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It’s said that we store a lot of emotions in our hips (if you’ve ever started crying during Pigeon Pose, you know what that means), and that should come as no surprise—the hips are one of the most important and complex areas of the body.
As the connection point between your lower limbs and your torso, the hip complex is critical for maintaining balance, mobility, and stability for your entire body. When the psoas (the long muscle that runs from the lumbar spine through the pelvis to the femur) is chronically tight, your lower back starts to feel tight, too. This tension makes the psoas shorten, and a slight swayback begins to form, making everyday actions, such as walking, sitting, standing, or practicing yoga feel more difficult. Your hamstrings may then have to overcompensate, and knee pain could begin to arise.
On a psycho-spiritual level, the hips are also the seat of our sexuality and individuality. Our svadhisthana (root) chakra, located within the pelvis, is the energy center associated with sensuality, creativity, pleasure, and freedom of expression. This area is deeply enmeshed in our connectivity to ourselves and others, and is often where we hold onto unexpressed emotions.
Whether your hips feel tight from sitting too much, your intense running regime, or even your genetics, it’s important to loosen them up and keep them moving. The following yoga poses massage, open, and lubricate the hips, which can ward off discomfort, improve your posture, increase your range of motion—and even unlock whatever you might be holding onto.
11 yoga poses that for deep hip opening
Three-Legged Downward-Facing Dog
Begin in Downward-Facing Dog Pose with the tops of your thighs back, heels pressing toward the floor, back flat, and your palms out in front of you, shoulder-width apart. Firm your outer arms and press actively through your index fingers. On an inhalation, begin to raise one leg up toward the ceiling as your other heel stays planted. Ensure your lifted leg is in line with your back, forming a straight line from the top of your shoulder to your heel. Hold this posture for 10 seconds.
This pose will begin to stretch out the backs of the calves and the hamstrings while warming up the hips.
Three-Legged Downward-Facing Dog, Variation
On an exhalation, from Three-Legged Downward-Facing Dog, open up the hip by bending the lifted knee and bringing the heel toward your opposite glute. Hold this posture for 10 seconds, then place the foot back on the ground, aligned with your grounded foot. Repeat Three-Legged Downward-Facing Dog and this variation on the other side.
This variation will begin to open the hip flexor to prepare it for some of the deeper postures.
From Three-Legged Downward-Facing Dog, on an exhalation, sweep your lifted leg through your centerline and plant your foot in between your hands. Bend your front knee to 90 degrees and make sure that the toes are visible, so that your knee is stacked over your heel. Lengthen and engage your back leg. Release tension in the neck by positioning it straight, as an extension of the spine. Hold this posture for 10 seconds.
From High Lunge, bring your back knee down to the floor and sweep your arms overhead. Draw in your lower belly to protect and lengthen your spine. Sink down into your back hip while simultaneously engaging your core. If you have a blanket nearby, you could place it under your back knee for added comfort. Hold for 10 seconds.
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)
From Low Lunge, inch your front foot out to the side, coming into a wide lunge with your hands placed on the floor inside of the knee. Take your back knee off the floor, if available, and either stay up on the hands or bring the forearms down to the ground for a deeper stretch. Remain in the pose for 10 seconds, continuously aiming your back inner thigh up toward the ceiling, and your chest forward through your arms.
From Lizard Pose, bring your back knee to the floor and bend the knee, so your toes reach up. Extend your opposite arm back and take hold of your outer foot. Begin to twist your spine so your chest opens toward the sky. This pose can be done on the hands or forearms depending on your level of flexibility. Hold for 10 seconds.
From Twisted Monkey, begin to unwind by releasing your foot and placing your hand back down alongside your front foot. Draw your back knee parallel with your right knee, coming into a Tabletop position. Ensure that the feet are hip-width apart. From Tabletop, lengthen your tailbone away from your pelvis as you lift your sitting bones toward the ceiling in Downward-Facing Dog. Press through your index fingers as you rotate your biceps toward your ears. Hold for 10 seconds.
From Downward-Facing Dog Pose, lift one leg into Three-Legged Downward-Facing Dog and sweep it through your centerline. Place the outer edge of your right foot down onto the mat just below your left wrist. On an exhalation, begin to drop your back knee and quadricep toward the mat as you lie your front shin down onto the mat, perpendicular to your torso. Start to roll the back hip bone forward, draw the front outer hip back and in toward the midline of your body, and extend the arms forward in front of the body any amount before relaxing down, if that’s accessible to you. You want to have your hip bones square toward the front of the mat. Hold for 10 seconds.
From Pigeon, bend your back knee until you can grab the ankle. Keep your back leg rotating inward so that you can feel a stretch in the front of the thigh. If there is space, without strain, reach for the ankle with both hands, engaging the abdominal muscles and resisting the temptation to sink into the lower back. Hold for 10 seconds.
Unwind from One-Legged King Pigeon Pose by lowering your lifted leg back down onto the mat, hands back down in front of you, and swivel into a seated position. Sit up tall and align your right knee on top of your left ankle and your left knee on top of your right ankle. Rotate both hips outward. If the top knee is lifted above the bottom ankle, place a pillow or block under the lifted knee for safety and support. If the knees are comfortably resting on the ankles, slowly begin to fold forward. Hold for 10 seconds.
Come back to Downward-Facing Dog, and repeat Pigeon, One-Legged King Pigeon, and Cow Face Pose on the other side.
From Cow Face Pose, unwind your ankles and place both feet out in front of you, soles of both feet touching, heels drawing in toward your pubis. Open the feet like a book, and hinge at the hips to fold forward any amount. Stay here for as long as feels comfortable.