When yogis talk hips, it’s generally about opening them. But your hips CAN be too open. If you fall into the hypermobile camp, learn how to balance strength and flexibility to protect your hips.
Dedicating time during our physical yoga practice to opening the hips can be nourishing, therapeutic—and downright addictive for many of us. (How about that feel-good release in Pigeon Pose?) Let’s consider, though, whether we always need to push for more flexibility in this region of the body or if it may be more helpful for some people to build strength.
Do Your Hips Really Need Opening?
Hip strength is necessary in day-to-day life. Whether we are walking in the park, running for the bus, or cycling to work, the hip joint takes the brunt of the body’s weight and enables all of these fundamental actions. In short: Stable hips are a good thing—they carry our bodies throughout the day.
Of course if you are an athlete, runner, or someone simply born with especially tight hips, hip-opening poses are helpful in maintaining a healthy range of motion and balance between strength and flexibility. If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, though, and are naturally quite open in the hips or after years of practicing hip-opening poses now have very open hips, consider whether it’s still helpful to continue increasing the range of motion in this region of your body.
Being ‘blessed’ myself with naturally open hips, when I first started yoga, I never shied away from postures that required increased range of motion in this region of the body. (I’m the person who could actually fall asleep with my legs wrapped behind my head in Yoginandrasana.) But was it therapeutic? I certainly looked like an advanced yogi in these postures, but unfortunately my lack of knowledge and understanding of the hip joint meant that I could have been doing more damage to my body than good.
Understanding the Hip Joint
The hip joint is a ball and socket joint composed of two bones. The femur sits in the acetabulum, which is part of the pelvis. Covering the bones of the hip is the articular cartilage. The articular cartilage is important for providing a cushion and a smooth surface when the bones move on one another. Surrounding the acetabulum is additional cartilage called the labrum, which forms a lip around the cup-shaped bone to provide additional stability in the joint.
While it is helpful to understand the anatomy of the hip, what may be more even important (if a bit frightening) is knowing that one of the deepest layers of the joint, the cartilage, does not have any nerve endings. This means you may not be aware of any damage to the cartilage until it is too late. Although cartilage doesn’t have nerve endings, the surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments do, which is why yoga can be helpful for tuning into the body to find a balance between strength and flexibility for health of the muscles and the integrity of the joints. By listening to our bodies with this sense of mindfulness we can begin to notice our strengths and weaknesses, which enables us to develop a nourishing practice that our bodies truly need.
3 Moves for Hip Stability
If you already enjoy the benefits of more open hips, modifying your daily yoga practice by including certain exercises to strengthen hips can be helpful for maintaining the integrity of the joint. Here are three yoga-inspired exercises that you can add into your daily practice to increase hip stability.
Bridge Pose, variation
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet hip-width apart and knees directly above your ankles. Place your arms on either side of your body with your palms facing down. Lengthen your tailbone toward the front of your mat. Lift one leg perpendicular to the floor (optional: bend knee). On your inhalation, keep your leg raised and lift your hips off the floor into a Bridge position. On your exhalation, with your leg still raised, lower your hips again. Repeat the exercise for 5 rounds of breath on each side.
Chair Pose, variation
For this exercise, hold Chair Pose with your feet hip-width apart. As you inhale, straighten one leg to the side and as your exhale bring it back to its original position. Repeat the exercise on each side 10 times or until the hip-stabilizing muscles start to fatigue.
For this final exercise, lie on your side and rest your head on your arm. Bend your bottom leg to approximately 90 degrees so you have a steady base. Raise your top leg about a foot above the ground. Extend your lifted leg in a straight line from your spine and flex the foot. Hold for 10 breaths and relax the leg for 5 breaths. Repeat the exercise for 3 rounds on each side.
Alice Louise Blunden is a Yoga Medicine senior teacher and assistant to Tiffany Cruikshank. She is currently completing her 500 hours and working toward her 1000-hour advanced Yoga Medicine teacher training. As well as teaching yoga in studios across London, she is the founder of The Yoga Project UK, a company that connects yoga teachers with schools across the UK. Learn more at alicelouiseyoga.com.