Hip opening is probably the biggest request I get when teaching yoga classes. Almost everyone has tight hips—from sitting, from walking, cycling, or running. And tight hips often also mean an unhappy lower back. Yoga is commonly prescribed by medical doctors for patients dealing with lower back pain, partly because yoga is so effective at opening the hips.
But part of the secret to soft hips is strong hips. As much as hips need to be opened, they also need to be strengthened. This is a very emotional area: it’s the pelvis, the safe shelter for of our reproductive and pelvic organs, the source of much of our mobility in the world, and the location of our most intimate experiences.
[Read: “The Spiritual Meaning of Hip Pain.”]
In order to release the hips, we also must learn to breathe. When we learn to breathe, we are also learning to feel. As always, check with your health practitioner before you try any of these postures to make sure they are safe for your body.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. As you inhale, relax your belly and pelvic floor, filling up with breath, and tilt your pelvis forward so your lower back arches off the floor. Keep your bum down. As you exhale, squeeze your pelvic floor in and up (like you were trying not to go to the bathroom) and hollow out your belly, drawing belly button to spine, and flatten your lower back to the ground. Repeat six or more times.
Now try the movement side to side. You can start by rocking your knees side to side, feeling the pelvis tilting to the right and to the left (don’t worry about contracting the core). Then try tilting the pelvis without rocking the knees side to side—you might notice that instead it feels like the knees are rocking forward and back.
From here, see if you can make a circle with the back of your pelvis, massaging the outer edges of the sacrum. Circle 5-10 times in one direction, then try the other way.
Lie on your side, back neutral, head supported in your hand, on your arm, or on a pillow. With your bottom knee bent, straighten your top leg, floating it off the ground in line with the rest of your body. Point your toe and make circles with your leg, trying to make sure you go above your hip, in front of, and behind it with your circle (a bit bigger than a basketball). Try for ten circles in one direction and ten the other way. Then switch sides.
Supine Cow Face Pose
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Then cross your right leg over your left like you were sitting cross-legged in a chair. Then bring the legs in: you might hold your top knee, your closer thigh, your further one, or even your shins; grab whatever you can. Some people really benefit from a low cushion behind the lower back here, which helps lift the legs more gently towards the chest. You could try rocking a little from side to side to try to find a good stretch in the outer hips. Breathe deeply, allowing any emotions to rise and fall.
Sit on your shins, bringing the toes together and the knees as wide as you like (try rib’s distance or even wider). Lay your belly over your thighs and rest your forehead on the floor, a cushion, or slide a bolster in between your knees. Your arms can reach forward with bent elbows or let the hands rest beside your hips. This should be quite comfortable: if your knees don’t like it, try placing a prop between your hips and heels. If that still doesn’t work, curl up on your side with a prop under your head.
Breathe deeply into the belly, allowing the lower back to widen and relax. See how much you can soften here. Stay for one to five minutes, if it’s comfortable, and simply allow the hips, belly, and back to open. Ride the waves of any emotions that come up by continuing to breathe as deeply as you can.
For more of Julie’s tips for strong hips, try flexing your butt core in these poses.