15 minute daily yoga routine to improve hip flexibility
Do you have tight hips that are causing you discomfort? Then you are in the right place! Learn how to use yoga to improve flexibility, decrease pain and ease tension!
Contrary to what my friends think, or what you may see in some of my pictures on social media, I am not a naturally flexible person. I actually have to work really hard to achieve my flexibility goals on a daily basis. I have always had some tightness in my hips and this has caused me some pain and frustration over the years. When I discovered yoga therapy about 5 years ago and went through the training to become a yoga therapist, I learned to actually listen to my body more. Instead of pushing through pain just to obtain the “perfect yoga pose,” I found ways to find peace with some of the poses that I usually dreaded. I have put together a yoga therapy routine designed to target the hips to decrease pain, improve flexibility and just overall make you feel better!
As with any exercise routine, always consult with your doctor before beginning a program. Also, if you are pregnant, you want to be careful not to “overstretch” your muscles in yoga. During pregnancy, your body releases a hormone called relaxin which is designed to prepare your body for childbirth. It relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis and softens/widens the cervix. This in turn, can make you more prone to injury as you may be able to stretch more than your body is used to, especially if you are already flexible. This can cause you to strain the muscles or ligaments around your pelvis. The great thing about yoga therapy is you can utilize props such as blocks, blankets, straps and bolsters to assist you in achieving proper alignment and posture. This allows you to avoid placing excess stress on your joints! It is also important to avoid deep twists in yoga during pregnancy as to not cause any compression to the abdomen. I also avoided inversions during the first trimester as the fetus is attaching to the uterine wall. However, if you have a regular and established yoga practice and are comfortable performing inversions that is completely your decision.
Once you are past your 1st trimester, it is not recommended to perform exercises laying flat on your back ( supine position). You can simply modify this by propping your back and shoulders up with pillows so you are not flat. The reason for this is as the weight of the uterus increases during pregnancy, spending too much time flat on your back may compress your vena cava. This can sometimes cause you to become dizzy, lightheaded or nauseated and could briefly reduce blood flow to baby. Again, this is in most extreme cases and I felt fine laying on my back for brief periods of time to exercise throughout my pregnancy. Of course always consult with your doctor first and listen to your body!
So what is yoga therapy and how can it improve your flexibility?
Here is a quick overview.
Yoga therapy, derived from the yoga tradition of Patanjali and the Ayurvedic system of healthcare refers to the adaptation and application of yoga techniques and practices to help individuals at any level reduce symptoms, restore balance, increase vitality and improve overall attitude. Yoga therapists prescribe specific regimens of postures, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to suit individual needs. Medical research shows that yoga therapy is among the most effective complementary therapies for several common conditions; one of these being pregnancy. I find yoga therapy to be beneficial to anyone looking to improve their overall health and fitness!
What are some of the benefits of incorporating yoga into your weekly routine?
- Improved flexibility and joint range of motion
- Improved posture
- Improved strength and endurance
- Improved energy level
- Decreased pain
- Improved mood and overall sense of well being
- Improved balance
- Improved respiration
- Improved digestion
- Decreases stress and anxiety
Important tips: Never force your body into a stretch in yoga as this intensifies the firing of the muscle spindle, causing the muscle to contract. This can actually block deepening of the stretch. In yoga, we work with the spinal cord reflex to decrease this contraction thus allowing one to go deeper into the pose ( asana). This can be done one of two ways:
- Holding a pose for 30-60 seconds which helps the muscle to relax and lengthen, allowing you to stretch further
- Backing part way out of a stretch to decrease the firing of the muscle spindle, relaxing the muscle and allowing for a deeper stretch
For this routine I recommend combining these two techniques. Hold the pose for 30 seconds, then back out of it slightly for 5-10 seconds and repeat this 2 more times for 30 seconds. Perform each pose on both sides.
- High Lunge to Low lunge (crescent lunge) with blocks and blankets
- Begin in a high lunge position: with your front knee bent ( making sure your knee does not extend over your toes), back knee straight and back heel up as shown below. Engage your core by pulling your navel in towards your spine and raise your arms up overhead lowering further down into your lunge until a stretch is felt in the front of your hip and thigh of the back leg.
