Some people have naturally open hips and, therefore, hip openers in yoga feel like heaven. For others who have tight hips or hips that have been made tight by running or sports, hip openers can be the most dreaded part of a yoga class. Pigeon gets called, and all of a sudden you stop breathing, or a seated wide legged-forward fold is in the sequence, and you just grit your teeth and wait for it to end.
Sound familiar? Trust me when I say I have been there—yes, me, a yoga instructor! It took countless times of showing up to the mat, breathing, and relaxing for this pattern to change. Things don’t happen over night, but if you take the time to let your hips relax and open in their own time, hip openers will feel amazing! Bonus: so too will your back and all of the other parts of your body connected to your hips.
These poses might do the trick to help your hips. If one of them doesn’t sit well with you after breathing there for a while, try another. Pick any five of these openers each day—switching them up each time—breathe into them, and the opening will happen!
From down dog, sweep right shin toward the front of the mat, right knee toward right wrist and right ankle toward left wrist. (If right hip is elevated, set a rolled blanket or firm pillow underneath it.) Crawl hands forward until head is on the ground (or prop head up with soft blocks or blankets), and breathe here for 10 deep breaths. Repeat on left side.
Ankle to Knee
Sitting upright, take right shin parallel to the front of the mat and stack left shin directly on top of and in line with it, keeping feet flexed to protect knees. (If knees and ankles don’t touch, place blankets in between them.) Breathe here for 5 deep breaths, then repeat with left shin on the bottom.
Low Lunge with Back Knee Down
From down dog, step left foot forward between hands, then tap back knee down. If this is enough, you can stay leaning forward, but if there is more space, start to crawl hands up onto right thigh, bringing spine upright. Breathe here for 5 deep breaths, then repeat on the left.
From down dog, lift right leg high to down dog split, open hip, bend knee, and step right foot outside of right hand. Tap left knee to the ground and, if it feels good, gently lower forearms to the ground. Breathe here for 5 deep breaths, then repeat on left side.
From down dog, step right foot forward between hands, spin left heel down with the foot slightly angled out, and windmill arms open, left arm reaching toward the back of the mat and right arm reaching toward the front of the mat. Bend right knee, keeping it in line with right ankle. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, then repeat on left side.
Half Chair, Half Ankle to Knee
Stand up tall with feet parallel and under hip bones, shoulders in line with hips. Close eyes for 3 long, deep breaths. On the next inhale, bend knees and sink hips down as if sitting in a chair. Reach arms up toward ears, keeping shoulder blades down. Transfer weight into left foot and cross right ankle over left knee, keeping right foot flexed to protect knee. Stay here for 5 long, deep breaths, then repeat on other side.
From standing, heel-toe feet wide apart, pointing toes out so that hips are open. Start to soften and bend knees, releasing hips toward the ground, hovering above at whatever height feels good for you. Take elbows inside of thighs, lightly pressing them out, and take hands together like a prayer at the center of chest. Try to keep spine long. Breathe here for 5 to 10 deep breaths.
Seated Wide-Legged Forward Bend
Sit up tall and open legs wide to sides until there’s a little tension but not so much that it is uncomfortable. Walk hands forward between legs, keeping torso long. Stay here for 10 long, deep breaths.
Come to all fours and place a blanket under right knee, just off the mat. Slowly allow right knee to slide away from body as you lower hips and then chest toward the mat. Make a pillow with hands for head (or use a block). Allow hips to sink to wherever is still comfortable and breathe there for 5 to 10 deep breaths.
Half Happy Baby
Lie on back with legs straight. Bend right knee, hugging it in toward chest. Take outer edge of right foot in right hand, reaching right knee toward right armpit. Rock softly from left to right if that feels nice, and stay here for 5 deep breaths. Repeat on left side.
Reclined Cow Face Pose
Lie on back and cross right knee over left, winging feet out to the sides slightly. Take hold of right foot with left hand and left foot with right hand. Keeping knees stacked, direct feet with hands, moving in the direction of getting shins into one long line. Bend elbows and flex feet. Breathe here for 5 to 10 breaths, then repeat on other side.
Reclining Goddess Pose
Sit with knees bent and feet on ground. Place a yoga block (preferably foam, which is softer than cork) behind you where you think your shoulder blades will rest when you lie back and place another where you think your head will rest comfortably. (Adjust blocks for what your body needs right now. You can start with both blocks on the lowest setting, perhaps increasing the shoulder block one setting at a time as your body allows.) Gently release back onto shoulder block so that shoulder blades are just above the block (the block will be at middle back). Release head to second block so that it is comfortable for neck, adjusting block height as needed. Once comfortable, take feet together and knees apart, allow arms to relax on either side, and breathe here for 10 deep breaths.
Photos: Vera Boykewich