This article was originally published on August 1, 2014.
Last week when I did a yoga sequence for opening the back, a reader requested that I do a sequence of gentle yoga for opening the hips. As I mentioned, I’ve always had super flexible hips and legs from a young age. Physically, your hips store a lot of stress. Most of us work seated at a desk (often with crossed legs), walk, or run without giving much attention to opening the hips, which can result in soreness or worse, injury.
In yoga, this area of the body is the home to your root chakra and your sacral chakra. Your root chakra (muladhara) at the base of the spine is where our sense of identity and self-preservation is enabled. Your sacral plexus, located in your lower abs, is (unsurprisingly) related to intimacy, joy, and pleasure.
People who are balanced in these two chakras will feel grounded, confident, and stable in their identities, and be open to experiencing physical connection and pleasure. On the other hand, deficiency in these chakras may be manifested as insecurity, urge to control everything, repressed sexuality, unhealthy interpersonal boundaries and/or codependency. Even if you don’t subscribe to the chakra theory, I think the connection between your hips and pelvis to your personality makes sense intuitively. When your hips are tight, you’re likely holding onto the idea of control. Opening the hips allows you to let go of the need to control every aspect of your life, to accept and love your whole self, including your body. Your body is at the base level of your identity–and so, getting in touch with your hips is a way to become in tune with yourself at the most profound level.
Gentle Yoga for Opening the Hips
1. Ankle to knee
Begin by lying on the floor. Bring your left knee close to your chest and place your right ankle on your left knee, feeling your right hip open. Note: Play with where you place your ankle on your left knee or thigh to get the stretch that works for you. Opening the hip more will stretch your hip flexors, whereas closing it will stretch your glutes.
Keep your legs in the same position and let them fall onto the floor on your left–look to your right.
2. Butterfly stretch (baddha konasana)
Open your knees and bring the soles of your feet together. You may clasp the feet with your hands, or press down on your knees with your hands. Straighten your back, exhale and bring your torso to the front, so you rest your chin on the floor. (This helps keep the spine straight).
3. Goddess stretch
Stand with your feet about 3 1/2 feet apart, feet pointing out. Bend your knees (2nd position plie) so that your thighs are parallel to the floor. You may rest your elbows inside your knees and put your hands together in prayer–but for stretching, I really enjoy resting my hands on the knees and twisting my shoulders to open my upper back and chest (above). Switch sides.
4. Lizard pose
Start from downward dog, and step out with your right foot to the outside of your right hand. Lower your hips down and come onto your forearms. You can play with rocking your hips back and forth (I know) to get any tough places.
5. Low Lunge
From lizard pose, bring your back leg closer to your hips, and bring your torso up for a low lunge. This isn’t about working out your supporting thigh but stretching your hips–you should feel an intense stretch on your left (back leg) hip flexor. If you don’t feel much stretching, tuck in your tailbone and sit it lower.
6. Forward fold
From low lunge, bring your hips to your back foot, straighten the front leg. Fold over your front leg.
7. Head to knee (janu sirsasana)
From forward fold, open your hips, un-tuck your lower leg, and sit on your butt. Square your hips to your extended leg, and fold over with a straight torso. Grasp your foot with your hands–you may also cross your wrists for deeper stretch through your sides.
8. Rock star variation
From head to knee, raise your hips up, arch your back for a rock star variation.
9. Frog Pose
Start on your hands and knees. Spread your legs wider and sit back onto your hips so that your pelvis gets as close to the floor as possible without compromising the integrity of your spine. You may put your feet together so that your leg forms a bow–or, for more challenge, you may keep your feet apart and shins parallel to one another for deeper inner groin stretch.
Also see: Yoga for Opening the Back
Yoga for Opening the Third Eye Chakra
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling