According to a study carried out in 2017, hip injuries account for 6% of all sports injuries. They even occur in high-level athletes. But injuries of this ball-and-socket joint are very common in general. This is why hip-opening yoga poses should be a part of everyone’s yoga routine. It is crucial for long-term hip mobility and health.
Apart from that, hip openers in yoga are said to have even more benefits than just the physical. It is believed that the hips act like a container for our emotions. Thus, stretching the muscles around the pelvis is thought to bring emotional release.
So, what benefits does yoga have for the hips and what are the best hip mobility exercises?
In this article, you’ll learn:
1. What You Need to Know About Hip Openers in Yoga
Especially in yoga, hip openers are crucial. They help you in every way because they free up the lower back and hips and make all the other poses possible. So, if there’s one kind of yoga practice you should repeat regularly, it’s hip-opening yoga sequences. Before you roll out your yoga mat, let’s have a look at some of the most important things you need to be aware of when practicing yoga for the hips.
Did you know you can easily create an hip opening sequence with our Sequence Builder? Simply set the filter ‘Hip-Opening” and you will find all the asana cards of that asana group.
1. Why You Should Do Yoga for Your Hips
Nowadays, tightness in the hips is one of the most common conditions. The main reason for that may be that we spend large parts of the day sitting in chairs, cars, or on our beds. In contrast, we spend close to no time in hip-opening positions like a deep squat.
The problem is that tight hips can cause issues like lower back pain, spinal misalignments, and even injury or long-term damage.
To get a better understanding, let’s have a quick look at the anatomy of the hips. The hip joint is a so-called ball-and-socket joint. It provides stability during every-day activities such as standing and walking, and supports the body weight. This joint consists of the head of the thigh bone (femur) connected with the acetabulum, which is the socket part of the hip joint. It is formed by the iliac bone, the ischium bone, and the pubic bone.
This unique structure of the hip joint allows for a greater range of motion than, for example, hinge joints such as the elbow or the knee. It allows for both extension and flexion, and abduction and adduction.
As Spiderman already knew: “With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s why you need to open the front, back and sides of the hips to efficiently increase mobility and flexibility in this joint. Hip-opening yoga poses may not only soothe hip and back pain but can also prevent you from injuring yourself in all sorts of movements.
2. The Most Important Thing in Hip-Opening Yoga Poses
There’s one very simple but equally important adjustment you need to make in hip-opening yoga poses to protect your knees.
The knee is a hinge joint, which means that it basically can only move in the sagittal plane, i.e. flex and extend. It has only a very limited range of motion in the frontal plane. Note that the knee cannot rotate. This means that any rotation has to come from the hip as it is a ball-and-socket joint.
So, whenever you practice hip openers in yoga, always actively pull in the outsides of the shins (hug the midline). This ensures that the rotation really comes from the hip and the knee is protected through the engagement of the calf muscles. To do that, spread the toes and push through the inside of the foot. This means that there’s no hip-opening yoga pose where you twist the foot. This is because, if you sickle the foot, the outer ligament has to bear the brunt of the movement, putting the knee at risk.
So, never twist your ankle in hip-opening yoga poses. Let me repeat that: Never (!) twist your ankle in hip-opening yoga poses.
3. The Benefits of Hip Openers in Yoga
The hip joint and the pelvis area is the connection between the upper and the lower part of the body. It’s therefore an important area for all kinds of movements. A lot of poses that work on either the upper body or the lower body involve the pelvic area in some way. If the hips are not open and flexible enough, movement impulses can get stuck in this area. As a result, the range of motion decreases. This is why it’s a good idea to focus on the hip area to improve your overall yoga practice.
The pelvic area is a very complex area with a lot of muscles involved and working together. These muscles are stabilized and held together by connective tissue. Especially the upper part of the thigh bone has to move through a lot of connective tissue. This means, although the tissue creates stability, we also need a certain amount of flexibility in order to be able to move functionally and create an optimal flow of movement.
Hip-opening yoga poses can actually help loosen tight hips, thereby improving the range of motion and circulation. This, in turn, can significantly alleviate back pain.
2. 15 Hip-Opening Yoga Poses for Improved Mobility and Flexibility
1. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s pose is a great way to start your hip-opening yoga sequence. You can easily find it among the asana cards of our free tool, the Sequence Builder that will help you create your own unique sequence.
