inevitable if we are lacking openness and balance in the hip region. Whatever the repeat activity we engage in, chances are we have all experienced hip tightness. Think about when you first rise from bed in the morning, walking like the Tin Man, going about your morning activities with a bit of nagging back pain or knees that will not bend until you become more mobile throughout the day.
Hip tightness can cause an array of physical discomfort from literally altering your gait to making once-enjoyed activities painful and unpleasant. A lack of fluidity in the hips can exacerbate already-existing back and knee pain, or can eventually become the source of back and/or knee problems due to overcompensation in these areas of our body. Each muscle, joint, tendon, ligament and limb has its assigned duty to carry out the physical task we are attempting. When one body part is dysfunctional due to weakness, injury or immobility, our bodies compensate by relying on another part to take over a function. If we can take time — literally just 10 to 15 minutes a day — to focus on restoring functionality to that pesky part that is disrupting the natural balance and flow of our bodies, we can reduce or eliminate pain and increase our athletic agility, strength and stamina.
Adding these top 10 hip opening yoga poses to the end of each workout (or after a hot shower or bath) will restore strength and openness in your outer hips, psoas muscles (located in the lumbar region), hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings and lower back. Try holding each asana for 10 slow, deep breaths. Ease into each pose slowly and do not force the stretch.
Sit upright with your shoulders rolled back. Your knees are bent and opened to the sides and the bottoms of your feet are touching. Hold your feet with your hands and let your elbows gently push your knees closer to the floor as you take a deep breath and exhale bending forward at the waist. Continue to hold this pose for up to 10 breaths and try to deepen the stretch slightly with each breath. If needed, yoga blocks can be placed under each knee for comfort. This asana releases tightness in your lower back and opens the hips and inner thighs.
Lying on your back, bend both knees with your feet flat on the ground. Cross your right ankle over your left leg with the outer part of your right ankle resting above the left knee. Slowly pull your left leg up and into the chest with both hands on your left hamstring. Hold for a count of 10 breaths then release and repeat this pose on the other side. This asana focuses on reducing tension held in your glutes and hamstrings.
From Downward Facing Dog pose, bring your left leg through your arms and place your left knee on the floor, aligning it with your left thumb. Open your left foot to the side and keeping your right leg straight, slide it back until you feel as though you are in a bent legged split. Try to keep your left shin horizontal in front of you and root down with the right hip as much as your flexibility will allow. Steady yourself with your hands on the floor. Hold this pose for a count of 10 breaths. With each breath, lower your torso into the stretch with the eventual goal of folding completely over until you can rest your head to the ground in this hip opening yoga pose. This is my favorite asana for stretching the glutes and hip flexors. If you can rest your forehead on the ground, this pose will also release tension in your back.
In Downward Dog Pose, lift your right leg high behind you with a flexed foot. Bend at the knee and start rotating your right leg out while keeping your hips squared. Keep your pelvis tucked under and inward to protect your back. This pose can be an intense hip opener and you may not be able to hold it for 10 breaths. Aim for 5 slow breaths then switch to your other side.
This pose is similar to the One Legged King Pigeon Pose above. From Downward Dog Pose, bring your left leg forward through your arms. Your left knee will be bent and your left foot will be flat on the ground. Your right leg will stay extended and your right knee will slightly touch the ground. Bend both arms and rest your forearms on the ground on the inside of your left leg. Repeat on the other side.
This asana is welcoming after some of the more intense poses. Lie on your back, bend your knees into your chest. With hands facing each other, loop your index and middle fingers around your big toes. Draw your legs outward with both knees bent and gently pull the knees down to the floor, deepening the stretch with each of your 10 breaths.
This pose will stretch your hip flexors and activate your glutes, and inner and outer thighs. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Arms are extended, resting on each side of your body and your hands will be flat on the floor. Push into your feet and slowly raise your hips towards the ceiling. You can clasp your hands underneath you which helps to open your chest and extend your upper back. Slowly raise one leg while maintaining this bridge pose and repeat on the opposite leg.
You will be positioned on all fours for this hip opening yoga pose. Bring your forearms to the floor and widen your knees as far as apart they will comfortably go. Think how a frog’s lower body appears when it is still. Come out of this pose by raising yourself up onto each hand then gently slide one knee in at a time by shifting your body weight to each side.
When you have eased out of Frog Pose and have returned to all fours, with knees wide, feet facing the ceiling and big toes touching, simply let your sit bone rest on the tops of your feet, hands outstretched in front of you and forehead touching the ground. This is a restful ansana that will help you prepare for your final pose.
Lie down on your back with arms extended and relaxed at your sides, palms facing up. Bend the knees and touch the soles of your feet together so your knees open to the sides. Breath deeply and relax into this hip opening yoga pose for 10 breaths.
— Shawna Sullivan is a Colorado-based writer, athlete and fitness competitor. Our yoga model Erin Bruce is a Registered Yoga Teacher. Photos by AHB Media.