I’m on a hip opening kick. Have you noticed?
Recent events have brought me to the awareness that my hips and hip flexors truly need attention. If I am going to really address my lower back pain, I need to really focus a good part of my practice to releasing the tightness and tension I hold here.
Lower back pain is very much influenced by the state of your hips. Chances are if you suffer from lower back pain, your hips, hip flexors, and ilio psoas muscles are tight.
The hip flexors run from the front of the pelvis to the rear or posterior pelvis and attach to the vertebral spine. So the tight muscles will pull on the lower back, and cause tension and stress on those muscles as well. Hence the development of chronic low back pain.
Because most of western society sits a hell of a lot, our hip flexors are constantly contracted. Ideally we should either sit on the ground with knees open to the side, or stand, walk or be more active.
The hips directly affect the whole spinal alignment in every pose. Whether you are in a standing, sitting or twisting asana the hips are very important and you must have full awareness of their alignment.
For example if you are performing a balancing pose and you sacrifice the alignment of the hips to get that hand to toe position, you are surely going to compromise the whole alignment of the spine.
You would do far better to use a prop such as a strap, and keep the hips leveled and aligned. This will encourage the hips to open and actually get you to perform the pose without a prop in a safer and more effective way.
Remember that whenever your spine is out of alignment, you really fail to get the most therapeutic effects of yoga. The whole key in every pose is to allow the spine to open, release, and expand with every breath. Your spine can’t do that if its off center, torqued and compromised by tension and overexertion.
Listen to your body, it will communicate exactly what you need.
King of Hip Openers
In my opinion the Pigeon pose and all its lovely and delicious variations is the Reigning master of hip openers.
Benefits of the Pigeon Pose:
- Opens hips in a very deep yet safe manner. You can easily go as far as your body will allow.
- It allows the force of gravity to mainly do the work. So this pose allows you the opportunity to truly focus on the breath, on relaxing, and LETTING GO. This is a pose that teaches me, time and time again the importance of just letting go, and allowing my natural rhythm to flow with the pose.
- Encourages the ilio psoas muscle to relax, elongate and release as well. This very deeply situated muscle, is one of the most difficult to relax, and release. Once this muscle can relax, the door opens to so much more space to be made. This means you can do deeper in all your asanas.
- Begin by keep the front bent leg more angled, by keeping the foot closer to the pelvis. Eventually the goal is to get the shin to be parallel to the front of your mat. This takes time, and deep long breaths!
- Also in the beginning you may find that you cannot fold over the front leg, as in the picture above. This is ok! Keep the spine upright, and the chest open. This will strengthen the back and give you a great chest opener as your hips get stretched. Eventually you will be able to go down to the elbows, and then right down placing your head on the mat. Be patient
- Use the back leg that is outstretched behind you to help you align and keep the hips straight in this pose. Just because this a more passive pose doesn’t mean you lose touch with the alignment of the hips
- I find pressing into my toes and elevating the heel very helpful to feel the placement of my hips. By pressing my toes into the mat I can use this leverage to straighten my hips and go deeper once I feel my hips releasing.
- Above all play and have fun with this pose. I often see so much suffering during this pose. It shouldn’t be painful! PULL BACK. And find the flow and rhythm of the BREATH. This will change your experience of this pose like magic! The more conscious you are of the breath in this pose, the more you will get out of it. Breath deeper, longer, and find a sweet RHYTHM.
Then watch the magic.
There is opening, expanding and releasing like a lotus flower!