Our yoga practice is ever-evolving—never perfect and never complete. That’s the beauty of it! It changes over time, just like our muscles and joints. Hip-opening asanas are a core part of every yoga practice because they support a wide range of motion for our bodies—everything from riding a bicycle to bending over. (Read more in Naturally Healing Common Ailments Through Asana.)
In fact, over 20 muscles cross the hip area—from the adductors (inner thigh muscles) to the lateral rotators. In today’s working culture, excessive sitting gradually tightens the outer hips and glutes, causing a heavier load on our low back and spine. Many of us come to yoga to help ease this tension and stress so we can restore flexibility and strength. (Learn the 5 Best Yoga Pose for the Workaholic.)
Although we may dedicate only a portion of our yoga practice to hip-openers, these asanas help us regain mobility and agility throughout our entire body. The next time you’re on your yoga mat, try these hip-satisfying asanas.
Agnistambhasana (Fire Log Pose)
Although this seated asana may look unassuming, it's a powerful hip opener. The effectiveness of agnistambhasana can be increased by reaching forward with a straight spine during exhales. Even long time yogis may find this small adjustment of not rounding their back challenging.
Begin seated on your yoga mat in a cross legged seated position with a tall spine and sits bones pressing into the ground. Uncross your legs and stack your shins on top of one another. Both shins should be parallel to the top of your mat. Keep your ankles to the outside of your knees so that the heals are not pressing into your knee joints. Inhale deeply and on your exhale, fold forward from the hips keeping the spine long. You can stretch your arms out in line with your torso or place them on the ground in front of your legs. Hold for as long as feels comfortable, actively folding from the hips on each exhale. Release the pose and repeat with the opposite leg on top.
Malasana (Garland Pose)
The wide squatting stance of malasana may feel foreign if you spend most of the day sitting. However, it's hip-opening action will help lubricate hip joints and sockets in a gentle way. It also helps relieve compression on the tailbone, sacrum, and low back. This asana is especially beneficial for pregnant women.
Standing with your feet slightly wider than your hips, bend your knees and come into a deep squat. Bring your arms into anjali mudra. Press your elbows against the insides of the knees helping to move the knees wider apart. Breathe, relax your shoulders and lengthen the crown of your head upward. Use a yoga block or bolster for extra support. Relax and hold for 10 breaths. Release the hips by coming into uttanasana (standing forward bend).
Adho Mukha Kapotasana (Sleeping Pigeon Pose)
Adho mukha kapotasana is perhaps the most celebrated hip-opening asana and it’s either loved or dreaded. This challenging asana helps open the hip area by accessing the external rotators. Remember to be mindful of your alignment to avoid injury.
Beginning in adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog), bring your right knee to the ground outside your right hand. Slowly extend your left leg so it is straight behind you. Find length here while squaring your hips to the front of your mat. As you inhale and exhale deeper into this asana, begin folding over the right leg. To feel a deeper stretch, rest your forehead on stacked fists or a yoga block, or place your forehead all the way to the mat. Be mindful of keeping your weight evenly distributed across both hips. With rhythmic breath, hold for one to three minutes. Then draw your right leg up to adho mukha svanasana, peddle out your feet and repeat with the opposite leg. (Learn more in 7 Variations of Pigeon Pose.)
Open Hips, Open Mind
In ancient yogic tradition, the hips are known to house negative emotions and stiffness. Opening the hips through these three asanas helps us achieve a greater state of well-being both physically and emotionally, so we can experience a fulfilled life for years to come. (Continue reading in Unlocking the Stress in Your Body.)