- Lower your back knee down to the floor, making sure you are not directly on your knee cap. You can place a blanket or towel under your knee for comfort. Place a yoga block (or books if you do not have blocks) on each side of your front knee. Pull your navel in towards your spine and lift your chest up. You should feel a stretch in the front of your thigh on the leg that is down.
- Pyramid pose with blocks.
- Stand with your feet slightly longer than hip width apart, staggering your feet slightly for better balance and keeping your toes facing forward. Place a yoga block or a few books on each side of your front foot. Keeping your back straight and chest lifted, slowly bend forward at the waist ( keeping your knees straight) until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh ( of your front leg).
- Pigeon with a block.
- This pose is shown on the left side for demonstration purposes.
- Begin on hands and knees and gently bring your left leg forward so that your knee is at your left hand and your foot is closer to your body. You should feel a stretch on the outside of your left hip. To go deeper into this, bring your foot further away from your body. Place your yoga block under your left buttock for support and to keep your hips in proper alignment. You want to make sure the top of your right thigh is facing down toward the floor.
- Wide legged forward fold with bolster.
- Sit on your yoga mat with your legs out to the sides so that a gentle stretch is felt in your inner thighs and hamstrings ( back of your thighs). Place your bolster or rolled blanket in front of you ( the long way) and keeping your spine straight/chest lifted, gently lean forward until you reach a point that is a comfortable stretch. If you are very flexible you can rest your elbows or forehead on the bolster. If your hips are tight you can place an extra blanket on top of your bolster for more support!
- Seated forward fold with strap:
- Sit on your yoga mat with your legs extended out in front of you; knees slightly bent. Keeping your navel drawn in towards your spine, inhale as your raise your arms overhead and bend forward at the waist keeping your spine straight until you feel a stretch in the back of your legs. If you have any lower back trouble you can always bend more at the knees to take any stress off your back. This is a great place to use your strap around your feet if you are unable to touch your toes as shown here.
- Child’s pose with bolster/blankets.
- Starting on hands and knees, take a yoga bolster (or folded blanket) the long way in front of you, so that your knees are positioned on the outside of the bolster. Gently sit back onto your heels and walk your upper body forward resting onto the bolster so you feel a stretch in your lower back/hips. If your hips are tight or you have any knee trouble; you can place a blanket in between your hips and your heels for support. If you would like to go deeper into the pose, you can remove the bolster.
- Supported bridge with block.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Drawing your navel in towards your spine, lift your hips up off your mat and slide your block underneath your sacrum ( the lower part of your back). You can change the height of the block by turning it depending on how much of a backbend you would like. In this picture I have the block at the highest setting to feel more of a release in my lower back. Let your hips rest on the block and try to relax the rest of your body. This is a great way to decrease back pain, gently stretch the spine and open the front of your hips.
- Reclining bound angle with bolster and blankets.
- This pose is great for opening up the hips and the upper back. Place the bolster horizontally on the floor and lie on your back over the bolster with it positioned around your shoulder blades. Make sure your head is supported on the floor to avoid any stress on your neck. If your are really tight in your shoulders and your head can’t touch the floor, place a pillow underneath for support. Place the soles of your feet together, letting your hips open and knees fall out to the sides. You also have the option of placing blankets or blocks under your knees for extra support.
- Figure 4 against wall:
- This pose is a great hip opener. Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent at 90 degrees and your feet flat against a wall. Cross the foot of the leg to be stretched across your opposite knee, keeping your foot flexed. Using your hand gently press your knee outward until you feel a stretch on the outside of your hip. Repeat on both sides.
- Legs up the wall.
- This is a gentle inversion that is a great way to end your practice, your day or for relieving lower back discomfort. To perform: sit sideways a few inches away from the wall. As you turn to lie on your back, gently bring your legs to the wall, resting your feet on the wall. Close your eyes and relax for a few minutes!
There you go! A quick, effective daily yoga routine to improve flexibility, ease muscle tension and help you to de-stress!
If you loved this routine, you can check out some more of my favorite yoga routines you can do right from the comfort of your home!
I hope you enjoy this routine and it leaves you feeling amazing!
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Dr. Allie Flowers, PT, DPT, RYT
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