Tips for the Hips: Postures for Strengthening and Opening the Hip Flexors

In this Q&A, Priti Robyn Ross, a Kripalu Yoga teacher for more than two decades, deconstructs Warrior I (yes, the knee bone is connected to the hip bone!) and discusses how to increase flexibility in the hips.

Could you recommend postures to increase flexibility in the hip joints?

In the hips, as opposed to the shoulder girdle, for example, the range of motion is less, because we need stability in order to walk, run, and bear weight. There are a myriad of ligaments and muscles surrounding the pelvic girdle, and these all need to be intelligently relaxed and opened in order to create flexibility in the hips. Think of the hips in all dimensions: anterior, posterior, lateral (front, back, sides), as well as all the surrounding areas: superior (above) and inferior (below) the pelvic region.

When we’re tight in the hips, it’s important to not only address that specific musculature by assessing weakness and imbalances in the hip flexors and hip rotator muscles, but also to examine the low-back muscles, abductors, and hamstrings. All areas affect the range of motion and flexibility in the hip joints. Sometimes one area is tight and another area is weak, so it’s important to strengthen as well as stretch the muscles in various postures to address specific issues.

You can explore Pigeon along with its modifications (supine and double) to open the hip flexors and hip rotator muscles. The Butterfly helps open the inner thighs and groin, and Low Warrior I stretches the hip flexors by gently pressing the top front thigh of the back extended leg forward. Postures that explore internal rotation can be helpful as well. Ultimately, exploring the full range of motion in your practice and addressing the body as a whole unit is the most effective way to address tightness in the hips, or any area of imbalance.

Can you recommend some alignment cues for Warrior I? I have a hard time finding the right positioning of my hips—I feel awkward trying to square off and face forward while also being slightly twisted in my stance.

The beauty of yoga is its intention to focus on the body as a whole unit while drawing your attention into the present moment. There’s permission and space to explore what’s right for your specific anatomy. As a teacher, I’ve seen many thousands of bodies practicing, and not everyone’s body is designed to be in the same alignment.

Warrior I can be practiced with the heel down or up (with the heel up, it’s called High Lunge in some traditions). In Kripalu Yoga, Warrior I is practiced with the heel up, so the feet are parallel and hip-width apart, allowing the hips to square forward more easily. The hips, pelvis, ribs, and shoulder girdle are all aligned, facing forward. Warrior I with the heel up is a bit more of a balancing posture, so you can put a rolled blanket under the heel to help with stability and balance.

If you practice Warrior I with the heel down, keeping your hips facing front, be aware of the torque in the back knee and ankle. Be careful not to force the back hip forward at the expense of an unhealthy torque in the knee. The ribs and thoracic cavity can rotate gently forward, even if the hips are not facing entirely square to the front of the mat.

Find out about upcoming programs with Priti Robyn Ross at Kripalu.

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail editor@kripalu.org.