Welcome to the Hip Hip Hooray Challenge!
We originally posted this challenge to our instagram account for you to increase hip range of motion, but we decided to add it to the blog to make sure those of you that missed out can still take part on your own time – just do the best you can! Do any or all of these poses on a regular basis for happy hips!!
POSE 1: Sukhasana
We will start with one of the most basic – sitting cross legged on the floor. Sit on as many blocks as needed to get your knees to about waist height. Flex your feet and let outer calves rest on opposite foot. Sit upright and let gravity relax your thighs towards the floor. Hold for about 1 minute, uncross and change the crossing of the legs.
POSE 2: Supine Ankle to Knee 1
Laying on your back is a great way to work the hips safely. Place one ankle above opposite knee, flex the foot while keeping the extended leg straight. Externally rotate the top of the right bent thigh and use gravity to let it release towards the floor. Hold for 10 breaths or up to 2 minutes on each side. I suggest placing a folded blanket beneath the thigh for some support, especially if you hold for longer time. Breathe and try to let the inner thigh soften. There should be no pain – either in the hip or in the knee.
POSE 3: Supine Badhakonasana
A deeper version of the last pose. Again, we will be supine to make use of gravity. Bring the soles of your feet together, as close to the pelvis as possible. Keep the feet flexed and press the outer edges to the floor. Hold for 10-20 breaths or for the duration of your favourite song. Place folded blankets, yoga blocks or pillows beneath your thighs for support but be sure that the knees remain at the same level.
POSE 4: Basic Wall Lunge
Lunges are commonly known as runners’ stretch and for good reason – they are particularly beneficial for those with tight hips. All time spent seated, walking, running or climbing taxes the hip flexors and most of us do not spend enough time stretching them out.
This is the most basic of the lunges – using the support of a wall so you can hold for a longer period of time. Front leg is bent to 90°, or as close as you can keeping the front knee over the ankle, and strongly press outer hip in – you should feel the muscles around the outer hip contract. Front shin bone should also press back – imagine taking the weight back into the hips and back leg rather than forward to the knee. Back leg is straight, lifting inner knee to sky and pressing heel back. As demonstrated, upper body can rest forward on a surface or the hands can be placed on a wall. Note that a tree or picnic bench will work too!
POSE 5: Supine Ankle to Knee 2
If you have been practicing the supine ankle to knee1 and things are feeling good, try moving a bit deeper. With the same alignment as the pose 2 challenge (swipe to see), simply move the ankle up the thigh – try moving a few inches, if feels ok, a few more. The key is to keep the top foot flexed and externally rotate the thigh at the hip joint. Be sure to keep the pelvis level. Moving the foot a bit higher should result in a deeper stretch – remember, protect the knees and be sure there is no pain or discomfort.
POSE 6: Pigeon
What is hip work without this perpetual favourite. There are many ways to get into this pose but If find the easiest is from downward dog. Slide the right knee towards the right wrist, trying to keep the knee in line with the hip, and slide the shin forward a bit. Straighten the back leg and bring it inward to be in line with the back hip. The hips should be somewhat square – otherwise place a folded blanket or yoga block beneath the front hip. If keeping the back leg straight is too challenging, you can keep it bent. Upper body can rest on your front thigh and forehead on your arms. Hold this pose for a minimum of 10 breaths but holding for a few minutes is even better.
POSE 7: Gomukhasana A & B
This continues to be one of my favourite poses! If this is challenging, sit on a yoga block. Bring right heel to left sitting bone and left heel to right one, stacking the knees to the degree possible and flexing the feet. If the bottom knee is not touching the ground, place a folded blanket under it. If its not possible to bring the second leg into the pose, it’s ok to do the pose with only leg crossed – DON’T FORCE THE KNEES TO STACK, just move them to degree possible. Sit upright, shoulders back. If you are able to go deeper, fold forward (as shown in B), drawing chin towards the top knee. Be sure that both sitting bones remain grounded. Hold for 10 breaths. Repeat on other side.
POSE 8: Low Lunge
Time to take our lunge a bit deeper! Rather than leaning on wall (as in the previous pose), we will get into our lunge position without support. Front leg at 90°, back leg straight and hands on the floor (or on blocks). Now we get into some stabilization work which is key for these poses. Yes, the hip flexors will stretch but I believe the strengthening work for the front leg and hips is even more important. Once set up in the basic pose, press the heel into the floor and towards you (not moving it though) – this will engage your hamstrings. Also press the front shin back – you should feel the front of the shin contract (great for those prone to shin splints!) Strongly contract the outer hip of front leg to centre. The front leg should feel like it’s doing lots of work! Press back through heel of back leg and lift inner knee upwards. Lengthen your spine and move your breastbone forward – if your back is rounded, place hands on blocks. Try to reduce the amount of weight on your hands. Rather feel the work strongly in the hips and legs. Repeat on other side.
