You’ve probably heard the term “hip openers” used often in the world of yoga, often associated with one specific movement – external rotation of the hip joint. However, this is quite a limited definition as the hips are complex joints that link your upper and lower body and there are many different muscle groups involved in determining their overall mobility.
Hip openers have great benefits of stretching and rejuvenating the muscles surrounding your hip joint and pelvis. These muscles include the buttocks, hamstrings, inner thighs, groin, and abdomen. If you’ve practice some yoga at any level, you probably recognise that unlocking sensation when you turn your feet and legs outward, like in Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose), Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2 Pose), Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), or Sukhasana (Easy Pose). The muscles involved in these poses are often tight and tense from hours of desk-bound work, which can lead to discomfort, especially in the lower back. By engaging in hip opening poses, you can regain flexibility, freedom of movement and feel more at ease in your everyday activities. To spice up your practice, you can explore at least six different movements that engage the muscles and connective tissues around the hips.
A note before we go into details – hip openers can be practiced lying down, standing, or sitting. Most people find the deepest hip openings when they’re supported by the ground, allowing them to relax deeply into the stretch and hold the pose for longer. And remember to please always warm up your muscles before going into deep stretches.
So, here they are:
- External Rotation: The stereotypical hip opener. This involves turning your thigh outward away from your body. You’ll experience this in standing poses when your feet are turned away from each other or in seated poses when one or both thighs are drawn out to the side. Examples include Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose), Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose), and Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose).
- Internal Rotation: yes, the opposite of external rotation and it involves turning your thigh inward towards your body. You can feel this movement in poses that require crossing your legs or drawing your lifted leg towards your midline. You can try for example Garudasana (Eagle Pose), Virasana (Hero Pose, or Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3).
- Flexion: When your thigh moves towards the front of your body, that’s flexion. This very beneficial stretch for the back of your hip comes into play during forward bends and some inversions. Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), and Halasana (Plow Pose) are excellent examples.
- Extension: In contrast to flexion, extension thus means moving your thigh away from your front body. You’ll feel this in backbends that stretch the muscles at the front of your hips. Here, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), Ustrasana (Camel Pose), and Purvottanasana (Upward or Reverse Plank Pose) are great choices.
- Adduction: This refers to hip openers that draw your thigh towards the midline of your body like for example when you hug your thighs together or cross your legs. To really feel this movement you can try Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose), Navasana (Boat Pose), or Garudasana (Eagle Pose).
- Abduction: Lastly, abduction involves moving your thigh away from the midline of your body, like stepping your feet wide apart or positioning your knees away from one another. For a taste of this, you can have a go with Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angled Seated Forward Bend) or Malasana (Garland Pose).
Hopefully, with this glimpse into the world of hip openers beyond just cracking open your hips. You can now go ahead and begin to nurture the full spectrum of movements that these amazing joints are capable of to really unlock the true potential of your hip mobility. Your whole body will thank you for it. 😉