The best option here is to open the knees and bring the big toes to touch. Note that not everybody is able to bring the buttocks onto the heels. This may be because of knee issues or tightness in the hips. In that case, it’s okay to stay up higher.
You may know Child’s pose as a very passive and relaxing pose. However, the body is not passive in this pose. Activate the legs by hugging the shins in. Move the sitting bones back and apart. Engage the core muscles and stretch the spine in two directions. From there, stretch the fingertips out toward the front of the yoga mat and consciously move your energy back toward your tailbone. That’s how your hips will move down towards the heels.
When practiced as a hip opener, the focus in Child’s pose should not be on bringing the forehead onto the mat but on stretching the spine in two directions and sending the hips back. Keeping the head and the armpits lifted also strengthens the arms, engages the upper back, strengthens the abdominals, and stretches the outer sides of the hips.
2. Lizard Pose (Uttana Pristhasana)
Take a big step backward with one leg. Maybe, you already feel a stretch in the hip flexor here. Place the back knee down and draw the legs toward each other. Try to bring the pelvis in one line by pushing the back hip forward. Engage the core muscles and lift the chest to stretch the spine.
Maintain this engagement while trying to deepen the front-leg lunge. Since the back knee is on the ground, the front knee can move further forward over the toes. Place the palms on the inside of the front foot. If available to you, you can even place forearms on the ground. However, the focus should be on maintaining the integrity of the pelvis by hugging both legs in. Avoid collapsing in the hips.
3. Bowing Warrior (Baddha Virabhadrasana)
Start in a Warrior stance with one foot in front, toes facing forward, and the other foot back parallel to the short edge of the mat. The front heel is in line with the arch of the back foot. Lift the arches of both feet and squeeze feet and shins in toward the midline. Lift the sitting bones up with the inner thighs.
Touch the floor if you’re able to do this while maintaining the integrity of the pelvis. Engage the core muscles and stretch the spine in two directions. If you can, clasp the hands behind your back for a nice shoulder stretch.
4. Supine Figure-4 Stretch (Supta Kapotasana)
Lie on your back and bend both knees so that the feet are on the mat. Bring one leg across, placing the ankle onto the thigh of the other leg. Be very mindful of the action of the foot that is on the thigh. The sole of the foot should be perpendicular to the earth. Draw the outer side of the pinky toe toward the outer knee. At the same time, push the mound of the big toe forward. This is important because, if the foot is not engaged, there will be too much pull on the knee. Activating the foot also intensifies the hip-opening effect of this yoga pose.
Now lift the other foot off the floor and wrap the hands around the back of the thigh. Keep this foot also very active by flexing it. Draw the knee toward the chest. At the same time, you can use your elbow to press the other knee away from you. This is a great stretch for the outer hip.
If you want to go a bit further, place the lifted foot back onto the floor. Take the other foot into the hands while keeping it flexed and active. Bend the elbows outward and lift the head. Now draw the chin toward the shin and vice versa. If you want to take it even further, you can stretch the other leg out in front.
5. Standing Figure-4 Stretch (Eka Pada Utkatasana)
For this pose, you have the option of practicing it on your yoga mat in the middle of the room or, if you feel unstable, position yourself near a wall for support.
Like in the supine version of this hip-opening yoga pose, place one foot on top of the other thigh, keeping the foot flexed and active. The foot should be perpendicular to the floor and the mound of the big toe pushes forward.
Start bending the standing leg by sending the inner thighs and groins back. Create a lumbar curve to open the pelvic floor. Push the shinbone of the standing leg into the foot of the lifted leg to bring the knee closer to the earth.
If you’re near a wall, place your hands on the wall and lift the armpits up. This allows you to also draw the thoracic spine toward the wall.
6. Wide-Legged Forward Fold
Stand facing the long side of the yoga mat and step the feet apart. Keep the knees bent in the beginning. Squeeze the feet toward each other and lift the arches to stay strong and active in the legs. While hugging the shins and feet toward the midline, bring the sitting bones back and apart to open the pelvic floor. Make sure your lumbar spine is curved.
Take the hands on the hips and start leaning forward. Shift the body weight more into the balls of the feet.
Start straightening the legs by pushing back and widening the sitting bones. Walk your hands down the shins. Hug the belly button in to stay strong in the core. Only go down as low as you can maintain the curve in the lumbar spine. Eventually, you may be able to place the fingertips or hands on the yoga mat.
