Monday, June 12, 2006

Hip Openers (Part One)

Tight hips…it sounds like something you might strive for; in this case, however, “tight” means stiff and inflexible rather than slender or sexy. And, actually, it isn’t really your hips that are tight but the various muscles in the thighs and lower back that connect to the pelvic bone that need stretching. If these muscles are tight, they can really affect the way you use your knees and lower back, since these are the areas that overcompensate when you have inflexible hips.

Tightness in the hips, thighs and lower back is common in athletes (especially runners and bikers) who have very strong leg muscles, but these muscles are often contracted from the movement required in these sports. Men’s hips tend to be tighter than women’s. Older people’s hips have less flexibility than younger people’s. Don’t despair if you are a 50-plus male marathoner, though, because there are many yoga poses that will help open and lengthen the muscles your legs, hips and back. And even if you aren’t an athlete, hip openers will give help open up the lower back and improve your posture.

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose) is one of my favorite relaxing hip openers. Sit on the floor in Bound Angle Pose (knees bent, soles of the feet touching), with several pillows or rolled blankets in reach. Make a large loop with your belt and place one end around your lower back and over your hip bones. Then slip the other end of the loop around the outside edge of the feet and tighten the belt so that the feet are pulled close to the body (as close as is comfortable). Then ease yourself back, first onto the elbows, and then to the floor. Place the pillows or blankets under the knees so you can relax your legs into the support of the pillows, while keeping the feet drawn towards the body. If it is uncomfortable to lie on the floor, keep yourself at an angle by leaning on a pillow or just rest your back against the wall.

Because you are so well-supported in this position, you can really start to relax and open the muscles in the thighs and hips. The belt keeps the feet drawn in without requiring much work in the legs or back and the pillows let the hip joints release since they aren’t holding the knees up. Try to let all the muscles of the lower body surrender into this comforting support. Let yourself rest for 10-15 minutes in this position and then slowly release the belt and unbend the legs. When you come back to sitting you should notice a pleasant stretch in the hip and groin area.

Try to do this stretch a few times every week (maybe in the evening while watching TV or reading). As the muscles start to lengthen you will find this pose more comfortable and—in that cyclical way of yoga— you will want to hold it longer. I like it as a variation on Savasana (Corpse Pose) because the unusual positioning of the legs keeps me more focused on my body and more present in my mind. You could try a breathing exercise in this pose.

Regular practice of Supta Baddha Konasana will make a whole class of hip openers more enjoyable. You may notice your lower back releasing which makes twists and forward bends easier. So, work on this all you leg-oriented athletes and in my next posting I will give you a series of poses that will take advantage of your now “un-tight” hips!
©Brenda K. Plakans. All rights reserved.


Ashley said...

great ideas Brenda. I'm going to pass that on to some of my students.

Al said...

Thank you so much! As a long time runner and new yoga lover I look forward to improving and undoing some of the tightening I have created. Again... thanks!