If you've ever spent most of the day sitting at a desk, in a car, or on the couch, you've probably experienced tight hip flexors. These frontal hip joints, located at the crease between your upper thighs and pelvis, shorten and become stiff when you sit for long periods. Stubborn hip flexors can lead to back pain, as your lower back muscles overcompensate for the lack of flexibility in the front body. Tight hip flexors can also prevent you from accessing more advanced yoga poses, such as Hero Pose (Virasana) and Upward Bow (Urdhva Dhanurasana).
How Yoga Can Help
Practicing yoga can counteract the effects of sitting by stretching and lengthening the hip flexors. Below is a short sequence of yoga poses suitable for beginners. Practicing it will help you create more motion and flexibility in your frontal hip joints.
In addition to practicing this sequence daily, remember to take breaks from sitting whenever you can. Stand up from your desk every hour; walk around the airplane when you're traveling (when the seatbelt sign is off, of course!); and take advantage of rest stops on long drives to stretch your legs. Over time, your flexibility and range of movement will increase.
Warm up with a few rounds of Sun Salutation B (Surya Namaskara B), which will begin to loosen up your legs and hips. It should take about 20 minutes to complete all of the poses. Practice the sequence daily and be gentle with your movements. Always remember these general guidelines when practicing yoga:
- Move slowly in and out of the poses.
- Keep your breath smooth and even throughout the practice.
- Practice with an empty stomach.
- Never strain or force yourself beyond your current abilities.
Stick to the exact order of this sequence. Do not change the arrangement of the poses, as it has been organized to bring you the most benefits. Be sure to check with your doctor before practicing yoga if you have any injuries, health issues, or concerns.
Standing Thigh Stretch improves flexibility in the hip flexors and quadriceps. It also helps release tension in the lower back and hips. This pose soothes stiffness in the spine and legs, and improves posture. It also tones the abdominal muscles.
- Begin by standing at the top of your mat in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with your feet together and your arms at your sides.
- Shift your weight onto your left foot. Then bend your right knee and bring your right heel toward your right buttock. Reach your right hand down and clasp your ankle. Relax your left hand at your side or place it on your left hip if you are having trouble balancing. You can also rest your left hand along a wall, chair, or other stationary object.
- Draw your right hip slightly forward and your knee slightly back. Work to align your right knee directly under your right hip, while also working to keep your right and left hips in line with each other. Keep your knees close together. Do not let your right knee splay open to the side.
- Stand up straight. Draw your abdominal muscles in and up; do not arch your back. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Gaze softly forward toward the horizon.
- Hold for up to 30 seconds.
- To release, gently let go of your ankle and step your right foot to the floor. Return to Mountain Pose. Repeat the pose on the opposite side for the same length of time.
This variation of Crescent Lunge — Anjaneyasana (AHN-jah-nay-AHS-uh-nuh) — stretches the thighs and hip flexors, while also helping to open the abdomen, chest, and shoulders. Resting your lower knee on the mat allows you to focus on the stretch instead of the balancing aspect of the pose.
- Begin in Mountain Pose. On an exhalation, fold your torso forward and place your fingertips on the mat in front of you. Step your left foot to the back of the mat, keeping your right foot at the front of the mat. Align your right knee over the heel of your right foot.
- Lower your left knee to the floor and slide your leg back a few inches. Un-tuck your left foot's toes and rest the top of your left foot on the floor.
- Inhale as you raise your torso to an upright position. Sweep your arms overhead. Draw your tailbone toward the floor. Gaze up at your thumbs.
- Hold for up to one minute. Release your hands back to the mat and step forward. Inhale and come back to Mountain Pose. Repeat on the other side.
A popular standing pose, Warrior I — Virabhadrasana I (veer-uh-buh-DRAHS-uh-nuh) — stretches the whole front side of the body. It also strengthens the thighs, ankles, and back. This variation emphasizes stretching the legs and hips while taking pressure off the upper back and arms.
- Stand in Mountain Pose. Turn to the left and step your feet wide apart. Point your right foot to the top of the mat and turn your left foot slightly inwards. Bring your hands to your hips.
- Draw your shoulder blades in toward your upper back ribs. Keep your pelvis turned toward the front edge of your mat.
- Press your weight through your left heel. Then exhale as you bend your right knee over your right ankle. Your shin should be perpendicular to the floor.
- Ground down through your left foot and keep your left thigh lifting. Broaden across your belly and chest. Draw your left hip slightly more forward. Gaze softly forward toward the horizon.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release the pose, press your weight through your back heel, straighten your front leg, and then lower your arms. Reverse the position of your feet, and repeat on the other side.
Camel Pose — Ustrasana (ooh-STRAHS-uh-nuh) — is a backbend that stretches the whole front side of the body, particularly the hip flexors, quadriceps, chest, and abdomen. This beginning variation allows you only to go back as far as it is comfortable for you; it does not force your body into a deeper position.
- Begin by kneeling upright with your knees hip-distance apart. Rotate your thighs inward and press your shins and the tops of your feet into the floor. Rest your hands on the back of your pelvis; point your fingers to the floor.
- Lean back slightly — just an inch or two — and turn your gaze up to the ceiling. Lift through your heart. Draw your shoulder blades firmly into your upper back. If you feel steady and comfortable here, you can lean your torso back another inch or two. Keep your hips drawing forward and your tailbone tucking slightly.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release, bring your hands back to your front hips. Inhale, lead with your heart, and lift your torso back to an upright position. Your head should come up last.
Stretch Your Flexors
Regularly practicing yoga poses that stretch your hip flexors can lead to greater mobility in all activities, including sports! Remember to take it slowly and to modify the poses as needed. With patience and dedication, your hip flexors will relax and lengthen.