To stand up, engage the abdominal muscles and send the shoulders back before lifting the upper body.
7. Seated Side Split (Upavista Konasana/Janu Sirsasana)
Sit down on your yoga mat and stretch the legs out to the sides. If you know you’re tight in the hamstrings or inner adductors, elevate the pelvis by sitting on a block or a rolled-up blanket.
Bend the knees and let the toes of the feet point upwards. Take the hands back behind you and lift your hips up. Take your inner thighs back towards the wall behind you. This helps you to sit more on your sitting bones and the seat of the pelvis.
Take the hands to the inner shins and hug the feet and shins in toward the midline. This means that you’re actually squeezing the hands into the shins and vice versa. This helps you to take the femur bones back and apart. Maintain the curve in the lumbar spine and hug the belly button to the spine. Perhaps you can straighten the legs more and take the hands out in front of you.
To continue into Janu Sirsasana, lift the torso to sit upright again. Twist the upper body to the right leg and place the left hand on the outer right shin. Use the right hand on the floor as a leverage. Consciously push the inner left groin down into the earth. You can even use the left hand to anchor the left hip.
Bring the left hand back to the right shin and twist the body further to the right. Use your breath as it allows you to twist a little bit deeper with each exhale. Come back to center on an inhale.
Switch to the other side and, after that, try bending forward again. Usually, after the twist, it’s much easier to fold forward.
8. Yogi Squat (Malasana)
This is the king hip opener and a great yoga pose for the lower back. Start with the feet hip-distance apart and parallel. If this is difficult for you, place the feet a bit wider and turn them slightly out. You can also keep the heels lifted to start with.
Irrespective of the position of your feet, hug the midline with your shins and feet. Squeeze the sitting bones back and apart. You can even place the elbows in between your knees and squeeze your thighs against the elbows.
Really try to separate the sitting bones back and apart. This is what opening up the pelvis truly is. Also, pay attention that you’re not rounding the spine but keep the abdominals strong instead.
9. Seated Twist (Pavritta Sukhasana)
Start sitting in Easy Pose (Sukhasana). Make sure you sit in front of your sitting bones by lifting the pelvis up and moving it slightly back. If this is difficult for you, elevate your hips by sitting on a block, bolster, or rolled-up blanket. This also helps you to keep the spine straight and prevents you from rounding your back.
Separate the sitting bones and tilt the pelvis slightly to create a triangle between the sitting bones and the perineum. Keep the feet active by flexing them and hug the shins in. Alternatively, you can practice this pose in Siddhasana, i.e. with both feet on the floor and one in front of the other.
Maintaining this upright position of the spine, twist toward the right side. Place the left hand on the outside of the right thigh and the right hand on the floor behind you. Use your left hand as leverage to twist the torso more.
Return to center after a few breaths and twist to the left side. Then switch legs and twist to both sides again.
10. Mini Warrior/Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
The best way to get into this hip-opening yoga pose is to start in Downward-Facing Dog. Step one foot to the front of the mat between the feet. Place the back knee down onto the ground. Point the foot and push all five toenails and the top of the foot down into the mat.
Engage the back leg and bring the hands on the hips to raise the torso. Lift the inner thighs and take them back. Draw the belly button to the spine and release the hands to the sides. With an inhalation, lift the ribs up and away from the pelvis and lift the heart.
11. Twisted Hero Pose (Pavritta Virasana)
Come down onto your knees with the knees hip-width distance apart. This means that the two femur bones should be parallel to each other. Take the feet further apart so that they are wider than the hips. This way, you can sit between your feet. If your buttocks won’t reach the floor, you can place a blanket or a cushion between your feet to sit on. Sitting slightly elevated actually helps you to curve the lumbar spine.
Do not sickle the feet but keep them in one line with the shins and draw the shins and ankles in. Spread the toes away from the hips.
Lift the chest up but, at the same time, hug the front body short by engaging the core. Keep the strength and the curve in the lower spine while twisting to the right side. Take the left hand onto the outside of the right leg and place the right hand on the floor beside you. Use the leverage of the hands as well as your core to twist yourself to the right. Lift the chin slightly and lengthen through the crown of the head.
Stay here for a few breaths before turning back to the center and repeating the twist on the left side.
12. Twisted Cow Face Pose (Pavritta Gomukhasana)
This is one of the world’s greatest hip openers in yoga. Stay on your knees but bring one knee in front of the other so that your thighs are crossed. Keep the feet very active. This means that especially the ankles do not collapse down.
