Recently, I got a bit too overexcited demonstrating lotus pose. My students were warmed up, I was not. The result was a pulled glute muscle. It meant I had to really rein in the hip-opening poses that I love to do in my practice.
That got me thinking about why it is that I love to include hip openers in my asana practice. Whenever I do a specifically hips-focussed class or home practice, I finish feeling elated, euphoric. Opening through my hips and releasing that area of my body makes me feel spacious and light. I immediately feel more at ease physically and more connected to myself and my creativity. The physical feeling of space around my hips gives me more space to notice sensations arising in me both in my body and emotionally.
Perfect asana for modern day yogis…
Having a regular hip-opening practice – that is, moving as deeply into poses as YOU feel comfortable, not necessarily moving deep into advanced asana – can help create space, encourage creativity and alleviate lower back pain.
It’s particularly important if you sit a lot. Sitting all day can shorten the hip flexors, tighten the front of the hips and put pressure on the lower back, so doing a practice that includes a lot of counter poses will help to maintain a sense of ease in your body.
There are many muscles supporting the hips and although it can feel good to deeply stretch it is also important to strengthen the muscles to increase stability. Very deep stretching, especially held for a long time can begin to take a toll on the cartilage and ligaments that hold the hip in place and form part of the story of our range of movement. Sitting a lot weakens the muscles around this area through inactivity and under use.
Asanas like warrior III can help to strengthen the muscles around the hips. As you fold forward from the hip and lift one leg straight back behind you the muscles around your hips and abdomen have to turn on. In particular, the outer muscles of the hip of the lifted leg have to engage to ensure the hip doesn’t start to lift and roll upwards, but stays in line and squaring towards the floor.
All about that emotional release…
Hip openers are traditionally considered as emotional release poses too. If there is something difficult happening in your life, hip openers can be be known to open the floodgates emotionally. In yoga the hips are considered the physical storage point for many difficult-to-process emotions, including anger and despair. In fact, it doesn’t have to be something that is happening currently in your life, any emotional trauma that has not been fully dealt with could show up through a hip-opening practice, although it might not always be obvious what a wave of emotion is related to.
Be prepared, when practising hip openers that you may have an outpouring of emotion, and you may not know why. Be gentle with yourself, feel whatever comes up but if the practice starts to feel overwhelming – emotionally or physically – as always, slow down or just stop. Listen to yourself and your body, and know that you don’t have to go deep into pain. Little by little.
Practice, and stay safe…
Most hip-opening asanas can be practised gently or with a stronger intention in mind. Always be careful not to overstretch and do yourself a damage (like I did). Slowly but surely flexibility and strength will increase. As with all asana it is not the ability to reach the full expression of an asana, but the things that you learn about yourself as you practise. Always warm up before starting to practise deep stretches and start with more gently opening asanas first.
Some of my favourite hip opening poses are three-legged dog with a bent knee, a simple badhakonasana (butterfly pose), bridge (to open the front of the body), and once I’m really warmed up, pigeon pose and frog pose.
What are your favourite hip openers or strengtheners? Do you enjoy doing hip-focussed practices? What experiences have you noticed afterwards?