Due to the intensity of these hip openers, we recommend Lamaze-like deep breathing (8-second inhales and 8-second exhales through the nose) to increase both heat and circulation through those melting muscle fibers and relax your nervous system. Begin by holding this pose for at least 1 minute. Every time you practice, add another minute, building up to 5 or more. While you should expect discomfort, any sharp, shooting pains are a sign that you should back off.
TIPS If you can fold almost to the floor, stack some blocks or pillows under your chin. If the forward bend causes strain on your knees, sit with your spine against a wall and concentrate on breathing, relaxing, and letting your thigh bones drop toward the floor.
HOW Sitting on the floor, bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet and heels together. Next, draw your heels in toward your pubic bone. Keep your back straight (sit up on that towel or blanket if needed). Interlace your fingers and wrap them around the outside of your feet, bringing the heels even closer to your pubic bones and roll the feet open like a book, so the soles face the ceiling. Pressing your sit bones firmly into the floor, lengthen your spine upward.
Gently press your forearms onto your thighs to get them closer to the floor. Inhale deeply. As you exhale, lengthen your spine and fold your body forward over your legs. Find the limit of your stretch (it may be anywhere from just a few inches forward to flat on the floor) and stay there for 1 to 5 minutes.
WHY You might get into this pose and feel stiffer 5 minutes later. That's OK. You're stretching incredibly dense ligaments and tendons deep in your hips. Practice these poses a few times per week and those connective tissues will gently release. Never bounce or force your knees to the floor because you will risk tearing tissues, Corn says. "Just find the shape that your body goes to naturally, hold it, and as you breathe, your body warms up and will go a little deeper." Also, ignore the common urge to boomerang out of these poses and come out very slowly. "Connective tissues are much more sensitive and delicate than your muscles, so they need a moment to respond," Corn says.
TIPS This pose targets so many large muscle groups, you may encounter a few obstacles getting there (chin up, we left out bound lotus pose). Here are some tips to make the journey a little less twisted. Instead of stacking your top ankle on your bottom knee, place the top foot on the bottom shin. Pull the bottom leg in toward your body so there's less strain on your hips, knees, back, and glutes. If your top knee is hanging out in space and you can't get it to touch your bottom ankle, place a block, bolster, or blanket underneath it for support.
HOW Sitting up straight, bend your left leg and place it on the floor in front of you, making a 90-degree angle with your thigh parallel to the front of the mat. The left knee should be directly in line with your hip socketÃ¢â‚¬”no wider. Using your hands, place your right ankle on top of your left knee so it dangles over the left knee and your shins are stacked. (There's a tendency to cheat and allow the ankle to come to the inside of the knee.) Flex your feet to protect your knees.
Take a deep inhale. On the exhale, walk your fingertips out in front of you, broadening across your collarbones, as you fold your body forward, pressing your sit bones down. If your hips are more open, try getting your palms, forearms, or entire arms to touch the floor. Rest your chin on stacked blocks or pillows if it will help keep your back straight. Stay here for 1 to 5 minutes before switching sides.
WHY This one pose can actively, deeply, and therapeutically release many taut muscle groups. The stacked-leg position stretches your outer hips, which means you will also feel this one in your hamstrings, quadriceps, low back, and glutes. Square pose is also a stepping-stone toward the Everest of all hip openers: lotus. The deepest stretch for your hips and knees any yoga pose has to offer, yogic lore says lotus is also the most calming pose, which explains why it is a preferred pose for meditation pros. While you may not get square pose perfect tomorrow (or in this lifetime), the act of trying will open your hips micrometer by micrometerÃ¢â‚¬”and the surrounding muscles, tendons, and joints simultaneously. Putting passive stretches to aggressive use like this is the fastest way to root out tension.
TIPS Sit down to settle down. The most challenging part of these postures isn't stretching or folding. It's sitting still. "When you're uncomfortable, your mind distracts itself to keep you from connecting to deep sensations," Corn says. Instead of debating whether you feel like having tilapia or salmon for dinner, allow emotions to arise naturally. "Suppressing them will only increase mental and physical tension," Corn says. "The gift in yoga practice is we get to observe ourselves in challenges and difficulties. We can run away or stay put, focused, and patient."
HOW Next, place your fingertips on the floor in front of your shins. Take a deep inhale, and lengthen your spine from your tailbone through the crown of your head. Exhale as you walk your hands out in front of you and fold your body forward. Start with your fingertips touching the floor. If you feel limber enough, put your palms, forearms, and then forehead on the floor. You've reached the edge of your stretch when you can still keep your sit bones pressing into the floor and your spine straight. Stay here for 1 minute, building up to 5 or more. Next time you do this pose, cross your left foot underneath.
HOW Begin by sitting tall on your mat with your legs straight out in front of you in staff pose (dandasana). Next, fold your legs in, crossing your ankles so each of your legs rests on the opposite foot (start with your right foot on the bottom). If your back or shoulders round, sit on a block, phone book, folded blanket, or towel to prop your hips up higher than your knees. (Use this tip in the following poses as well to allow the spine the freedom to fold forward.) Rest your forearms on your thighs, close your eyes, and take five deep breaths here.
WHY Sometime between kindergarten and your first desk job, you traded sitting on the floor with your friends for corporate asanaÃ¢â‚¬”butt on chair, hands on keyboard, slump in shouldersÃ¢â‚¬”the perfect recipe for stiff hips. Go back to that cross-legged position 5-year-olds know so well to release the muscles in your hips, knees, thighs, and back. You will also straighten your spine and create more space in your abdomen for blood, fluid, and oxygen to flow in, nourishing your organs.
This pose is also an effective PMS remedy. Although you might prefer curling up in the fetal position, bound angle will actually make you feel better. The longer you stay here, the more the inflamed muscles in your groin, uterus, and abdomen stretch, relax, and release. Too tight? Try this pose lying on your back (supta baddha konasana). Start in legs-up-the-wall pose (viparita karani) by swinging your legs up and lying down so your glutes touch the wall. Now, bend your knees out to the sides into bound angle, with the soles of your feet pressing together. Gently work your knees toward the wall. Once you reach the depth of your stretch, stay here for 1 to 5 minutes.
Read more about hip-opening yoga poses