Teacher Speak: Hip Opening

This column originally appeared in Om Yoga & Lifestyle Magazine, July/August 2015

Hip Opening Defined

As postural yoga teachers and students we employ a variety of words and phrases that wouldn’t make much sense in polite society. We overload their meaning and use so heavily that we create a hugely subjective muddle. Let’s reclaim an understanding of these words, use them consciously, and deepen their effect.

Anatomically Speaking

‘Hip-openers’ narrowly categorises a few postures, like cross-legged or half-pigeon forward folds, that stretch and release the glutes and external rotators of the hips and increase the range of external rotation of the thigh in the hip socket. In reality, any yoga pose that involves the legs is stretching, strengthening, and ‘opening’ the numerous muscles of the hips – for example, lunges and backbends work deeply into quads and hip flexors. Narrowly defined to glutes and outer hip as is often the case, ‘hip-opening’ has therapeutic applications, but is often about acquiring the range of motion to execute more demanding seated postures, deeper variations of standing poses, and many of the arm balances. Practitioners with a high degree of mobility may actually need to limit movement and build regional muscular support to prevent overstretching and destabilisation. Those with limited mobility may find increased mobility in time, or will have to accept limitations due to the shapes of the thighbone and hip socket, which are unyielding.

Spiritually Speaking

Enlightenment does not come from open hips. However, ease and sustainability of sitting in meditation or exploration of subtle energetics in deep flexibility-driven postures may come from practicing ‘hip opening.’ Additionally, some practitioners experientially correlate release of muscular tension around the hips with emotional release, as the body is known to store stress, fear, and trauma beyond the confines of the mind. However, as your experience may equally be of just physical discomfort while cursing the vile pigeon, it is important to not overly imbue meaning that may or may not be there. If your hips aren’t open 24 hours a day, you can of course find numerous ways to modify, prop, and support your meditation posture or yoga asana so energy and awareness is not stalled in one region.

‘Hip-openers’ is a phrase potentially due for expansion and refinement, but is nevertheless part of a mindful and sustainable asana practice. Be deliberate, skillful, and clear with this instruction to reassert its power and efficacy.