Yoga for happy hips
Do you experience issues with your hips? In this article, you’ll learn all about the hip joint, what particular emotions and mental qualities are associated with hips and enjoy a deep yin yoga sequence for happy hips.
If you have been to a yoga class, you probably know already that it is not just the physical body that the ancient practice affects. Feeling tense and uneasy in a yoga position extends past the inflexibility of the muscles, and may be an indication of the past traumas, unresolved stressful experiences and suppressed emotions stored in your body.
Yoga teaches that the body, mind and spirit coexist in union without separation.
Yoga is an integrative practice, the purpose of which is spiritual growth, and thus it affects not only your physiological state but your mental and emotional bodies at the same time. Yoga teaches that the body, mind and spirit coexist in union without separation. If you repetitively experience stress, feel threatened or emotional or have something worrying on your mind, all these can affect the state of your physical body as well. For instance, you may recall clenching in your body and tightening in your tissues, as a response to the aforementioned situations.
Seasonal yoga practitioners and yoga teachers often talk about emotional breakthroughs and energy shifts that happen on a yoga mat (and off it), which may reveal themselves through tension release, tears streaming down the cheeks, pulsations or temperature changes within the body, along with insightful realisations and behavioural pattern recognition, among others. Ancient yogis had a very deep understanding of the connection of the body, mind and spirit, and we can also see this mind–body correlation through the modern findings of how the mental and emotional states affect our physiology.
You may also be aware of a now-popular concept of “issues in hip tissues” relating to the hips, and how hip opening and stabilising postures are so vital not just for the health of the hips, but also for your emotional balance.
… training the body to become still and facilitating self-inquiry through observation of the physical, mental and emotional patterns that may reveal themselves throughout the extended duration of a yin pose.
This article will examine what a hip is, how your subtle body is connected to tightness in the hips, what particular emotions and mental qualities are associated with hips in accordance with Traditional Chinese Medicine meridian and chakra theories, followed by an introduction to a deep yin practice of longer-held poses sequenced to “make your hips happy”.
What is a hip?
A hip is a ball and socket joint which provides hips with movement, and is made of two bones: pelvis and femur (a thigh bone, the longest singular bone in your body). The femur bone has a head (femoral head), which fits into the hip socket (acetabulum), forming a hip joint.
Each hip is surrounded by ligaments, tendons and muscles on four sides: top of the thigh (four quadriceps and four hip flexors), inner thigh (five adductors), back of the thigh (four hamstrings), and outer thigh (three gluteal muscles, six external rotators and iliotibial band).
There are six joint movements that the hips can perform, involving those muscles: flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, external rotation and internal rotation, which will be included in the yoga sequence below.
Energy body, hips and emotions
Tension in the hips may be due to tightness in your quadriceps, adductors, hamstrings, hip flexors, external rotators or glutes but, if you explore your subtle body (the body of energy) you may see that there is more to it.
In hatha yoga, which originated in India, this energy is called prana, and it is referred as qi or chi in Chinese medicine. This vital life force links your physical, mental and energy bodies and is distributed by the means of chakras, the vortexes of energy, which are aligned vertically along the length of the spinal cord from the base of the spine to the crown of the head, and correlate with various body parts and organs, along with mental and emotional associations they are attributed to.
The hips are the abode of the first and the second chakras: Muladhara, the Root Chakra, which encompasses your pelvic floor, leg channels and the feet, and is associated with your primal survival needs (how you relate to the material world of your job, finances and household), safety, stability and body image, but also fears, worries and anxieties; and Swadisthana, the Sacral Chakra, involving your pelvic basin and the sacrum and relating to your reproductive system, sensuality, sexuality, desires for pleasure, your creative expression and ability to express your emotions.
To examine the energetic and emotional anatomy of the hips from the teachings of Chinese medicine, we can refer to its meridian theory.
“The Meridian as used in East Asian medicine came into the English Language through a French translation of the Chinese term jing-luo,” explains Ted J Kaptchuk, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, in his comprehensive book on the theory and practice of Chinese medicine Web That Has No Weaver. “Jing means to ‘go through’ or a ‘thread in a fabric’; ‘luo’ means ‘something that connects or attached’ or ‘a net’.”
While the word meridian itself is disputed by some, with a vessel suggested as a more accurate translation, ultimately the 14 main meridians are the pathways, which relate energetically to particular organs, and through which qi and blood are distributed through all tissues and bones of the body.
In this article, the meridians are briefly presented in their corresponding yin–yang pairs: kidneys and urinary bladder, liver and gallbladder, spleen and stomach. Their partial locations encompass the target hip area, inclusive of the pelvis, front of the thighs (stomach meridian), inner thighs (spleen, kidney and liver channels), and gluteal area and outer hips (gallbladder pathway), along with the back of the thighs (urinary bladder meridian line).
