The Benefits of Hip Openers in Yoga

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

As a yoga teacher, tight hips are a common ailment that I see in my students, and lower back pain is a problem I regularly hear about. Many people are unaware of the link between tight hips and lower back pain.

The hip flexors are a group of muscles that connect the femur to the pelvis and they are responsible for lifting the knee towards the body. When our hip flexors are tight, they increase the load on our lower back and cause overuse of the spine resulting in lower back pain. Therefore, incorporating plenty of hip opening postures in our yoga practice can create more flexibility in this area and reduce the amount of load on the lower back and spine.

Furthermore, backbends and forward folds can be problematic for people with tight hips, and if not practised with care, they can actually increase back pain instead of reduce it. This is because tightness in the hips will cause a compensational strain on the lumbar spine when performing these movements. By pushing yourself into a posture that the joint restricts, the body will have to take a strain elsewhere to compensate.

For a while, you may not notice or feel the effects of this, but over time, with repeated movement, an injury will occur. This is one key reason why practising hip openers and creating more flexibility in this joint can benefit our body and also our yoga practice.

It is not just the back that takes the strain. Very often, knee and leg pain can be due to tight hip flexors. For example, a runner with tight hips is more likely to experience shin or knee pain after a run.

What makes our hips tight?

A sedentary lifestyle is the most common culprit for tightness in the hips. Spending long periods of the day sitting tightens the hip flexor muscles by forcing them to remain contracted. In addition, blood circulation and nerve activity are inhibited.

Our bodies were not made to sit for the majority of the day therefore many office workers and those living a sedentary life often complain of lower back pain, without knowing that by incorporating some hip-opening yoga postures into their day, they can help to reduce this pain.

However, hip flexor tightness can affect people in all walks of life. Certain sports such as running and weightlifting can overuse the muscles causing tightness. Due to this, athletes and gym-goers should ensure they include plenty of hip stretches in their stretching regime.

Hips and emotions

In addition to improving range of motion, circulation and decreasing back pain, opening the hips can create an energetic/emotional release. It is said that the hips are where we store our emotions and by holding deep hip stretches we may find we can release stuck emotions that we have been holding onto.

The hips are also linked to our sacral chakra ( Svadhishthana ). The qualities of the sacral chakra include creativity and expression, connection to our desires, movement and flow in life and sensuality. Yogic tradition states that hip-opening yoga asanas are one way to open this chakra.

My top 3 hip opening postures

Below are three of my favourite hip openers that I include regularly in my classes and my personal practice:

1. Pigeon Pose

Pigeon pose (Kapotasana) is a multi effective hip opener as it increases external range of motion to the femur in the hip socket of the front leg, and lengthens and stretches the psoas muscle (hip flexor) in the back leg.

2. Lizard Pose

This intense hip opener stretches the hip flexors and groin whilst strengthening the inner thigh muscles/hamstrings on the front leg. The many different variations of Lizard pose (Utthan Pristhasana) help you to improve the flexibility of your hip ligaments and strengthen the muscles in your legs.

3. Butterfly Pose

Butterfly pose (Baddha Konasana) not only strengthens and opens the hips, inner thighs and groin but also improves circulation and stimulates the abdominal organs and ovaries. It can reduce menstrual discomfort as well as soothe sciatica pain.

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