Strengthen, support, and stretch out your hips.
Every time I ask for requests in my yoga classes, someone mentions hip openers. Lots of people go to yoga simply because their hips brought them there! Our hips are designed to move in a lot of different directions, but we tend to only move them one way—to sit down. Everyone loves to open their hips, but it’s also very important to strengthen them. Happy, healthy hips can ease back pain, improve posture and circulation, and help us feel calmer and more relaxed in our lives. Here are three poses you can do to strengthen, support, and stretch out your hips.
Jane Fonda Chair
The common yoga pose Chair is good for heating the body and bringing work into the quadriceps, but it doesn’t do much for the glutes unless we can add some movement. Healthy hips mean a strong bum that’s able to stabilize the back, hip joints, and pelvic floor.
For this version of the chair pose, stand with your feet hips distance apart or slightly wider. Feet should be parallel, but if your knees bother you, turn the feet out a little bit. As you inhale, reach your arms up and sit your butt down like you were going to sit on a stool or, if you want to make it harder, a chair as low as your knees (no lower). As you exhale, press into your heels to stand up and pull your hands down to your hips. Repeat 5-10 times (and think of Jane Fonda in her workout days)
The trick with this one is to press your heels down and apart like you were trying to stretch the mat between them as your straighten the legs. This helps the glutes activate and take some of the work out of the quads. Squeeze those buttcheeks as you come to standing.
High Hip Flexor Lunge
The psoas is a hip flexor that runs from your mid spine through the front of your pelvis and attaches at the front of your hip. When we sit all day, this muscle can get really tight and constricted, and that can contribute to stress (learn more at my post about the psoas here.)
From standing, step your right foot back into a short high lunge position. Keep your back heel high over your toes. Bend both knees, but not too deeply. Tuck your tailbone under, gently engage your core and squeeze your butt: your glutes help release your psoas. Keep all this and slowly straighten your back leg until you feel a stretch in the front of your back thigh. You can reach your arms up if you like. Hold for 3-5 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Thread the Needle on the Wall
This version of Thread the Needle is pretty relaxing and excellent for opening the outer hips. Lie on your back and swing your legs up a wall. Start with your butt about a shin’s distance away from the wall, two feet or so. Put your right ankle on your left thigh just above the knee. Slowly bend your left leg until you feel a stretch in your outer hip area. Keep your right foot flexed. You might also like to put your right hand on your right thigh and gently guide it towards the wall.
If you don’t feel anything, go closer to the wall. If it’s too much or your butt starts curling off the floor, move farther away and/or put a folded blanket under your lower back. If you like, gently sway the legs from side to side, and you may feel different parts of the hips opening up at different angles. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then switch to the other side.