Desk jockeys and jocks, rejoice. If you log hours at the office, run, bike or walk, you probably have tight hip flexors — the muscle responsible for lifting the leg, drawing the knee to the chest and moving you front to back and side to side. You know, all the things you want your legs to do.
Loosening your hips can keep you mobile, ease back pain, improve circulation in your legs and simply feel good. In yoga, opening the hips is often connected with an emotional release as well. Because our hips stabilize us in our everyday life, yogis believe we store negative emotions there. Whether you feel this connection or not, stretching the hips is a great way to unwind.
1. BOUND ANGLE
This stretches the inner thighs, groin and knees. Make the pose more accessible by sitting on a blanket or with your back against a wall.
The move: Start in a seated position with legs extended. Then bend your knees, bringing the soles of your feet together. Pull your heels as close to your body as is comfortable and let your knees drop toward the floor. Press the outer edges of your feet together and use your hands to gently open the feet like the pages of a book.
To come out of bound angle, gently draw your knees together, straighten your legs and give them a little shimmy.
2. HALF LORD OF THE FISHES
Besides stretching the hips, this twist opens the back. If you can’t keep both hips on the ground, straighten the bottom leg.
The move: Sit on the floor or the edge of a blanket with your legs extended. Cross your right leg over left so your right knee points to the ceiling and your right foot sits outside your left knee. You can keep your left leg straight with your foot flexed or bend your left leg so your left foot rests near the right hip. Try to keep both sits bones on the ground.
Inhale, elongate your spine, and stretch your left arm overhead. Exhale and twist to the left, releasing your left hand to the floor behind you. Inhale and stretch your right arm overhead. Exhale and twist, bringing your right elbow to rest against the outside of your right knee. Continue to find length through the torso with each inhale, being conscious not to collapse through the chest. Hold for 3–5 breaths and switch sides.
3. LIZARD LUNGE
If your hips could use a little extra love — and whose can’t — lizard is for you. The pose opens the hips, hip flexors, groin and hamstrings.
The move: From down dog, step your right foot forward between your hands. Walk your foot to the outside edge of the mat and turn your toes out slightly. Bring both hands and arms inside your right leg. You can stay up on your palms or deepen the stretch by lowering down to your forearms. If you’re on your hands, make sure your palms are directly under your shoulders and gently press your right knee into your upper bicep. If you’re on your forearms, make sure your elbows are under your shoulders and gently press your right knee into your right shoulder. Press your left heel back, keeping your left leg engaged. Keep your gaze forward so your neck stays long. Hold the pose for up to a minute. Then come to the palms of your hands, heel-toe your right foot back to center, and press back to down dog. Repeat on the other side.
Most people have a love-hate relationship with this pose, which really stretches the thighs, psoas and groin.
The move: To come into full pigeon, begin in down dog. Step your right foot forward, placing your shin on your mat so your right knee is behind your right wrist. Eventually, you may be able to rest your shin parallel to the top edge of your mat, but most of us make a diagonal with our leg so our right foot is near our left hip.
Lower your back leg and hips to the ground. Walk your back leg out so it extends directly behind your hip. Press the top of your left foot evenly into your mat.
Walk your hands to the mat next to your hips. Square your hips, making sure you’re not dipping to one side or the other. If you find there’s a gap between one hip and the floor, tuck a block or blanket under that glute for added support.
Deepen the pose by folding forward on an exhale. You can rest on your forearms or place your forehead on the mat.
If you have particularly tight hips, begin with a variation in a chair. Come to the edge of your chair and cross your right ankle over your left thigh. Gently press your right thigh toward the ground and stay long in the spine. Hold for 3–5 breaths and switch sides.
5. HAPPY BABY
This pose, a natural for babies, stretches the groin, releases the back and calms the mind.
The move: Lie on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Reach for the outsides of your feet or shins, depending on your flexibility, and open your knees slightly wider than your hips. Stack each ankle directly over the knee, flex through your heels, and press your tailbone into the earth. Hold the pose for 5–10 breaths before releasing your feet back to the earth.