By Rebecca Linebaugh
If you’re like me when you hear “hip opener” you can’t help but picture some sort of birthing class or maybe a Kama Sutra class. What does it mean to open your hips? I didn’t even know they were shut? I am excited to talk about hips and share some awesome poses! They can be so much more than the basic gym warm up stretches you do when you don't know what to do (and you’re trying to put off the actual workout).
I remember the first time I was taught hip openers, I was so impressed at how good it felt to do stretches specifically for my hips. A friend once said after a yoga class “wow, I feel stretched in muscles I didn’t even know I had.” I think this is a perfect way to describe hip openers. You don’t know how much you need it until you’re in it (or once you’re out of it).
Hip flexibility is important when living an active and healthy life. Poor form can cause us to over compensate and strain our lower backs and knees. It’s so cool how improving one area of the body can positively affect the rest of the body. I’ve dealt with hip pain before, caused from daily life. From sleeping on a lumpy couch or mattress to driving long distances, PMSing, pregnancy, bad shoes, running on pavement, the list is endless. These daily traumas to our hips will be different for everyone, but are unavoidable. Sometimes even simple poses such as easy seated or child's pose are so uncomfortable I can’t do them for more than a few seconds. When I’m that sensitive its usually a hormonal issue, not fun, I’m sure some of you can relate. Whatever the cause may be, living with this pain is avoidable!
So, back to learning about the magic of hip-openers. Always listen to your body, be gentle with yourself, and remember to warm up with simple stretches before spending long amounts of time in deep hip openers. First, let’s visualize our hips, the bone and joint where your femur head connects your leg to your pelvis. This joint is a ball-and-socket joint, called the Acetabulum. Unlike our knee joint, which works like a door hinge, the hip joint swings back and forth, in and out. If you’ve ever heard a yoga or dance instructor say “square your hips” or “exteriorly rotate the hip” they’re talking about the position of the hip joint. My hips naturally want to exteriorly rotate, it is so annoying and I’m constantly interiorly rotating so I can be squared up. It’s should be obvious, but I think it’s important to say everyone’s hips/joints are unique. Maybe you’ve been an avid bicyclist your whole life, or birthed twelve babies, maybe you have naturally wide hips or narrow hips, my point being, yoga looks different on every body. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do a straddle split, even after trying for years, I can’t either. We’ll just say people who can drop down to the perfect spit are freaks of nature who have perfectly shaped acetabulum. Just make sure you consider your physical make up and evaluate your daily actives. Sometimes new shoes, foam rolling, a new chair or stretch routine is what our hips need to feel our best.
Hip Circles are easy, but effective hip stretches. It’s as basic as swaying your hips in a dramatic circle (don’t forget to reverse direction!) You can do hip circles pretty much anywhere, sitting, standing, kneeling on all fours, in downward facing dog, three-legged dog etc. This brings awareness to the hips, circulation and lubricates the joint, win-win-win! In a yoga class we would do these all throughout class but definitely in the beginning. Hip Circles are a great way to start out slow and show your hips some love.
Crescent low lunge pose is a great stretch for our hip flexors. For this pose you want to get into a low lunge, lift your knee at a 90 degree angle (make sure you keep your knee stacked with your ankle to protect your joints). With your right knee resting on the mat, toes untucked, place your left hand on your bent knee or hip. Raise your right arm or both arms above your head and bring your gaze up to meet your hand. Add a slight back bend. Hold for about five slow breaths. You’re doing it right if your hip flexor is quietly screaming at you. It’s also a nice pose to get a side body stretch. Slightly lean over your left hip, creating space between your right ribs. Crescent low lunge is great if you’re working towards a full split or to counter act all the sitting we do.
Lizard pose, from Downward Facing Dog. Step your right foot to the outside of your right hand. Turn your right toes out slightly and come down to your elbows, you can put a block underneath your elbows if necessary. Keep your neck long as a natural extension of your spine. Press your left heel away and keep your hips square. Another option is to bring your left knee to the ground and try to sink deeper into the pose. This is a great hip opener I like to do after biking or running. If you’re warmed up it’s a nice pose to spend longer amounts of time in.
Pigeon pose, one of my favorite deep hip stretches, hurts so good. Begin in either Downward Facing Dog or Table Top. Bring your right leg forward placing your shin perpendicular to the front edge of your mat (or in towards your groin is fine too, this depends on the flexibility of your hips and the shape of your skeleton). Settle into it, dropping your back knee to the mat and untucking your toes. If you want to feel more supported, square your hips and use a block or a rolled-up blanket under your right leg, this also protects your knee. Take a few breaths here then move your upper body forward and allow yourself to melt down over your front leg. Go slow, breathe, and use a prop to come down on, slowly going deeper and deeper. This is another great hip stretch to spend some time in, just remember to be warmed up first. I think this is a pose to work towards and save for the end of your practice. Zero to Pigeon just won’t go well for most of us
Those are a few great yoga poses your hips will love to work on. If you’re interested in trying these poses and more, please let me extend an invite to our hip opener class! I’d love to have you and help you continue the journey to better hip health. I’m not a Doctor or a Physical Therapist or a Chiropractor or any kind of medical professional. What I’m sharing here is my own personal experience, with my own body and yoga journey and what works best for me. I look at my 11 month old daughter with amazement as she squats for long periods of time or effortlessly brings her toes to her mouth. She reminds me we were born flexible, we once had perfect form without even trying. Of course, the body of a baby shouldn’t be anyone’s goal, but still we weren't meant to be held back by painful hips or tight joints. So remember to be gentle with yourself and listen to your body, and get regular chiropractic adjustments to stay mobile and in alignment. Your hips don’t lie.
Rebecca Linebaugh, 200 hour teacher training graduate