6 postures to stretch out those hips
Apple CEO Tim Cook once proclaimed that “sitting is the new cancer”, which may sound overly-dramatic but unfortunately the guy has a point. The fact of the matter is that being sedentary for long periods of time, for example sitting at a desk all day, causes big health problems – in fact the World Health Organisation states in its Global Health Risks report that physical inactivity is up there with smoking, high blood pressure and high blood glucose as a leading cause of global mortality.
For many of us sitting down a lot is unavoidable, however we can counter some of the detrimental effects of being backside-bound. Taking breaks every 20 mins, drinking lots of water so that you have to get up to pee and taking the stairs instead of the elevator are all ways that we can be less sedentary. And of course doing lots of yoga is encouraged!
A prominent side effect of sitting a lot is super-tight hips, as when we sit down for extended periods our hip flexors shorten and tighten. The below postures are perfect to stretch out those hip flexors, increase your range of movement and relieve any discomfort in the hips. These can be done before, during or after work as a way of bringing some gentle movement into your day.
- Happy baby. Not only is this your most attractive position, it's also a beautiful hip opener which stretches your back at the same time. Lie on your back, bend both knees and grab the outside edges of your feet. Pull your knees towards your armpits, at the same time as stretching your coccyx towards the floor. You can roll gently from side to side, massaging your lower back into the floor if that feels good.
- Malasana or yogic squat. I love to hang out in this posture when I'm at home, much to my in-laws amusement. Squat down, keeping your feet as close together as possible. If your heels rise up you can place a rolled blanket under them. Separate your thighs and lean your chest forward, bringing your elbows inside your knees and your hands into prayer. Stay here for a few minutes - you'll find this pose very calming.
3. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana or Pigeon Pose. A delicious stretch which opens up the hips, groin and psoas - just watch your knees and ankles in this pose if you have injuries. Start in downward facing dog, bend your right knee and slide your right toes along the left side of your mat brining your right knee behind your right wrist and your right foot working towards your left hand. Your left knee comes to the floor and your left leg stretches out behind with your left foot pressing into the floor. Inhale to lift your chest, exhale to walk your hands forward, resting your forearms on the floor. If you want to increase the posture, you can slide your hands forward to rest your forehead on the mat. Stay here for up to a minute, relaxing into the posture on every exhale.
4. Utthan Pristhasana or Lizard pose. A class favourite, even though people groan at the mention of it, this posture is an elixir for the hip flexors, the hamstrings, and the quadriceps. A wonderful partner to pigeon pose, I often teach these together in a hip opening sequence. From downward dog raise your right leg, gaze forward and step your right foot to the outside of your right hand. Drop your back knee and untuck your toes. Stay here, or to increase the stretch drop down on to your forearms, keeping the neck and the head in line with your spine. For even more of a challenge, lift your back knee. To release come back on to your hands, tuck the back toes and step the right foot back into downward dog.
5. Baddha Konasana or Cobbler Pose. There are numerous benefits to this posture as well as just improved flexibility in the hips and groin. It is also said to boost fertility as it increases blood circulation to the pelvis and stimulates the abdominal organs. Start in Dandasana with your legs stretched out in front of you, feet flexed and the crown of your head lifting towards the sky; option to sit on the edge of a folded blanket if your hips are particularly tight. Bring the soles of your feet together as close to your pelvis as comfortable, allowing your knees to fall out to either side. Pistol grip your big toes, or take hold of your ankles or shins if that's not possible, drop your shoulders back and down and inhale to lift up through the chest. Exhale to press the knees towards the floor, opening up the hips. To increase the stretch start to open up the chest and fold forward towards your feet being careful not to lose the integrity of your spine. To release, bring the hands underneath your knees and draw your legs together.
6. Sanchalanasana or High Lunge. This is one of those awesome yoga poses where you can 100% feel the stretch and go as little or as far as you want into the posture. I like to incorporate this pose into sun salutations, but it can be done on its own or as part of a hip opening sequence. From downward dog lift the right leg to the sky then step it through the hands, lifting up into the high lunge position with your front knee bent (making sure the knee is directly above or working towards the ankle) and back leg straight with the heel lifted. Sweep the hands up to the sky or keep them on your hips if you have a shoulder injury, then gaze straight ahead or look up if that's good for your neck. Breathe and hold for 5 to 6 breaths.