When I lived in San Francisco, I took a vinyasa class from a well-known instructor there, Stephanie Snyder. She explained the importance of hip opener stretches metaphorically: calling our pelvis the “emotional junk drawer of the body that stores all of our emotional crap.”
I like this metaphor she used in class, which if taken one step further: how GREAT does it feel to clear out that junk drawer? Opening up your hips feels that same way.
First, a vocabulary reference for anatomical terms of motion:
Extension vs. Flexion
Flexion– any movement that pulls the limb forward
Extension– any movement that brings the limb toward the posterior part of body
Abduction vs. Adduction
Abduction– motion away from the body
Adduction– motion toward the body
Internal Rotation vs. External Rotation
Internal Rotation– rotation toward the center of the body
External Rotation– rotation away from the midline
Your hips can do all of these movements. Finding different poses to balance these motions is important for “clearing the junk drawer” best.
Listed below are hip openers I recommend trying:
1. Wide leg forward fold: Start in a standing position and heel-toe your feet apart about 3-4-ft. The gap between your legs should be wider than your hips (the wider the gap = deeper the stretch). Your feet should be parallel or slightly pigeon-toed for better balance. Then, hinge forward from the hips, keeping a straight back while the head and neck remain relaxed, in a neutral position. Stay here for a few breaths and send your breath into your hips and the back of your legs to create space.
2. Low Lunge: From a standing position with your feet hip width distance apart, bend at the knees and send one leg straight back behind you, staying on the ballpoint of that back foot. Stay here, or lightly place the kneecap or top thigh of the back leg on the ground behind you. To protect the knee joint of your front leg, the knee should be stacked directly over the ankle of the front foot, creating a bend that makes a 90-degree angle. Make sure to square your hips to the top of your mat and then sink into your pelvis further; this slight correction enables you to maintain the stretch in your psoas muscle (which is responsible for aiding you in any backbend). If you are ever in a yoga class wondering why your instructor makes you take all those lunges, it’s probably because they are warming you up for a backbend. Once you’ve done one leg, make sure to switch.
3. Triangle Pose: With your feet spread wide and parallel, pivot on the heel of your right foot to turn your foot out to the side (externally rotating your right leg). This movement creates a heel to arch alignment between your feet. Keeping the legs straight, extend both arms out to the sides (away from the body). Hinge forward at the hips in the direction of the right foot and then drop your right hand to a block, your shin, ankle or to the ground, sending the fingertips of the left arm to the sky. Align your body in this pose so that it looks like it’s along a linear plane, with joints stacked and muscles engaged. Rooting through your feet to maintain balance. After staying here for a few breaths, switch sides.
Hip openers are especially great since this joint plays a huge role in all that you do all day: sitting, standing, walking… everything. Here are some quick and basic movements to help bring oxygenated blood flow back into your hips.