It Depends: Yoga for Hips
When considering a suitable yoga practice for tight hips, it depends….
There are various factors which could be responsible for a person’s sensation of tightness in the hips. Muscle shortening, scar tissue, conditions like osteo or rheumatoid arthritis or even a person’s anatomical boney structure can limit their range of movement (ROM). As a yoga teacher or yoga therapist – a facilitator of functional movement amongst other things – it’s useful to educate yourself on the causes of tightness (perceived or actual) so you can assist people in initiating and maintaining movement in the best possible way for their body.
For many people, the most common cause of hip tightness is lack of movement. Due to work demands, many people are required to sit for up to 8 hours a day (and sometimes more) with their hips in a flexed position. Prolonged hip flexion places the muscles at the front of the hip (known as the hip flexors) in a shortened state whilst on the opposite side of the pelvis, the gluteals (which are responsible for hip extension), are lengthened. As a result, the muscles anterior to the hip (at the front) become short and tight whilst the gluteals (at the back) are stretched and weakened.
Aside from a slight sensation of tightness at the front of the hip, one of the most common symptoms of tight hip flexors is lower back pain. This is because one the primary hip flexors (the psoas) attaches to the anterior side of the lower lumbar spine and to the anterior femur. Thus tightness in this muscle pulls on the lower back creating pain. Because the pain is felt in the lower back many people seek to perform stretches over the lower back area. However the source of the pain is on the opposite side of the body.
There are many factors that can result in low back pain, so as always IT DEPENDS on individual circumstances, whether the sequence described below will be appropriate.
A simple practice to address hip flexor tightness
To alleviate tightness in the hip flexors it is recommended that people who ARE experiencing this, perform the asanas mentioned below multiple times per week. Always begin with gentle dynamic movement – moving in and out of the posture with the breath 3-5 times – then introduce long holds of at least 30+ seconds to allow the muscle fibres to release.
Knee to Nose – Start in an all fours position, on an inhale, extend one leg straight behind you, on your next exhale, bring the knee towards your nose. Repeat the movement 3-5 in time with your natural breath, extending leg on the inhale, moving knee towards nose on the exhale. Repeat on the other side. This movement encourages the hip flexors to contract and relax which is recommended prior to moving into a stretch position.
Kneeling Lunge – Start in a neutral upright kneeling position, on an in-breath, move one leg forward into a lunge, on the next out breath move the leg back to the kneeling position. After 3-5 dynamic repetitions moving back and forth between the upright kneeling to lunge position with the breath, hold the lunge for 30+ seconds with weight shifted forward, mentally scan over hip flexors and direct your breath to this area. Repeat on the other side.
Bridge & Psoas stretch with block – Start lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hands by your sides on the floor, palms up. On an in-breath lift the hips, moving into a ‘bridge’ pose, on your next out-breath return the hips to the floor. Repeat 3-5 times in time with your natural breath, moving hips up on the in-breath and back down on the out-breath. On your next inhale after you raise your hips, place a block under the sacrum (back of pelvis, at base of spine) and extend one leg. Resting the heel of the extended leg on the floor, bring the opposite knee in towards the hip with hands resting on knee. Hold for 30+ seconds, mentally scan over hip flexors on the extended leg side and direct breath to this area. Repeat on the other side.
#Tip: Some students may find placing a block underneath the sacrum uncomfortable, in which case you can cover the block with a blanket for more cushioning.
#Tip: If you suffer from tight hip flexors you should also aim to strengthen the opposing muscle group, the gluteals, as this will create physical balance within your body.
To strengthen gluteals:
- Bridge: Performed dynamically with the breath as described above. After you raise your hips not eh in-breath, pause, hold & squeeze gluteals at the top, using the contraction of the glutes to move the hips further into extension. #TIP – you can even touch your glutes for a moment so you can feel the muscles contracting, thus building mind/body connection, exhale release and roll down with control. Doing 10 repetitions of this up and down movement in each set, complete 3 sets, resting between sets. Repeat multiple times per week.