It seems like in every class I teach, my students either collapses into pigeon pose with a big sigh of relief or grit their teeth as they attempt to breathe. Hip openers – you either love them or hate them.
There’s a good reason. The vast majority of us have tight hips, from sitting at a desk all day to sitting in a car for our commute to sitting on our couch at night. Even when we move, activities like running and cycling make our hips tight. Hip openers also elicit an intense feeling when you practice them because we tend to store our emotional baggage in our hips.
If you have tight hips or sit all day, here are some of my favorite yoga hip openers.
Disclaimer: I am a certified yoga instructor but I am not your yoga instructor. Please exercise caution and be mindful of your own body. These views are mine alone, based on my own experiences. Please use props such as blankets, a yoga block (or 2!) and/or a yoga strap as needed. Always consult a certified yoga instructor for additional guidance and assistance.
Supta Padangusthasana or Reclined Hand-to-Big Toe Pose
I loooooove this pose. I start many of my classes with some variation of this pose. It’s a great way to stretch your outer hips and IT band, and it works your hamstrings too. I recommend using a strap. If you don’t have a strap, you can use a scarf or a belt.
- Lie down on your back, both legs extended on the mat.
- With the strap in both hands, place the strap around the ball of your left leg and extend your left leg towards the ceiling. Flex your foot and extend your left heel towards the ceiling. Flex your right foot and extend your right heel forward, towards the wall in front of you. You should feel a stretch in your hamstring. Don’t draw your leg towards you in an effort to deepen the hamstring stretch.
- Take the straps into your right hand. Place your left thumb into your left hip crease and let you four other fingers fan along the outer hip. Press your thumb into your hip crease and externally rotate your upper left thigh bone (as if you’re trying to rotate your outer thigh away from you and towards your right heel).
- Keep externally rotating your thigh and slowly start to draw your leg across your body to the right. Keep both legs engaged and extend through both heels.
- Go only as far as you are comfortable. You don’t have to draw the leg to the floor. You can use your right elbow as a kickstand to help prop up your arm.
- Breathe and stay here for 8-10 breaths.
- Switch sides.
Technically, this pose is half of cow-face pose. Don’t ask me why it’s called cow face pose but we’re only going to do the leg portion of the pose. It’s a lovely way to stretch your hips.
- Come to sit on your mat. Stack your knees so that your right knee is on top of your left. Bend your knees and bring your heels toward your outer hips – left heel to right outer hip and right heel to left outer hip. Keep your feet flexed and allow both sitting bones to rest evenly on the floor.
- Come on to your fingertips and bend forward slightly. If you have the flexibility, you can fold forward completely.
- Stay here for 8-10 breathes. Switch sides.
- Modifications: Elevate your hips by sitting on a blanket, block or bolster. This will tilt your pelvis forward so that can sit up tall. Allow your bottom leg to remain straight on the mat. So in the picture above, my left leg would be extended straight and my right knee would be stacked over the left knee and right heel would come towards the left hip.
Malasana / Garland Pose Variation
Squats are great for increasing hip mobility. This variation combines the hip opening of malasana with the calming effects of a forward fold. In this variation, your feet are together (or close together) on the mat instead of the traditional wide stance.
- Bring your feet together. As you bend your knees and come into a squat, open your knees out to the side.
- If you can, keep your heels on the ground. If your heels are lifted off the ground, you can also place a blanket or a block under your heels.
- Walk your hands between your legs in front of you and bow forward. It’s also nice to place a block under your head so that your head has something solid to rest on.
- Stay here for 8-10 breathes.
I have a love-hate relationship with this pose but it’s definitely one that I know I should spend more time with.
- Step your left foot forward to the outside of your left hand for a wide low lunge.
- Drop your back knee. You can always place a blanket under your back knee if it bothers your knee to be on the mat. You can keep your right foot tucked or untucked.
- You can stay here or bring your forearms to the floor or place your forearms on a block.
- You can have your back knee on the ground or lifted (for a more active pose).
- Stay here for 8-10 breathes. Switch sides.
Parsvottanasana Variation / IT Band Stretch
This is my favorite version of Parsvottanasana. I’m not sure if it’s an “official” pose but it feels really great along the outer hips and especially the IT band. You can use blocks under your hands to help bring the floor closer to you. I do recommend doing this pose before pigeon pose. Trust me – pigeon will feel so good after this!
- Start in downward-facing dog. Step your left foot behind your right wrist so that you’re stepping across your body. Turn your right toes out slightly.
- Draw your outer left hip back so that it’s squared off with your right hip. You should feel a stretch along the outer seam of your left leg.
- Ground down through your right foot, particularly the outer right foot. Lengthen along the inseam of your right leg.
- On each inhale, lengthen your spine and reach the crown of your head forward. On each exhale, fold over your leg.
- Hold for 8-10 breaths. Switch sides.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana / Pigeon Pose
By far one of my favorites. It’s main focus is the thighs and the hips. If your hips don’t touch the ground, please use a folded blanket or a block to help support your hip (on the side with the bent knee).
- Start in downward facing dog. Reach your right leg behind you (downdog split). Bring your right shin forward. Your left leg will rest on the mat. Take a look back at your left foot to make sure that it’s not flopping in towards the midline of your body. You want a nice long line.
- You can stay upright or start to fold forward.
- Hold for 8-10 breathe and then switch sides.
- Modification: You can also take pigeon pose on your back (bottom right photo). Lie on your back and cross your right ankle over your left knee. Bend your left knee and take both hands behind your left thigh (your right hand will go between your legs). Keeping both feet flexed, gently start to draw your left thigh towards your check.
- Advanced Variation: This is the full expression of King Pigeon Pose. It’s a hip opener and a heart opener in one. Once you’ve set your legs up for pigeon pose, you’ll reach back for your foot with your left hand and then your right hand. You can also use a strap around the top of your left foot to help you work on this pose.
Yoga hip openers – love them or hate them?
This post is part of the Ask a Yogini series. Each month, I’ll answer a question about yoga – anything that you’re curious about. Chances are, if you have the question, someone else does too! Leave any questions you may have in the comments below!
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