“My hips are so tight.” That’s probably the biggest complaint I hear from people in my yoga classes. Now, I’m not a magician, but I can help you get those tight hips open. Most of us move our legs in two directions, forward and backward. There is typically no lateral movement whatsoever, unless you’re a dancer, gymnast, MMA fighter, or a member of Cirque du Soleil. That’s what we need to change — we must find more ways to move the legs in such a way that keeps our hips mobile.
As a country, our hips are not doing well. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Each year, more than 300,000 people 65 and older are hospitalized for hip fractures and more than 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falling. As the U.S. population gets older, the number of hip fractures is likely to go up.” Although there is no direct connection between immobile hips and an increased risk of hip fracture, immobility in the hips can contribute to an increased risk of falling as you age, and hip fracture is one of the most serious fall injuries.
How can we change this? You guessed it — yoga. At least, that’s my favorite way. I’ll take that over a hip replacement any day. Your hip joint, like your shoulder joint, is a ball-and-socket joint. That means you have a much greater range of motion in your hips than you do in, say, your elbows or knees, which are hinge joints. If you don’t regularly exercise your hips through their full ranges of motion, however, you can gradually lose mobility in them, increasing your risk of falling and possibly fracturing them. It’s not a road any of us want to go down.
Here’s my recommendation: Practice these five yoga poses three to five times a week and your hips will likely be healthy enough to keep you dancing into your golden years. Remember, hips tend to be one of the tighter joints in the body, so move slowly into these poses, pay attention to how they feel, and ease up if the stretch becomes too intense. Yoga is not about how hard you can push yourself — it’s about loosening up connective tissue and relaxing your body.
1. Butterfly Pose
One of the simplest poses in yoga, butterfly pose addresses one of the tightest areas of the body: the groin. Ugh, I know, many of us are tight in the inner thighs. This pose is simple yet powerful. Make sure you give this one time.
Sit on your mat with your knees bent and the bottoms of your feet together in front of you. Your legs will form a diamond. For a deep stretch, bring your feet close to your body and lean forward while pressing your elbows against your inner thighs. For an easier stretch, keep your feet a bit farther away from you, hold onto your ankles, and gently lean forward.
2. Easy Pose with Forward Fold
From butterfly pose, you can make a simple transition to easy pose. Cross your legs, bringing your ankles just below your knees (as best as you can), fold forward, and bring your hands face down on the mat in front of you. You may feel a stretch in your outer hips, inner hips, and sometimes in both areas. Hold the forward-fold position for 1 to 3 minutes, and then sit back up. Switch legs (e.g., if you had your left leg crossed over your right, now cross your right over your left) and repeat.
3. Happy Cow
I do a lot of trail running, which causes my hips to be tight. Happy cow pose is a tough one for me, but I know it’s beneficial because it eases tension in my glutes every time. It’s the perfect pose for anyone who runs uphill, does squats, or lunges.
The pose is similar to easy pose, but a bit more intense. Start seated with your legs crossed so that your right heel is by your left hip, your left heel is by your right hip, and your knees are stacked in front of you. On the exhale, gently fold your torso forward. If your hips are tight, you might notice that your top knee rises off your bottom one. That’s OK. As your mobility increases with continued practice, so too will your ability to keep your knees stacked. Either way, you should feel the stretch in the hip of your top leg. Hold the forward fold for 1 to 3 minutes, and then sit back up. Switch leg positions, and repeat. Enjoy this one — it’s oh so painfully good!
4. Pigeon Pose
It didn’t start out this way, but pigeon pose has become my all-time favorite hip stretch. Once you get past the hard part (and that may take a little time), you can really relax into this soothing stretch. It’s an incredible stretch for your gluteal muscles, and if you’re tighter, you’ll feel it in your hamstrings as well.
Start from a down dog pose, so that your body forms an upside down “V.” Bring your left knee forward, drop your hips, and place your left ankle behind the right wrist, creating a 45-degree angle with the left knee. The outside of your left lower leg rests on the floor and your right leg extends back, with the kneecap and the top of the foot facing the floor. If the left-foot placement feels uncomfortable in any way (e.g., you have pain in the left knee), gently move your left foot closer to your right hip and/or place a folded blanket under your right hip. Fold your torso forward as you stretch your arms in front of you on the mat. Hold for 2 to 3 minutes, and then return to the down dog position. Repeat, this time stepping forward with your right leg.
5. Frog Pose
Possibly the most intense of all the hip stretches, frog pose is the one I enjoy doing the least, but I still do it, because I know it can help loosen deep connective tissue. Please be careful with this pose — the stretch can feel extreme, so breathe deeply and ease into it. If you push too hard, your body will tense up, which is precisely the opposite of what we want from yoga.
You’ll need a cushion for your knees, so place either a folded mat or blankets underneath your knees as you assume table top pose (hands and knees on the ground, back flat with hands below shoulders, knees below hips). Walk your hands forward six inches, bring your shoulders over your wrists, then move your knees out to the sides as far apart as you can. If possible, turn your feet outward so the insides of them rest on the floor, and slowly bring your forearms to the ground. For a deeper stretch, press into your forearms and slowly shift your hips back until they are in line with your knees. You want to feel a deep stretch, but it shouldn’t be painful. Hold this position for 2 to 3 minutes while taking deep breaths.
If you’re new to yoga, check out Beachbody’s 3 Week Yoga Retreat where I and three other yoga instructors guide you through the foundations of yoga. Enjoy these poses, and if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter: @teddymcdonald.