Stiffness around the hips is a natural by-product of training—and of spending much of the day sitting. Releasing some of this stiffness can help free your range of motion, preventing injury and bringing ease. But when the tissues around your hips are very, very tight, traditional forward folds can be so challenging that you tense up, turning what should be a release into an unpleasant experience.
One of my favorite approaches for athletes is to take traditional forward folds and recline them. (See “Recovery for Hips and Hamstrings” for more ideas.) Gomukhasana (Cow-Face Pose) and Ardha Matsyendrasa (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose) are especially good candidates for reclining. Both address the tightness of the outer hip and the iliotibial (IT band). An imbalance of strength and flexibility in these areas can lead to injury; keeping them from getting too tight will help balance your body.
To take reclining Cow-Face Pose, lie on your back and cross your knees tight together, zipping your inner thighs together. Swing your heels toward opposite hips as you hug your knees in. Depending on your body, you could hold your knees, shins, or ankles. Enjoy some deep breaths here as you feel the stretch in the outer parts of your hips and thighs. As a bonus, you might find this feels especially pleasant in your lower back. Stay for a dozen breaths or more, then repeat on the other side.
Reclining Half Lord of the Fishes
The reclining approach to this familiar twist not only stretches the outer hip of the top leg, but also gets into the quadriceps and hip flexors of the bottom leg. From your back, drop your right knee to the floor as you keep your right heel near your left hip. With the left knee pointing upward, rest the sole of the left foot on the floor just outside your right thigh. Or, to intensify the release in the front of the right thigh, gently step your left foot onto the right thigh itself. Your arms can be off to your sides, or you might hold your ankles with opposite hands. After many breaths, repeat on the other side.