Many of us could use more hip opening. From sitting to standing to walking, our legs are constantly working to support our upper bodies. All this effort can make hip muscles chronically tight, especially when we're sitting for long periods at desks or in cars.
The phrase “hip-opening” often creates confusion, as many people assume that it's similar to opening a door or book, and therefore limited to taking your legs apart. But opening your hips means creating mobility in all directions.
Hips are ball and socket joints, which are the most mobile joints in your body. The head of each thigh bone (femur bone) forms the “ball’, which sits in the socket (acetabulum) of your pelvis.
Ball and socket joints also do circumduction, which means moving in all three planes, like when you swing your leg in a circle.
In order to stretch a particular muscle group, you must take your body in the opposite direction of that group’s movement. For example, if you’ve been sitting for long periods, which is hip flexion (taking thighs toward your chest), you’ll want to extend your hip (taking your thighs back) to release your hip flexors.
Your Hips in All Planes of Movement
We are three-dimensional beings. We move in space in many different directions. We can go forward and backward, side to side, and inward and outward. And most of the time, we move in some combination of those directions all at once. For example, to set up our front legs in Pigeon, we must both open our legs to the side and rotate our thigh bones outward.
The anatomical planes of movement help us organize and understand range of motion. They provide a universal language for the body. Imagine going to a different country where their up is down and their left is right! It would make for a fun, albeit confusing trip. Instead, anatomists and body lovers alike use the planes as common vocabulary.
In the sagittal plane we move forward and back. The movements include flexion (forward motion) and extension (backward motion). Flexion at the hip joint means pulling your thigh up to your chest, like when we fold over our thighs in Child’s Pose. Extension is taking the leg back, like when we lift the leg in a downward dog.
In the coronal plane we move sideways. The movements of the coronal plane at the hip include adduction (bringing the legs together) and abduction (taking them apart). An example of adduction in the coronal plane is Eagle Pose. Abduction would be stepping the legs wide apart, like Prasarita Padottanasnana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend).
In the transverse plane we rotate. The movements at the hips are internal rotation (turning the thigh bone in) and external rotation (turning the thigh bone out). For example, when we turn the legs out in Malasana (Garland Pose), the hips are in external rotation. In Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose), our thigh bones roll inward and are in internal rotation.
Knowing the planes helps us improve range of motion in our hips, and ultimately, balanced hips are open hips!
Try these 6 poses to find balance and range in your hips in all directions.