Hip-opening yoga poses are some of my most favorites in the practice. I often say, “A Pigeon a day keeps the doctor away!” Having healthy hips helps us move with ease, protects our knees, helps our lower back, and keeps us agile.
For many beginners, certain hip openers are just too challenging, or put stress on the joints instead of opening up the areas we are trying to target. Here are some yoga poses beginners can do safely to gain all of the benefits of hip opening without injuring themselves or feeling strained.
The first three help open the external rotators and sides of the hips and can be done in place of Pigeon, Full Ankle to Knee, Cow Face Pose, and Lotus.
The second two open up the front of the hips, the hip flexors, and the psoas muscles, and can be used in place of Reclined Hero Pose, King Arthur’s Pose, and King Pigeon.
1. Thread the Needle (Sucirandhrasana)
To begin, lie down on your back, bend your knees, and place both feet flat on the mat.
Take your right ankle and place it over the left knee turning the right knee out to the right. Lift your left leg up in the air, keeping the knee bent, and grab hold of your left hamstring to draw the knee in closer as the right knee keeps opening to the right. Hold for 5 to 8 breaths then repeat on the left side.
2. Modified Ankle to Knee Pose (Agnistambhasana)
Sit upright and bend both knees, placing the feet flat on the mat but further away from your hips. Cross your right ankle over your left knee, releasing the right knee open to the side. Slowly inch your left foot closer to your hips, feeling the stretch in the outer right hip. Hold for 5 to 8 breaths and switch sides.
3. Lotus Modified (Padmasana)
Sit upright in a comfortable cross-legged position. You may sit on a towel, block, or blanket if you wish. Place one leg in front and slowly fold forward until you feel the stretch in the outer hips. After 5 to 8 breaths on one side, come up and switch the leg that is in front, then fold forward again.
4. Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Come on to all fours and step your right foot between your hands. Lengthen your left leg further away from you on the mat (place a towel or blanket under the knee if it needs more padding) and press the entire top of the foot down.
Lift your chest and bring your hands to your front knee. Slowly lean forward until you feel the stretch in the left thigh and hip flexor. Hold 5 to 8 breaths before switching sides.
5. Modified Reclining Hero Pose (Supta Virasana)
Sitting with your hips on your heels, lie down on your back, and place your right ankle over your left knee.
Walk your left foot to the left and lower your legs to the right to stretch the front of the right quadriceps, hip flexor, and psoas muscle. Hold for 5 to 8 breaths before repeating on the other side.
Try working on these poses 3 to 4 times a week to gain more openness around your hips. As you feel more comfortable with these, you can start to move into other hip openers safely.