Along with their locations in the body and physiological functions, these energy channels, and organs associated with them, carry mental and emotional attributes, some of which are overviewed below, connecting our emotions to the “issues (we may store) in hip tissues”, with an accompanying yoga practice explained further on.
|Yin organ||Yang organ||Physiological controls||Mental qualities and emotions|
|Kidneys||Urinary bladder||Reproductive system, lower back health, urinary system, blood purification, bones and marrow||Fear, terror, restlessness, lethargy, wisdom, inner strength, will, courage|
|Liver||Gallbladder||Detoxification, blood storage, metabolisation, even disposition, tendons and ligaments||Anger, irritation, envy, feeling stuck, compassion, decision-making, contentment, benevolence|
|Spleen||Stomach||Appetite, digestion, transportation of blood, muscles, flesh||Anxiety, worry, unclarity, overthinking, calmness, composure, clear thinking, creativity, motivation|
Deep yin yoga practice for happy hips
Yin yoga is a slower and deeper style of yoga which can be effective in training the body to become still and facilitating self-inquiry through observation of physical, mental and emotional patterns which may reveal themselves throughout the extended duration of a yin pose or in a relaxation pose or rebound.
The poses in yin yoga are commonly held longer, applying traction of the connective tissues, elongating deep fascia, assisting in strengthening the bones, ligaments, joints and tendons, together with enhancing the flow of qi through the meridian networks briefly described above.
As you will be exercising the deeper yin tissues, it is important to remember a different approach is to be applied to the practice, opposed to when you exercise your muscles the yang way. Instead of fast movement with conscious muscle engagement, you will be remaining in the poses for three minutes or longer, allowing your muscles to relax.
The first step to take as you enter a yin pose is to find your edge, that “sweet spot” of not too little and not too much. Look for when you find the point that prevents you from going further in the pose. Your aim here is a sensation of traction in the listed target area, not bad pain.
Then settle into being still in the pose for the suggested length of time. If you need to make an adjustment, do so slowly and mindfully.
As you remain in the poses and rebounds, observe! You may notice a sensation, emotion or thought coming to surface; allow yourself to acknowledge them, and breathe through them, as you observe what unfolds.
Target area: Groin and inner thighs, possibly hamstrings, if feet are further away from the groin
Begin seated on your yoga mat or elevate your hips by sitting on the edge of a cushion (especially if you experience tightness in the hips, or have sciatica or sensitive back). Bring the soles of your feet towards each other.
Slide your feet away from your groin, forming a diamond shape with your legs, and fold forward on exhalation, relaxing your hands onto your ankles, feet or the floor. Alternatively, you can place a yoga block underneath your ankles.
Allow your back to round and relax your head towards your feet. Remain in the pose for five minutes.
To come out of Butterfly pose, use your hands to press the floor away from you, and then placing your hands under your outer thighs, draw your thighs in towards each other, before straightening your legs and taking a short rebound on your back.
Dragonfly on the Wall
Target area: Inner thighs (adductors), backs of the thighs (hamstrings)
You will need a wall space to practice this pose.
Begin by sitting on the floor with your one of buttocks against the wall; pivot your legs up the wall, as you lie onto your back.
Draw your legs apart, so that a V-shape is formed by your legs, allowing your feet to slide down the wall, until the sensations you experience are just right — not too much, not too little — yet you feel traction in your inner thighs (adductors) and backs of your legs (hamstrings). Let your muscles relax in this pose.
You can keep your hands on your abdomen or place them onto your inner thighs.
Remain in the pose for four minutes.
To come out, bring your hands underneath your thighs, to help you bring your legs together.
Stay with your legs vertically up the wall for 10 to 15 breaths, giving yourself time to rebound and feel the effects of the Wall Dragonfly Pose.
Still Supine Windshield Wipers
Target area: Top of the thigh (quadriceps)
Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet about mat-width apart.
Lower both of your knees to the left, to encourage the extension of the right hip and traction across the top of your right thigh (quadriceps). If you want a stronger sensation, cross your left ankle above your right knee.
Stay in the pose for three to four minutes, before taking a rest and repeating on the other side.
Low Flying Dragon Pose
Target area: Hip flexors (inclusive of psoas) of the back leg
Begin on all fours. Take a big step with your right foot forward, coming into a low lunge position. Slide your back knee back enough, so that you feel your left hip flexors lengthening (use a padding under your back knee, if you experience discomfort in that knee).
You can turn your front toes out and/or roll onto the outer edge of the right foot, if appropriate.
Keep your arms on the inside of your front foot. If the pose feels too intense, use a yoga block or bolster to rest your hands on or elbows on. If you are comfortable to go deeper, you can rest your forearms on the floor.
Stay in the pose for three minutes. Then, take a rebound and repeat on the other side.
Reclined Figure 4 Pose to Twisted Roots Pose
Target area: Glutes (buttock) and outer thigh of the top leg
Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Cross your right ankle above your left knee.
If you already feel a pulling sensation in your right buttock and right outer thigh, remain there. If you do not feel the target area of the pose (right glutes and outer thigh), lift your left leg off the floor and clasp your hands under the back of the left thigh or front of the left shin. Stay in the pose for three minutes.
Then, lower your left foot back onto the floor and slide your right knee above your left, lift your hips and shift them slightly to the right. On exhalation, lower both of your knees to the left for the supine Twisted Roots pose. If you can, wrap your right ankle around the left calf.
You can use a cushion or a bolster to support your knees.
Your right arm can extend out to the right or above your head, and left hand can rest on top of the right thigh. Keep your head neutral or turn it to the right or to the left, finding the most favourable position for your neck. Remain in the pose for further three minutes.
Then rest and repeat on the other side.
Complete your practice resting comfortably on your back in savasana for at least five minutes.
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