Hip Opening Poses

Click here for some illustrated Hip Openers
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Essentially every asana (yoga pose) will address the mobility of the hips in one way or another. The physical goal of working with hip openers is one of increased strength and increased range of motion in and around the joint. The hip joint is the meeting place of the legs and the pelvis: the merging of the lower half of the body with the upper half. Using our legs, we connect with the earth, we move about, we take ourselves forward in time and on our path in life. The pelvis holds the sacrum and tailbone, securing in place the base of our spine. From a strong and stable pelvic foundation, the spine can rise and lengthen.

When engineers design new skyscrapers, they must start with an intricate and state-of-the-art foundation. It must be flexible enough to roll with the waves of earthquakes, and also stable enough to support the weight and rise of the completed structure. In Hindu mythology, the deity Vishnu is said to rest on a coiled serpent, named Ananta. Ananta is a thousand-headed serpent who balances and supports the world on his raised hood, while Vishnu reclines on Ananta’s long and coiled body. The serpent must provide Vishnu with a bed that is relaxed and comfortable, yet also must maintain the support of the universe with infinite stability. Like Ananta and the foundation, a healthy hip joint can softly absorb the shock of walking and running and standing, and still provide a steady resting place from which the spine can rise.

Like a person translating between two foreign languages, the hips must learn to pass accurate messages from the legs to the torso and spine (and back again the opposite direction). Initially, when hips are tight and weak, messages are lost in the crowd of sensations… as the body tries to sort out its response to the postures. Over time, and with the help of healthy hip joints, actions that are initiated in the legs are felt immediately in the spine and torso (and vice versa).

Because the Western approach to yoga is so deeply oriented in the yoga postures, it is often easy to mistake flexibility with yogic “achievement.” In fact, our goal as yogis is the goal of self-knowledge, which is gained through awareness, introspection, and observation. Because the hips generally provide us with so much resistance and feedback, they are actually giving us a wonderful opportunity to pay attention and try to accurately perceive the sensations in our bodies.

Notoriously stubborn and solid, the hip joints rely on stability to keep us standing up on our own two feet. For that reason, increasing the flexibility of one’s hips is not an overnight process. Hips require time, patience, persistence, inner awareness, and compassion. The hips have many riches to offer us, but they can only be mined at their own pace.

Like the tortoise and the hare, the hips are generally more likely to respond to regular, gentle practice than to irregular, forceful practice. Working with the hip opening postures over months and years, grants us the skills of patience and faith in all aspects of life. By experiencing gradual changes emerging from regular and quiet practice, we learn about creating change in a peaceful and time-appropriate manner. Rather than trying to force change in this moment, we allow the body to evolve over time according to its abilities and circumstances.

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Updated June 24, 2005   amey@yogawithamey.com