10 Yoga Hip Openers & Understanding The Hips’ Anatomy

Also known as 'the muscle of the soul' learn tips and tricks for easing tension

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Yoga hip openers, you either love them or you hate them. For me, I absolutely love these poses and feel like I could *genuinely* stay in them for hours on end (though, not that I’ve tried)!

A common complaint from many students in my classes is “my hips are soooo tight” or “what can I do to open my hips?!”. So, this one’s for you.

Let’s get into:

a woman doing a seated side twist yoga pose in front of a cityscape

Anatomy of the hips

The hips are a complex network of bones, hip muscles, ligaments, and tendons that provide stability, support, and mobility to the body.

Understanding the anatomy of the hips can help us to understand how yoga hip openers affect this amazing area of our body.

1. Bones

The hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint formed by the femur (thigh bone) and the acetabulum of the pelvis. It allows for a wide range of motion in various directions.

2. Muscles

Several major muscle groups surround the hips.

  • Hip Flexors: These muscles, including the psoas and rectus femoris, help in flexing the hip joint, bringing the thigh towards the torso.
  • Hip Extensors: The gluteus maximus is the primary extensor, helping in movements like standing up from a seated position or pushing the body forward during walking or running.
  • Hip Abductors/Adductors: These muscles on the outer and inner thighs, respectively, move the legs away from and towards the midline of the body.
  • Rotators: Deep muscles like the piriformis and external rotators help in rotating the thigh bone externally and internally.
anatomy of the hips diagram

3. Connective Tissues

Ligaments and tendons around the hip joint provide stability and support. They can become tight or restricted due to prolonged sitting, lack of movement, or specific activities, leading to limited hip mobility.

Because of all these different structures, hip openers target the hips in various ways.

  • Stretching Muscles

Poses (asanas) like eka pada rajakapotasana, baddha konasana, or anjaneyasana stretch the hip flexors, extensors, adductors, and rotators, helping to release tension and increase flexibility in these muscle groups.

  • Improving Range of Motion

By moving the hip joint in different planes of motion, yoga hip openers help increase the joint’s range of motion, enhancing flexibility and reducing stiffness.

  • Stimulating Circulation

The movement and stretching in yoga hip openers can enhance blood flow to the hips, promoting better circulation and therefore aiding in the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the tissues in this area.

  • Releasing Tension

Many people experience tight hips due to sedentary lifestyles or emotional stress. Hip-opening yoga poses often facilitate the release of tension and stored emotions in the hip area.

Note: There are definitely two camps when it comes to the ‘storing emotions in the hips/body’ debate. Some (like me) firmly believe that the body is a storage vessel for unprocessed emotions or trauma, whilst others don’t think this is the case.

If this interests you, you may like books like When the Body Says No and The Body Keeps Score.

Interestingly, the psoas is often called the muscle of the soul because people believe it holds onto our traumatic experiences.

(One of my anatomy teachers often teases me that I think the psoas muscle is the ’emotional’ hip flexor of the body).
a man wearing blue doing reclined bound angle pose on a yoga mat

6 Categories of hip openers

1. Internal vs. External Rotation

This categorization refers to how the hip joint rotates.

Internal rotation involves the turning of the thigh bone inward, while external rotation involves turning it outward. Different poses emphasize one or the other, or a combination of both.

2. Active vs. Passive Hip Openers

Active hip openers involve engaging muscles around the hip joint actively to open the area, whereas passive hip openers typically involve using props or gravity to relax and open the hips without active engagement.

3. Yin vs. Yang Hip Openers

Yin Yoga focuses on longer-held, passive poses that target connective tissues and allow for deeper relaxation and release in the hips.

Yang yoga practices are more dynamic and active, involving movement and muscular engagement.

4. Standing vs. Seated Hip Openers

Some poses are performed while standing, engaging the hips in a different way, while others are done seated, allowing for deeper and more focused hip opening.

5. Symmetrical vs. Asymmetrical Poses

Some poses work on both hips equally (symmetrical), while others target one hip more than the other (asymmetrical), addressing imbalances or specific tightness in one side.

6. Dynamic vs. Static Hip Openers

Dynamic hip openers involve movement within the pose, such as in flowing sequences or repetitive motions, whereas static hip openers involve holding a pose without movement for a period.

These categories aren’t mutually exclusive, and many hip-opening poses can fit into multiple categories, providing a range of benefits and targeting different aspects of hip flexibility and strength.

10 yoga Stretches For The Hips

1. Ardha Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing half pigeon Pose
  • Start in a high plank position.
  • Bring your right knee forward toward the right wrist, positioning the right shin under the torso.
  • Extend the left leg behind you and lower the hips toward the floor. Keep the hips square.
  • Stay upright or fold forward, maintaining a gentle stretch.
  • Repeat on the other side.

2. Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing bound angle Pose
  • Sit with your legs extended.
  • Bring the soles of your feet together, allowing the knees to fall outward.
  • Hold onto your feet or ankles, sitting tall.
  • For a deeper stretch, gently press the knees toward the floor.

3. Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose)

an annotated image of a man in black yoga trousers doing goddess pose
  • Stand with feet wide apart and turn the toes outward.
  • Bend the knees and sink into a squat, keeping the knees aligned over the ankles.
  • Engage the core and keep the spine tall.

4. Agnistambhasana (Fire Log Pose)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing fire log Pose
  • Sit on the floor and stack the right shin directly on top of the left, creating a “fire log” shape.
  • Flex the feet and keep the spine tall.
  • If the knees are lifted high, use props or sit on a folded blanket for support.
  • Switch sides.

5. Anjaneyasana with side stretch (Low Cresecent Lunge)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing low lunge Pose
  • From a low lunge position, lift the torso and raise both arms overhead.
  • Lean the torso gently to the side of the front leg, creating a stretch along the side body and hips.
  • Maintain engagement in the legs and core for stability.

6. Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)

annotated image of a woman doing happy baby pose, ananda balasana
  • Lie on your back and bring your knees toward your chest.
  • Separate your knees wider than your torso and hold the outsides of your feet or big toes (or ankles/shins).
  • Flex your feet, bringing the soles upward toward the ceiling.
  • Gently pull your feet down with your hands, keeping your lower back grounded.
  • Breathe deeply, holding the pose for 30 seconds to a minute.

7. Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing triangle pose
  • Stand with feet wide apart, turn one foot out, and reach the same-side arm down toward the ankle.
  • Extend the opposite arm upward, opening the chest and hips while keeping the legs engaged.
  • Keep the hips as squared as feels comfortable for you and avoid collapsing into the pose.

8. Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose)

an annotated image of a man wearing black yoga clothes doing pyramid pose
  • Step one foot back about three to four feet, keeping both feet parallel.
  • Hinge forward from the hips, leading with the chest toward the front leg.
  • Use blocks or fingertips on the floor for support, feeling a stretch in the hamstrings and hips.

9. Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)

an annotated image of a woman doing warrior 2 pose
  • Start in a wide stance, turn one foot out and bend the knee, keeping it over the ankle.
  • Extend the arms parallel to the floor, gaze over the front hand, and sink into the pose.
  • Keep the hips facing forward and the glutes and back leg strong.

10. Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing a cow face pose
  • Stack one knee directly over the other, bringing the feet to either side of the hips.
  • Reach one arm overhead and the other behind the back, attempting to clasp the fingers or hold onto a strap.
  • Lift the chest and sit tall, feeling a stretch in the outer hips and shoulders.

Yoga hip openers for beginners: what to be aware of

1. Start Gradually

Tip: Begin with gentle hip-opening poses and gradually progress to deeper stretches as your body becomes more accustomed to the practice.

Hip-opening yoga poses can be intense, particularly for those with limited flexibility in the hips.

Start with beginner-friendly poses like reclined baddha konasana, balasana with knees wide, or a modified version of ardha kapotasana using props for support.

Respect your body’s limits and avoid forcing yourself into deep stretches right away.

2. Focus on Alignment and Breath

Tip: Pay attention to alignment and use your breath to guide the movements.

Engage in poses with guidance from a yoga teacher or follow instructional videos that emphasize alignment cues.

Additionally, synchronize your breath with the movements; inhale to lengthen the spine and exhale to deepen into the stretch, allowing for a more controlled and mindful practice.

3. Listen to Your Body

Tip: Honor your body’s signals and avoid pushing into discomfort or pain.

Yoga is a personal practice, and every body is unique. Sensations of stretching or mild discomfort are normal, but sharp pain is not.

If you experience pain, especially in the knees or lower back pain during hip-opening poses, ease out of the stretch and modify the pose.

Never force yourself into a position that feels excessively uncomfortable or painful.

4. Use Props for Support

Tip: Use yoga props to make poses more accessible and comfortable.

Props like yoga blocks, bolsters, or blankets can assist in maintaining proper alignment and support during hip-opening poses.

For instance, placing a block or bolster under the hips in ardha kapotasana can reduce strain on the hips and lower back, making the pose more manageable for beginners.

5. Be Patient and Consistent

Tip: Progress in hip opening takes time and consistent practice.

Flexibility doesn’t develop overnight.

Be patient with your body’s progress and avoid comparing yourself to others. Regularly incorporating hip-opening poses into your yoga routine will gradually lead to increased flexibility and more ease in these poses.

6. Warm-Up Properly

Tip: Prioritize a gentle warm-up before diving into deeper hip opening stretches.

Before engaging in intense hip-opening poses, warm up the body with gentle movements or a few rounds of Sun Salutations. This helps prepare the muscles and joints, reducing the risk of strain or injury during deep hip stretches.

A podcast to learn from

If you want to learn more about the hips, I would recommend my absolute favorite yoga anatomy teacher, Jason Crandell.

He has an episode on his podcast about the hips which I’ve added below. Enjoy learning & happy hip opening!

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Liz is a Qigong and Yoga teacher based in Gloucestershire with a love for all things movement, nature & community. She strives to create a trauma-informed space in which everyone is empowered to be their authentic selves. www.elizabethburns.co.uk

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