If you ask a yoga class what they'd like to do in class today, sometimes there are no bold takers and little yogic crickets start chirping from the back of the room. If you pressure them in silence long enough, someone will eventually ask for "hips". A commonality amidst yogis: people come to their yoga mats to stretch their hips and leave a little taller, and feeling a bit lighter. (To jump straight to the poses, click here.)
They're considered the seat of emotion in our yoga practice, and we should remember that the hips are also a source of generative power, as the sacral chakra is the source for creativity. We can think of creativity not simply as artistic flair, but also a creative approach to mindfulness. When we live mindfully, we become more creative in our approaches to situations - more productive at work, and perhaps more importantly, more productive in our connection with other people. What may be holding you back from this source of creative power? Emotional attachment to life's experiences that seem as if they take form in the hips.
You don't need to believe that your hamstrings, psoas, piriformis, and whatnot are housing residual anger to understand that negative emotions are stressful, and these challenge finding ease in our day-to-day due to a build up of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol accumulates in our system under stress to give us the push we need to mobilize and complete the tasks at hand. Our bodies developed to complete physical tasks though, and cortisol requires physical activity for relief. If we don't make time to alleviate stress and care for the body, then the mind's negativity will dominate.
The hips are such a great place for us to work through this because it's easy for most people to find their end range of mobility in yoga poses that are stable. Finding your end range is what produces the "tight" sensation, and the sheer largeness of the system that creates your hips offers a lot of it. Finding a stable position and then practicing meditative breath persuades your central nervous system that everything is okay - and so you help diminish your cortisol levels, and alleviate the stress.
Before I stress you out any further... those three poses! I simply adore teaching these three. The first two are practiced with the wall, and are a great place to wind down even the most powerful yoga class - I've won over many hot, sweaty yogis to peaceful wall work by ending class with these and legs-up-the-wall. The third is a magical realization for many people that bent knees still mean "hamstring work", and sequences nicely after a Warrior series.
- Drag the short end of your mat to the wall, so you can recline with your hips and feet facing the wall.
- The tighter your hips are, the further you'll want to come away from the wall. Need more? Move them closer.
- Place your left foot on the wall, and press into that supporting foot and back to lift your hips and place your right ankle on your quad just below the knee.
- If you require depth, snug your right elbow against you so your right hand can depress your right thigh.
- Works nicely end of class, particularly after a quad stretch with the wall
- Like pigeon, it stretches the hip rotators and hip flexors, but unlike reclined pigeon on your mat, it doesn't require effort from the upper body to hold. You're free to relax the whole upper body and focus the breath, emphasizing its therapeutic benefits.
- From pigeon with the wall, lift your hips to release your right ankle.
- Bind your big toe using your middle and index fingers, or hold onto the right side of your right foot with your right hand.
- Draw the heel over top of your right knee, and exert gentle pressure downward.
- If the heel does not stack over the knee, think of drawing the heel back rather than exerting downward pressure to protect your knee.
- After pigeon with the wall, also an excellent option mid-mat for those who are restricted in their pelvis and low back and will find more ease taking Happy Baby pose one side at a time.
- Greater ease in the posture from unilateral stretching rather than bilateral full Happy Baby pose
To be frank, I fucking love this pose. It's supportive, it's immense relief, and it's efficient. A few breaths here will alleviate lots of fussiness in my hip flexors.
- From Warrior 1, Right Leg Forward: lift your left heel and place your left knee on the ground.
- From Downward Dog: Move your right hand over to your left, and step your right foot to the right side/outside of your right hand.
- Bring your left knee down to the ground and shorten your stance until both legs are in 90 degree angles (hence, 90/90)
- Take a deep breath in, and find a ragdoll shape in the upper body
- If the elbows are in the way, come down to the forearms
- If you're somewhere between hands and forearms to the mat, bring a block under your forearms
- At the end of a warrior sequence or any other standing work that requires significant pelvis stabilization
- Huge hip flexor and hamstring relief, with supported, relaxing upper body for additional flexion through the hips and relaxation in the upper body to allow breath focus