If you want, you can put a blanket or cushion underneath your buttocks. Squeeze the shins in toward each other and separate the sitting bones. Lower the buttocks down until you can sit either on the floor or on your cushion. For starters, you can keep the torso leaning forward and work on widening the sitting bones.
Otherwise, start lifting the torso to sit upright. If you don’t feel anything, move the feet slightly forward. You can stay here and let the breath do its work. Or, if you want to increase the stretch, twist to the side. Push one elbow against the thigh as leverage. Give yourself time to breathe in this pose before twisting to the other side.
13. Half Lord of the Fish Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Start sitting on your yoga mat with the feet in front of you. Take the left leg underneath and the right foot over the left knee. If you want, you can sit on a blanket or a cushion. Elevating the hips helps you to curve in the lumbar spine.
Bring the torso upright and take the left hand on the outer side of the right knee. Use the right hand on the floor as leverage. Lean into the left hip and lift the right hip up. Try to broaden the right inner sitting bone over to the right. Once you’ve created as much space as you can possibly create, lower the hip down again.
Engage the core muscles and maintain this stability and strength while lengthening through each vertebra of the spine. Enjoy the twist for a few breaths. On an inhale, come back to center and twist to the other side.
14. Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)
This is a great hip opener and it’s best practiced on a rolled-up blanket or a bolster to sit on. If you also place your feet on the blanket, you prevent them from falling out to the sides.
Bring the soles of the feet together and let the knees fall to the sides. Now take your hands around your thighs and actually roll them out to widen your sitting bones. Hold on to your feet and bring the pelvis into a slight anterior tilt to arch the lower spine. You can even place the hands on your lumbar spine to check whether even the lowest vertebrae tilt in. You will also notice how your knees go down when you do this.
Press the feet together and hug the shins in. You can even place your hands on a block behind you for support.
15. Pigeon Pose (Raja Kapotasana)
This is a classic hip-opening yoga pose and it’s best entered from Downward-Facing Dog. Take a moment here to already widen your sitting bones.
Bring one leg forward with the knee behind one hand and the foot behind the other one so that the shin is as close as parallel to the front of the yoga mat as possible.
One of the most important aspects of this pose is the front foot. Press the outside edge of the foot firmly into the ground. Extend out through the mound of the big toe and flare the toes back to create dorsal flexion of the foot. As a result, the ankle will actually lift off the floor. This will protect your knee in this hip opener.
Now lift the back knee and hug the midline with the legs. Lower the knee again and point the toes of the back leg. Push the foot and the toenails into the yoga mat. Lean the torso forward and, from inside your ribs, stretch through the inseam of the back leg.
You can even take a little twist by placing the forearm that is opposite to the front leg down. Keep the core engaged while you lengthen through the back leg. Stay here for a few breaths before returning to Downward-Facing Dog and repeating this hip-opening pose with the other leg in front.
3. Where to Find Sample Hip-Opening Yoga Sequences
Of course, you can practice all these hip openers one after another or spice up every yoga session with a few of them. But what about having a nice yoga sequence for hip opening? Well, we on TINT Yoga got you covered.
We created the Yoga Sequence Builder for you. This free tool helps you to find asana inspiration and easily lets you put together your unique sequence simply by a drag-and-drop function. You can use the filter to find only hip-opening asanas. That seems too easy, right?
Furthermore, we have a variety of hip-opener workshops and classes from the world’s greatest yoga minds for you. Try, for example, Katchie Ananda’s class Forward Bends & Hip Openers, Kristin McGee’s Hip-Opening Yoga Flow, or Duncan Wong’s Lotus Hip Therapy.
If you’re looking for yoga hip openers for beginners, Matt Giordano has a basic hip-opening yoga sequence for your focusing on the essentials. You can also create Deep Roots and Strong Foundations with Finlay Wilson or start off by working on Hamstring & Hip Flexibility with Desirée Rumbaugh and Andrew Rivin.
You want to know more about the underlying anatomical principles affecting hip mobility and hip flexibility? Then let alignment expert Barbra Noh teach you how to create Therapeutic Alignment for Knees, Hips and Lower Back or learn everything about functional movement of the hip joints in Alexey Gaevskij’s Functional Hips class. Budokon founder and Mixed Martial Arts expert Cameron Shayne also has created a Hip Mobility Workshop for Movers on TINT.