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Five-Minute Yoga Challenge: roll on the floor to free your hips

Unlocking your hips may be easier than you think

Spring the lock on tight hips. The key: gentle, quiet hip rotation.

In this week’s Tuesday 7:30 class, Jean told me that she’s making progress on her tight hips. “This week I actually thought about doing some hip openers,” she said. “Before, I wasn’t even thinking about it.”

Ah, tight hips.
If you have them, then every hip opening pose, no matter how moderate, hurts from the beginning.
You feel sheets of pain. Meanwhile, on the next mat, a yoga noodle who can wrap her legs around her shoulders sighs in contentment. Believe it or not, hip stretches are some of the most peaceful, bliss-inducing poses in yoga.

What would it take to unlock your hips and begin to tap into the bliss?

My guess is that you’d first have to feel your hips release without pain, so you’d know what you were aiming for.

Hence this week’s Five-Minute Yoga Challenge, which may be the easiest hip opener ever invented.
All you have to do is lie down on the floor, visualize that your kneecap has become a giant Crayon, and then draw the biggest circle you can manage.
There’s no weight, no strain, and even for the tightest hips, there should be no pain. Sensation, yes, but moderate enough to stay with it, and still keep your eyes relaxed and your jaw unclenched.

Can something this gentle be effective?
Well, yes.
Synovial fluid feeds the cartilage that covers the ends of our bones. When your synovial fluid circulates, your cartilage stays nourished and healthy.

When you roll on the floor and give your thighbone its fullest range of motion, you’re doing the equivalent of oiling your hip joint. What’s different is that you don’t add oil, like you might to a squeaky hinge. Instead, you move the existing synovial fluid around so it can feed all the parts of the joint capsule.

Relax and see how much freedom you can find in your hip joint

Relax and see how much freedom you can find in your hip joint

Here’s how to do it:

Lie down in constructive rest position, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Let your eyes close and sink back away from your eyelids. Let your frontal brain release away from your forehead. Relax your jaw.
If you feel strain in your neck, put a folded blanket under your head.

Now straighten one leg, draw the other knee in toward your chest, pick your Crayon color and begin to draw the biggest circle you can, clockwise or counter clockwise.
Focus on your knee and let the rest of your body follow. You can straighten the leg you’re drawing with to make a bigger circle, open the leg so far out to the side that your thigh touches the floor and your opposite hip lifts, and roll right up on the straight leg hip when you’re taking your knee across your body.
Go slow.
The thighbone is a stick with the kneecap at one end and the pelvis at the other. As you draw the circle with your kneecap, notice the movement of the thighbone in the hip socket.
Keep your face quiet, eyes closed, mind relaxed. Focus on the movement of your thighbone in the hip socket. Notice what feels easy, what feels pinched or sticky. When you find a spot that urges you to hurry past, slow down instead. Spend extra time with the sticky bits, gently moving back and forth to ease them. Any clicking, bumping, clunking sounds you may hear are not harmful and should diminish in time.

After several rotations in one direction – four is a nice number – do an equal number in the opposite direction.
Change legs and repeat.
When you’re done, bring your feet flat on the floor. Spend a moment feeling the soft, fluid quality of your hips.

What is the best time to do this Five-Minute Yoga Challenge?

  • If you wake up stiff and have the luxury of a slow morning, then morning works well.
  • So does taking five minutes for yourself when you come in after work. It will help you shed the working day, and you’ll be in a more mellow mood for the rest of the evening.
  • Or make it part of your bedtime routine. A hot bath first will help to relax your hips, and a quiet contemplative five to 10 minutes of hip work will help you sleep.
  • If you’re incorporating this movement into a longer practice, do it near the beginning. See if you can continue to work with your awareness deep in your body for the rest of the practice.

Words of warning: If you’ve had hip surgery, check with your physiotherapist before trying this.
If you feel pain in your belly when you move your thigh toward your chest, or pain in your hips that doesn’t diminish as you work, get it checked out.

Photo courtesy of Brenda-Starr

Next week: Seven strategies for fluid hips, with links to every hip opener on this blog.

If this was your kind of post, you might also like:

Find your working place in hamstring stretches

Pain or Golden Glow: it matters what you call it

It’s Not All Bliss: How to work with poses you don’t like, Part One

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • YogaSpy February 16, 2011, 3:56 pm

    Good point about joints and synovial fluid. I sometimes like to start practicing with dynamic poses to warm up, and this is a nice one. But I tend to use too much psoas and other hip flexors doing it hands free. What do you think about clasping your shin and then using hands and arms to draw the crayon circle (with the leg relatively passive)?

    As for Crayola: Didn’t you love the metallics? Gold and silver. I was always amused by slight yet significant differences between the double-color-name colors. Orange red. Red orange. Blue green. Green blue. And what about Raw umber? What the heck is umber? Only just now did I Google the word “umber.” All these years it just signified a Crayola color to me.

    I’m back to blogging: http://yogaspy.com. Come visit!

    • Eve February 17, 2011, 10:21 am

      Hey Yoga Spy,
      Good to know you’re back blogging. I’ll be there.
      I think clasping the shin is fine, just different. It seems most useful to me in the part of the circle where you draw your knee towards your chest. On the other parts of the circle, you can just let gravity carry you through. Perhaps thinking of the hip as completely passive it would help.
      Ah yes, Crayola. You were far more alive to the color names – I don’t remember any of them. But the metallics were, yes, great.

  • Karen February 11, 2011, 8:42 am

    Hi Eve.

    Thanks for this. Have been working on the hip openers since your challenge last Sunday. I have to say it is amazing how tight my hips have become while I had a shoulder injury ;-p Love the gentleness and ease of this…


    • Eve February 11, 2011, 10:59 am

      Hey Karen,
      Yes! My campaign is working! Thanks for letting me know.
      I wonder if it’s going to go in reverse? Now that your shoulder is healed, perhaps all the work you do on your hips will help your shoulders. Stranger things have happened. See you Sunday.

  • Brenda February 10, 2011, 2:20 pm

    Hi Eve,

    Thanks for letting me know about the use of my image, greatly appreciate.

    Wonderful site blog btw. I’m enjoying reading through it and I will definitely try out some of your exercises. Thanks!

    • Eve February 11, 2011, 11:00 am

      I love your photographs. Thanks for making them available. And I’m glad to know you like this blog.