On Friday I will be co-teaching a yoga class as part of my yoga teacher training practicum. While putting together the class we wanted to come up with a main focus. I love working with shapes that focus on the hips. You usually feel these poses intensely and it is very obvious that something is working and changing in your body.
In our modern society, most of us lead fairly sedentary lifestyles. We spend a lot of time sitting — sitting at the computer, while watching TV, while driving in the car. While we are in the seated position, the muscles of the hip flexor are contracted. This constant contraction leads to an imbalance in the muscles of the hip area which in turn can lead to lower back problems.
There are several muscles across the front of the hip area whose job it is to pull the thigh and the torso towards each other. The most notable of these is the iliopsoas. The iliopsoas is actually made up of two muscle groups – the iliacus and the psoas (major and minor). The iliopsoas is considered to be the most powerful flexor of the thigh.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Most problems in the hip flexors are not due to a lack of strength, but a lack of flexibility. Due to our lifestyles, the hip is kept in a constant state of flexion which causes the muscles to shorten. This will limit your ability to fully extend these muscles. When the muscles of the hip flexors are tight, they pull the pelvis forward, tilting it and creating strain on the lower back.
In his book, Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, David Coulter reports that hip flexibility is the most important requirement for least half of the postures in hatha yoga. Yoga has many great poses that work to stretch out and create space in the hip flexors and you will find shapes that work the hip flexors in all the major posture categories, including standing, sitting, reclining, forward bending and twisting.
If you can manage it, daily hip flexor exercises will help prevent many problems that afflict us from lower back issues to neck and shoulder complaints. The health of the psoas directly affects our posture and in yoga is well known that a healthy and flexible spine promotes wellness and vitality.
One-Legged Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) is a classic hip opener that works the hip in its full range of motion including the outer groin and hip flexor. It is a great a hip opener but should be done gently and mindfully especially if you have had any lower back or knee problems.
A Selection of Poses that Target Hips
- Lunge Poses (low with knee down and high with knee lifted)
- Pigeon and Pigeon Variations
- Warrior 1
- Bound Angle Pose / Cobbler (Baddha Konasana)
- Knee to Ankle (Figure 4 Pose)
Yoga Journal lists poses by anatomical focus. Have a look at the recommended poses for hips for more suggestions.