Have you ever let out a loud “UGH” upon standing up from the couch? Does the thought of sitting cross-legged make you cringe? You’re likely reacting to some discomfort in the muscles around your hip sockets.
This pocket of pain is easily intensified by stagnant hours spent at your desk or in your car, which prevents necessary movement in the hip region. Additionally, exercises like running (even if it’s just to catch the 6 train) force impact on the hip joints, creating tension that will increase over time if not immediately stretched out. These daily habits can lead to pain throughout the lower body, poor posture and a John Wayne walk.
But before you commit to a life of constant discomfort (or hail a cab by yelling “Hi Ho, Silver!”), consider some basic hip-opening exercises to alleviate everyday ache. When practiced regularly, hip stretches can dramatically increase your body’s overall flexibility and might even reduce the sting in other commonly sore body parts like the knees and ankles. At the same time, many yoga practitioners consider hip opening poses to be the most physically intense and emotionally calming aspect of their daily routines.
Practice each posture for five slow, deep breathes and repeat on your opposite side.
Ankle to Knee Pose
Sit on the floor or your mat and extend your legs out in front of you. Keep your back straight by drawing your belly in and relaxing your shoulders away from your ears. Cross your right ankle over your left knee so that your right knee is forming a 90-degree angle. Press your palms or fingertips firmly into the ground. On an inhale, lengthen your chest up and on an exhale, draw your shoulder blades towards each other and down your back. Relax the tops of your shoulders away from your ears if they’ve crept up. Repeat on the left side.
As this pose becomes more comfortable over time, you can bend your bottom leg as well so that your upper body is in the same position and your shins are stacked directly on top of each other.
Sit on the floor with your back straight and the soles of your feet pressed together. If you have to extend your legs slightly so that they form more of a diamond shape, do so. Hold your feet so that your thumbs are touching the balls of your feet and your fingers are wrapped around the outside tops of your feet. Press your heels together as you begin to open your feet like a book (this pose has not yet been updated for E-readers). Continue to press your heels together as you draw your knees as close to the ground as possible.
By far the most rewarding, but also the most intense, of the hip opening postures, pigeon make take some patience to appreciate. Enter this pose slowly and thoughtfully and to reap its many benefits. You may also want to place a blanket or towel on the floor or your mat for extra support in this pose.
Begin in a low lunge with your right knee bent and your left leg straight behind you with your fingertips pressing into the floor. Relax your left knee onto your blanket and sit down onto your right hip (your legs will look as if they’re making a messily scribbled letter ‘S’). Square off your hips so the they are in line with your right shin (and the top of your mat) and try to keep your shin at a 90 degree angle; this may take time, be patient. Press your palms or fingertips into the floor next to your hips and lengthen your spine. On an inhale, lift your chest up and on an exhale, draw your shoulder blades towards each other and down your back. Repeat on the left side.
Mallory Stuchin studied Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore, India, and has taught classes at PURE Yoga and New York University. She is also a natural foods chef and a vegetable butcher at Eataly.