Every area of your body works as a team. Your hips are in the corner office. Virtually every movement you make originates in your hip cradle, from walking to standing to sitting to bending over to pick up your mat. But, it’s also an area that holds a lot of baggage, both physical and emotional. You might look in the mirror and not like the way your lower body looks in jeans. Or maybe it’s the fact that you can’t squish yourself into a pancake on the mat that has you feeling inadequate. Many of probably have an acquaintance with your hips that is only superficial and often negative, condemning them for what they can’t do or won’t fit.
But, in addition to not getting you anywhere, all that tension about your hips shows up in your hips—often in the form of pain of tightness that makes you feel limited. Your body is a powerful mirror of your mind. The journey toward a happy lower body starts with tossing out preconceived notions about “good enough.” Next time you are on the mat, focus your intention on affirmations like “I honor what my body allows me to do” or “I am moving toward freedom in my lower body.” That can be a huge first step toward letting go of stress.
Of course, hip pain can have purely physical causes, as well. The most common among Westerners is tightness in the hip flexors (which run down the front of your hip joint). Sitting for long periods can exacerbate that feeling, as can some repetitive sports. If that’s the case for you, think about isolating your hips in backbends and warriors, making sure to feel the stretch in your hips instead of a “gripping” feeling in your back.
If it’s an injury or pain that you feel binding your Sukhasana (Easy Pose), you might need to approach your practice differently. Obviously, the first step is a visit to the doctor if the pain has been going on for a long time or is the result of an acute injury. Once you’re cleared to practice, you’ll want to focus on both building strength in the muscles around the hip and loosening muscles and tendons that tend to be tight. Imbalance is a frequent cause of chronic injury. Like many yoga students, as Yoga Journal notes, you might have focused on stretching your just your hamstrings, which can make tight hip flexors pull on your pelvis and create misalignment. Here are some poses that take a holistic approach to strengthening and loosening your hips.
High Lunge (Variation)
Benefits: This pose stretches your hip flexors and strengthens your hamstrings, helping to “even out” your pelvis.
How to do it: Begin in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Bring your right foot forward between your hands, making sure your knee does not bend past a 90 degree angle. Inhale and bring your arms up, pointing your fingers toward the ceiling. Focus on lifting your hipbones into your ribs. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.
Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana (Standing Split)
Benefits: This pose provides an intense release for your hip flexors and a stretch in your hamstrings.
How to do it: Begin in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose) with your right leg in front. On an exhale, twist to the right, letting your left heel come off the floor. Place your body onto your right thigh and put your hands on the ground or on blocks on either side of your right foot. Shift your weight into your right foot. On an inhale, lift your left leg as far as you can while still keeping both hipbones facing the same direction (you will tend to want to open your left hip, but try to keep it facing the ground or back wall). Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.
Garudasana (Eagle Pose)
Benefits: This pose helps release the iliotibial (IT) band, an often-overlooked cause of hip pain and stiffness.
How to do it: Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Bring your left leg over your right thigh and bend into your knee. Then, cross your arms in front of you so that the right arm is on top of your left, then place your right elbow into the crook of your left arm. Your palms will be facing away from each other. Turn them in to face each other and bring them as close together as you can. Remain in this pose for 15 to 30 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.
Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)
Benefits: The gentle external rotation of this pose loosens your hips without stressing your knees.
How to do it: Begin lying on your back. On an inhale, bring your knees into your chest and grasp your feet with your hands. Opening your knees slightly wider than your shoulders, gently pull your feet down. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release.
Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend)
Benefits: This pose stretches your hamstrings and inner thighs.
How to do it: Begin in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Lean back slightly and open your legs to a 90 degree angle. Press your hips forward to open your legs farther. Hinge from your hips to bend forward, keep your back long. Stay in this pose for one minute or longer.
While these poses all target important piece of hip strength and flexibility, it’s important to remember that your hips are also affected by other parts of your body, so keep your practice balanced. A weak core can make tight hip flexors worse or tight shoulders can pull your lower half out of alignment in poses like Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose). Make sure your body works as a whole on—and off—the mat.