The word "tight" is often used to mean toned and fit, but a tight body isn't always a healthy body. Tight, inflexible hips can contribute to pain in the legs and lower back and make you more more susceptible to injury. Tight hips often afflict athletes as well as those who lead a more sedentary lifestyle. A yoga practice that emphasizes stretches known as hip openers can help you become more supple and limber.
Any yoga teacher can tell you that one of the worst things you can do for your hips is to sit in a chair for long periods of time. This means most people arrive at yoga class with little mobility in the hip region. The psoas, the hip flexors, adductors, abductors, internal and external rotators all tend to be very tight.
The hip muscles are thick and large, so limbering them up requires some work. However, trying to force these muscles to loosen up can cause injury, so yoga classes often include some gentle hip openers at the beginning of class. For instance, the class may begin with breathing exercises in Sukhasana, the cross-legged seated position often referred to by nonyogis as "sitting Indian style." Then the class may move into Downward-Facing Dog, adding alternating leg extensions to stretch the hips.
After you have warmed up with some basic stretches, your yoga teacher will have you begin a more active part of class with standing poses. Eagle pose, Triangle pose, Warrior Poses I and II and Half-Moon pose all involve rotation of the legs within the hip sockets. This requires the hip muscles to become more active than in most everyday activities. When several standing poses flow together rapidly in vinyasas such as Sun Salutation, your body heat rises, encouraging greater limberness. Alternatively, the teacher may have the class intensify the level of challenge by holding these poses for longer periods of time.
The more intense hip openers in a yoga class are usually performed after the energetic standing poses. Depending on what level class she is teaching, a yoga teacher may lead students through a variety of hip openers at this time. Bound Angle pose, for instance, involves sitting with knees bent and pointing outward, soles of the feet together, the first two fingers and thumb of each hand clasping the same-side big toe. From this position, students exhale and fold forward, letting the upper body drop toward the legs. Other challenging hip openers include Pigeon and Heron poses.
Preparing for Savasana
Savasana is a pose of complete relaxation. It looks easy, since it involves reclining on your back, but for most people, truly relaxing while remaining alert, rather than having the mind distract you or falling asleep, is a difficult achievement. For many yoga students, tight hips create one of the internal barriers to relaxation, so yoga teachers frequently guide students through one or more reclining hip openers before Savasana. One that you can try at home is Happy Baby pose, where you rest on your back with knees bent, legs wide, kneecaps pointing to armpits, soles of the feet pointing to the ceiling, hands or a yoga strap pressing downward on the feet,