Yoga Hip Openers Library

Cobbler's Pose (Baddha Konasana)
Hero Images / Getty Images

We often talk about poses that open or stretch the hips in yoga, but what does that really mean? The hips are a complicated area, anatomically speaking. Generally, when we talk about opening the hips we're referring to the muscles around the pelvis, legs, lower spine, and sacrum. These include big muscle groups like the hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, adductors (inner thighs), and abductors (outer thighs), as well as many smaller, deeper muscles including the piriformis and the psoas.

A lot of people find that their "hips" are tight due to spending a lot of time sitting, both at work and in cars. This tightness, which can cause back pain and sciatica and affect mobility, is really in all the muscles surrounding the pelvis. People think of hip openers are poses like pigeon, where the femur is externally rotated, but something like eagle, where the leg is internally rotated is also a hip stretch. In other words, almost any yoga pose can be thought of as a hip opener since we are using the muscles around the hips in many different ways. The poses below offer a variety of approaches to stretching the hips that go beyond basic external rotation. 

Beginners' Poses

Child's Pose - Balasana
Child's pose is a good place to start an exploration into the hips. Spread your knees as wide as is comfortable while keeping your toes touching. Let your torso drape between your legs and allow gravity to do its work.

This a a pose worth staying in for several minutes since you can really feel it deepen during that time. 

Cobbler's Pose - Baddha Konasana 
If you find your knees are sticking up high in this posture, a few props can help. Sitting up on a folded blanket helps the knees to drop. Placing a block (or block hack) under each knee will also allow for a more passive stretch in the inner thigh.

Eye of the Needle Pose - Sucirandhrasana
A reclined version of pigeon (see below) is a good options for warming up the hips or if pigeon is too intense. 

Garland Pose - Malasana
Nothing like a deep squat to get into the hips and counteract the effects of chair sitting. You need to have your feet flat on the floor so you can relax down in this pose. If your heels don't come to the floor, roll up a blanket and put it under them. Make sure you have weight in your heels, not just in the balls of your feet. 

Happy Baby Pose - Ananada Balasana
This pose often feels good at the end of a yoga practice when you can really take advantage of your warm muscles to get a nice stretch. Be sure to separate your knees wide as you pull them toward your armpits.

Reclined Goddess Pose - Supta Baddha Konasana
The reclined version of cobbler's pose (above) can also benefit from the use of props under your knees. 

Seated Wide Legged Straddle - Upavistha Konasana
Just as in cobbler's pose, a folded blanket or two under the sitbones can go a long way in making this position more comfortable.

If you have trouble keeping your spine erect in this position, try the blankets. If you're coming into a forward bend, keep the spine long and straight. Stop forward bending when you begin to feel rounding in your spine.

Standing Straddle Forward Bend - Prasarita Padottanasana
This is much the same stretch as upavistha konasana (above), but in a standing position. Use block under your hands if they don't reach the floor. As you forward bend, imagine your pelvis as a bowl with water spilling forward.

Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II
In warrior II, the hips points are set up facing the long edge of your mat. Both thighs externally rotate as the front knee tracks over the middle of the front foot.

Intermediate

Cow Face Pose – Gomukhasana
An excellent stretch for the outer thighs and hips. You can sit up on a blanket here is it makes the pose more manageable.

Eagle Pose - Garudasana
Continuing the outer thigh stretches with eagle. Standing on one leg adds to the challenge here. You can use your top leg as a kind of kick stand to help you balance or even do this pose in a chair if necessary.

Goddess Pose - Utkata Konasana
Opening the knees wide and keeping them aligned over your feet is the challenge for this pose. Then it's a case of "how low can you go" as you inch the thighs toward parallel with the floor.

Half Moon Pose - Ardha Chandrasana
Half moon retains the alignment of warrior II with the hips open. As you lift your upper leg, think about stacking the hip points to maintain that openness. A block under your hand hand help with balance.

Knee to Ankle Pose - Agnistambhasana
This pose is also called fire log posture because the shins are stacked like wood in a fireplace. This means that your shins should be parallel with the ankles on top of the opposing knees. If this is difficult, use a prop like a blanket to fill the spaces between knee and ankle.

Pigeon Prep
What we generally think of as pigeon pose is actually a preparation for full pigeon (see below). This is a classic hip stretch that targets the piriformis among other muscles. The biggest problem with this pose is a tendency to let yourself rock to the side with the leg forward. This may feel like you're going deeper, but you're losing the integrity of the pose. Try to keep the two side of your pelvis level, even if it feels like you can't some down as low. The use of a prop under your butt on the side of the forward leg can help you stay level.

Advanced

Lotus Pose - Padmasana
Full lotus is a pretty intense pose for most people. Try half lotus if you are not quite there yet.

Lizard Pose - Utthan Pristhasana
A deep stretch both laterally and from front to back. There are numerous ways to adapt this pose, including using blocks under your elbows, dropping the back knee, and staying up on the hands instead of lowering to the elbows.

One-Legged King Pigeon Pose – Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
The full version of pigeon adds a quad stretch and backbend, as well as requiring open shoulders.

Side Lunge - Skandasana
A half squat/half lunge that incorporates the hamstrings.

Continue Reading