“Open” hips are a top priority for many yogis, and for good reason: Maintaining flexibility and stability in the hip joints is crucial for lower-back health, not to mention for cultivating overall freedom and ease in our bodies. And opening the hips can be particularly helpful when it comes to sitting comfortably for extended periods of time in meditation. In this sequence, we’ll warm up with standing postures to strengthen the outer hips, ensure stability and proper positioning of the femur in the hip socket, release tension in the lower back, and stretch the inner thighs. With the outer hips “turned on,” the inner thighs prepared, and the core awake, you’ll more readily launch into the peak pose—Flying Pigeon. (Remember, even if this pose feels out of reach, there is benefit in the attempt!) Finally, we’ll move into deeper stretches on the floor to help release any trapped physical and emotional tension.
Sit cross-legged with one shin in front of the other, and your feet under your knees. Draw your navel in, lengthen your spine, and relax your shoulder blades down your back. Inhale to lengthen your spine even more, and on an exhale, straighten your arms and lean forward, staying up on tented fingertips. Pause here for 5 deep breaths.
Come to your hands and knees; bring your hands a few inches in front of your shoulders and spread your fingers. With your feet hip-distance apart, curl your toes under and lift your hips. Move toward straightening your legs while descending your heels toward the ground. Stay for 5 deep breaths.
From Downward Dog, walk your hands back toward your feet. With your fingertips on the mat, firm your legs and fold forward. If you feel any sensitivity in your hamstrings or low back, bend your knees deeply. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, then walk your hands back out to Down Dog.
From Down Dog, place your right foot between your hands and turn your back toes in slightly toward the left side of your mat. Ground down through your right hand on the mat (or a block) inside your right foot, then lift your left arm skyward. Use your right arm to press your knee open as you simultaneously hug the right hip in to lengthen your torso and open your right inner hip. Hold for 3–5 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), place your right heel high up on your left inner thigh or below the knee, but not on the joint. Place your hands on your hips, making sure your pelvis is even in all directions, as you hug your outer left hip in toward your midline and extend through your right knee. Connect your eyes to one point—your drishti— as you bring your hands to Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal). Stay here, or grow your hands overhead and stay there for 5 deep breaths, then repeat on the other side. Release, then step back to Down Dog.
From Down Dog, place your right foot between your hands. Turn your back toes in slightly toward the left side of your mat, then rise to stand and bring both arms parallel to the ground. Firm your back leg and work toward a 90-degree bend in your front knee, tracking your knee straight ahead of you. Firm your right hip under and draw your navel in. With your arms spread, open your chest as you keep your shoulders floating above your hips. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.
From Warrior II, straighten your front (right) leg and shift your right hip back as you reach forward and grab your right ankle with your right hand or place the hand outside the leg on the mat or a block. Float your spine over your front leg and open your chest, keeping the front ribs and navel in. Lift your left arm skyward and gaze up toward your left hand if that feels ok on your neck (if not, look sideways or down). Stay in this position for 5 deep breaths.
From Triangle, look down and slide your right hand about a foot in front of you, a little to the right of your right foot. Step your left leg up and revisit all the actions of Triangle Pose: Hug your right hip toward the midline, firm your back (lifted) leg, lengthen both sides of your waist, and draw your ribs and navel in. Settle your gaze toward your mat, to the side, or up toward your lifted hand. Stay here for 5 deep breaths. Move through a vinyasa, then repeat Warrior II, Triangle Pose, and Half Moon Pose on the left side.
Place your feet 3–4 feet apart, with your toes turned out at a 45-degree angle. Wrap your left arm under your right and raise your forearms perpendicular to the mat. Squat down so your knees track toward your second toes. With a flat back, extend your chest as you pull your hips back. Hold here for 5 breaths. Keeping your legs bent, bring your torso back upright, switch the cross of your arms, and repeat. Place your hands on your mat and return to Down Dog.
From Down Dog, place your right foot in the center of your mat, between your hands. Turn your back toes in slightly, bend your right knee, place your right elbow on your right knee, and lift your left arm skyward. Internally rotate your top arm and bring it behind your back, then bring your right arm under your right leg to bind. Maintain length in your spine and pull the right hip underneath you as you hold for 5 deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), bring the outside of your right ankle on top of your left thigh and flex your right foot. Actively press your right knee toward the floor as you lower your hips back and down, feeling the stretch in the outer right hip. Hold here for 5 deep breaths, or fold forward over your standing leg, bringing your fingertips to rest on the floor or blocks in front of you and hooking your flexed right foot around your left triceps. (Make sure you feel the stretch in your right hip and glutes, not your right knee.)
From the previous pose, hook your right foot around your left triceps even more strongly and root your hands into your mat, leaning forward so that your upper arms feel as if they’re in Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose). Extend your left leg in the air behind you and find your drishti on the floor in front of you. Hold for 5–8 deep breaths, then repeat Standing Hip Opener and Flying Pigeon on the other side. Finally, make your way to Down Dog, with or without a vinyasa.
From Down Dog, jump or walk through to seated with both legs straight out in front of you. Bend your left leg and place the sole of your left foot against your right inner thigh. On an inhale, extend your arms skyward and turn your belly and chest toward your outstretched right leg; on an exhale, keep your spine long as you fold forward over your right leg, holding onto your foot or a strap. As you lengthen your torso, focus on extending your chest over your straight leg rather than rounding. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Stretch both legs out in front of you, and then draw your feet as close to your pelvis as you comfortably can. With peace fingers, grasp the big toe of each foot as you bring the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to open away from your midline. If your knees are high off the floor or your back rounds, sit on a blanket or block, or place your hands behind you. If you have more flexibility, hold your feet and fold forward. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.
Come to Tabletop, with your knees directly below your hips, and your hands slightly ahead of your shoulders. Slide your right knee forward to the back of your right wrist, angling your right shin under your torso. Slowly slide your left leg back, straightening your knee and descending the front of your thigh toward the mat. Lower the outside of your right buttock to the floor (or a blanket, for more support). Then, crawl your hands forward and relax your torso down toward your mat, only going as deep as you comfortably can. Stay here for 10 or more deep breaths, then switch sides.
Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Draw your inner thighs into your pelvis; as you inhale, extend your arms overhead. As you exhale, fold forward, bending from your hip joints and extending your spine to grab the outer edges of your feet. (If you can’t reach, wrap a strap around your feet and clasp either side.) Keep your elbows straight until you’re ready to stretch further, then bend your elbows out toward your sides. Allow your lower belly then upper belly, ribs, and finally head to touch your legs. Stay in this pose for 1–3 minutes before moving into Savasana (Corpse Pose).