POSE 9: Tree
It’s obvious that balance poses improve your balance but they are also a great way to feel which leg is stronger. Start in simple standing with toes forward. Bend right leg and externally rotate the upper thigh, without moving the hip back. Think: leg moves but the hip does not! Lift the sole of the foot to either the ankle, calf or above the knee – do not rest at the knee. If foot is above the knee, strongly press the foot into the thigh and the thigh into the foot – this will improve your balance while strengthening your adductors. When stable, continue to externally rotate the thigh while keeping the hip stable. Repeat on other side.
For those of you that hate balancing – it’s perfectly ok to place yourself near a wall use it for support. Just don’t lean into the wall – keep your posture upright.
POSE 10 Double Pigeon:
I have a particular affinity for this pose as I was introduced to it by my first yoga teacher and recall experiencing pain like never before. Not fully appreciating how tight in the hips I was, I couldn’t understand how something could hurt so much. It became on of my faves but a few cautionary notes are needed. Start seated with spine upright, bend left leg and place outer ankle at knee, so that the edge of the foot is just off the thigh. Flex the foot (THIS IS KEY). Lean back and bring the right leg in, stacking the shins (explains why they also call this pose Fire Log Pose). Flex the bottom and press outer edge of the foot into the floor. If the bottom knee is not on the floor, place a folded blanket or block beneath it. Top leg – externally rotate at the upper thigh and press it towards the floor. If the knee is pointing to the ceiling, wrap your arms around the knee and support the weight. Hold for 10 breaths and repeat on other side.
Variation A: If you have a difficult time bringing the bottom leg in, it’s ok to remain in the pose working the top hip/leg only.
Variation B: If it feels ok, fold forward for a deeper stretch.
POSE 11: Quad Stretch
Many of us desperately need to stretch our quads because they are tight and contribute to hip issues but also to help balance out the more common forward bending done in yoga. Start in a basic lunge position with front leg bent, knee over ankle. Start with hands on the floor and slide the back knee as far back as possible, aiming to have contact on the floor at the fleshy lower thigh rather than the knee cap. Bend back leg and reach back to hold the top of the foot, drawing the lower leg towards your backside. Place other hand on top of your thigh, pressing hand downward to help stabilize, slowly start coming upright, lifting the front hip bones first and letting your upper body follow. Contract your butt muscles as you come upright for a deeper stretch. Hold for several breaths continuing to tuck the back foot closer to the body. After several breaths, raise and straighten the opposite arm to get more length through the front of the body but be sure to lift the back ribs rather than letting your lower back curve.
POSE 12: Supine 1/2 Lotus
If your hips are ready it may be time to venture into half lotus.
Start in supine ankle to knee (swipe to see previous poses) and raise foot towards opposite hip crease. It’s a good idea to place one hand on the outer ankle as a reminder to keep the foot flexed and outer ankle lifted. As the foot approaches the hip crease point the toes and rest the outer edge of the foot at the hip crease – a natural fit! While moving the bent leg higher it is vital to continue the external rotation at the hip joint. Hold onto the foot, continue to externally rotate the thigh and press it towards the floor. If you feel any twinge of sharpness at the knee, back it up! Patience and practice are required.
POSE 13: Seated Pigeon
When your hips are ready this is a super pose – it’s also a precursor to getting the leg behind the head for anyone having those aspirations! Starting either in simple seated with ankle on opposite knee or bottom leg bent (as shown), with the feet flexed slide your hand beneath the ankle, as you externally rotate at the hip joint lift the lower leg. Continue to roll the thigh away from you and do not force the lower leg towards you. The only movement is at the hip joint. You can either hold the lower leg or leg the arch of the foot rest in the opposite elbow crease. DO NOT FORCE THIS!! Hold for up to 10 breaths and repeat on other side.
POSE 14: Supine Padmasana Lotus
Congratulations if you have stayed with this and made it to this point.
The easiest way to start playing with full lotus is while lying down. Start with the right leg and, as you did in supine half lotus, bring the outer edge of the foot to the opposite hip crease. Press the foot into the crease and externally rotate the thigh. Remain here for a few breaths. Repeat with the other leg. Note that the foot of the second leg has to move a bit higher – be careful when you lift the foot to externally rotate the thigh at the hip joint. Just lifting and tugging the foot will result in knee injury. Trust me, I’ve done it! As shown, it helps to hold onto the feet and keep the outer ankles lifted.
… And here’s Full Lotus in Meditation!