Welcome to Part 1 of my 2-part hip-opening article! In Part 1, we will analyze the anatomy of tight hips and what it truly means to open them. In Part 2, we will go over some certain hip-opening alignment pointers that most yogis are missing out on in their practice. Enjoy, and as always, simply let me know if you’ve any questions/thoughts/feedback at all!

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Let us Ignore ‘Hip-Openers’

We talk a lot about “hip-openers” in yoga, but hip-opening is in fact more intricate than we typically recognize. Pigeon posture and its variations are generally considered the primary group of postures which ‘open our hips’, but remarkably, most people unknowingly practice these poses in a manner which bypasses the real hip-opening they offer. The truth is that nearly all yoga presents are hip-openers, but we have not learned to think about them this way, and we therefore don’t align our joints to discover this hip-opening potential that our bodies so desperately need.

Instead of thinking of the little group of poses we normally identify as “hip openers”, we should expand our focus and discover to open our hips throughout our entire yoga practice.

Anatomy Lesson

We can all point to the basic area of our body we want when we talk about our “hips”. To be specific, however, we can say that the real hip joint is located where your femur (thighbone) fulfills your pelvis (hip bone). And for the anatomy geeks in the space, let us be technical and define the hip joint as the location where the head of the thigh (the ball-like prominence at the top end of the bone) articulates with the acetabulum, a concave hemispherical socket located on the side of the hips. (Fun fact: did you understand that “acetabulum” indicates “little vinegar cup” in Latin? And are you a new fan of anatomy trivia now?)

The hip is a joint, which means that it’s a moveable part of your body. Movement at the hip takes place when the thigh and pelvis move in relation to each other. There are lots of movements readily available at the hip joint, consisting of hip extension (moving the thigh behind you, as in shalabhasana), hip flexion (think diving forward from tadasana to uttanasana), hip abduction (moving your thigh out to the side, like your back leg in warrior 2), hip adduction (moving the thigh towards your midline – think eagle position), and internal and external rotation.  Ideally all of these motions would be fluid and easy for you all of the time, however all too commonly, our hip joint motion is limited in several aircrafts (or all of them), leading to hips we experience as “tight”.

What Does It Imply to Have Tight Hips?

Even though we may casually talk about our joints as being “tight”, the fact is that your joint itself is not really the concern. It’s really the muscles and fascia that cross your joint that restrict your movement. And how do these tissues become tight? As my biomechanics instructor Katy Bowman says, “your body adapts to exactly what you do most frequently”. And the one body position that we as a culture tend to presume a lot of frequently is sitting with our hips and knees bent at 90 degrees. Even if you do not think you sit a lot, or if you work which needs you to stand, are not0 probably forgetting all the other time you do spend sitting since it’s so deep-rooted in your daily way of living that you nearly do not even recognize it.

In a nutshell, our over-use of the sitting posture reduces the muscles that cross the front of our hips (hip flexors) and the muscles that line the back our thighs (hamstrings), as well as efficiently “shuts off” our otherwise effective glutes, and generally simply tosses our whole hip plan out of balance. The result is unhappy, tight hips which drive us into yoga classes searching for some much-needed opening.

Why’s Having Tight Hips Uncool?

There are numerous factors that our tight hips are uncool, and the general pain we experience from stiff, unyielding muscles is simply the beginning. Most people do not understand the unbelievably big duty that our musculoskeletal system plays in our body’s total wellness. But check this out: our blood vessels and lymphatic vessels are embedded inside our muscles. Blood brings the oxygen which feeds our cells, leading to cellular regeneration, and lymph is our body’s waste-removal system. But blood and lymph can only stream through muscles which are at their ideal, supple length. A tight muscle will withstand the flow of these important fluids – picture a fist gripping a hose and how that’d effect the flow of water running through that hose. Put another method, tight muscles work versus the flow of your cardiovascular system (blood) and your immune system (which your lymphatic system supports). The outcome is enhanced blood pressure, lowered metabolism, waste buildup in your tissues, and enhanced threat of heart attack. If ideal wellness in our body is important to us, bringing flexibility and flow back to our tight muscles need to be a concern. Had you ever considered your muscles from this bigger-picture, entire body wellness viewpoint?

Another factor that tight hips are no bueno is that when we want to get something done that requires hip movement, like selecting something up off the floor, or pushing up into urdhva dhanurasana (wheel present) in yoga, we’ll certainly move from elsewhere more than we should since we can’t move from our hips as much as we should. Sadly, the alternative body part that’s all too often over-used when our hips are tight is our vulnerable spine. Hi, spinal joint degeneration, herniated discs, impinged nerves, and pain in the back in basic!

Understanding a bit more about our anatomy reveals to us that tight hips are really about much more than the trouble you could experience when you cannot enter lotus position in yoga class.

What Does “Opening the Hips” Indicate?

For much of my yoga-practicing profession, I was under the impression that if you wanted to open your hips, you essentially simply had to do pigeon position a lot, which basically summarized all you’ve to know about hip opening.

But hip-opening has to do with a lot even more than simply pigeon pose. There are a total amount of 22 muscles that cross the hip on all sides and at varying angles, including your hip flexors in the front, your hamstrings, glutes, and deep lateral rotators in the back, your inner thigh muscles (jointly called your “adductors”), and your outer thigh muscles (collectively called your “abductors”).

A “hip-opener” is technically any stretch that lengthens any of the 22 muscles that cross the hip. This suggests, as an example, that all hamstring muscle stretches are hip openers, all inner thigh stretches (believe baddha konasana) are hip-openers, all standing positions (warriors, lunges, etc.) are hip-openers, many of yoga’s twists are hip-openers, and as counterintuitive as it might seem, all backbends are likewise hip-openers. (Crazy, huh?)

Can you see that once we’ve an anatomical definition for exactly what hip-opening is, it’s tough to name a yoga present which is not a hip-opener? (Inversions are not actually hip-openers, however I wish they were!) Our entire yoga practice is generally just one huge hip-opening opportunity.

However, the majority of yogis are really (very!) good at compromising the work we need to perform in order to stretch our hips in our presents. This is due to the fact that we merely do not comprehend how to place our joints (a.k.a. alignment) in a way that in fact stretches our hips, and we wind up leaving our mat without much change in our tight hips at all.

But it does not have to be in this manner, men! Stay tuned for Part 2 for some wonderful pointers on refining your practice with hip-opening in mind!