What are hip openers?
In my 200 hours Yoga teacher training in India, Gokarna, with Shree Hari Yoga I learned so much about my favourite practice, the hip openers. Now I want to share it. But what exactly are hip openers and what do they mean to you? I mean, what does practicing yoga really mean to you? Do you see it as a great way to work out? Or do you like it because it helps slow your mind? Do you practice for flexibility? Maybe it just makes you feel good without really knowing why?
One of the reasons yoga makes us feel good is that the asanas (postures) help balance our bodies emotionally and energetically. Asana practice stimulates and awakens the chakras. Our chakras are 7 energetic wheels along the spinal column through which energy flows. Different asanas work on different chakras and therefore have different benefits. Today we will be focusing on hip openers. These are poses that help open the hips physically and stimulate the sacral chakra. This energetic wheel is located in the lower abdomen, about two inches below the navel.
What are the benefits of hip openers?
Hip openers are special because not only do they help us physically open our hips, but they are also excellent for releasing old trapped emotions, memories and pain. So when practicing these poses it is fantastic to set an intention to let go of something that is no longer serving you. This can be anything from a painful memory, a destructive habit, a negative thought of yourself, a label or even a person. You can make the “letting go” part of your meditation before and after your yoga practice and really optimise all the benefits from your time on the mat.
Because, here’s the thing, yoga is NOT about perfect asanas and flexibility. It’s about the unity of your mind, body and soul and the universal consciousness. It’s about LISTENING to your body and learning about beautiful you. It’s a loving non-judgemental moving meditation. Sometimes I even kiss my legs in forwarding bends. Isn’t it great having legs? So it doesn’t matter how wide your hips open, find your edge and then stop. Do not force, just surrender and find the softness within you. Be kind to yourself. Sometimes during hip openers, you can feel the urge to cry. Let go and let it happen.
Here are some sample opening and closing meditations, and some hip opening asanas. Soon I will post a full lesson and an audio of a meditation for you all. The best thing about this, is you can practice all of this at home. You could even practice in your pajamas… or wear nothing…. You literally need nothing to meditate on except you. Perfect, whole and complete you. Win win win win win win.
Lay on your back and come into supta baddha konasana (reclining bound angle). Set your intention for your practice. What do you want to release? For example, for me, I regularly focus on releasing my inner critic. Frequently I set unattainable expectations for myself instead of accepting myself the way I am. I have a tendency to think about what I am doing right now is not good enough. This is NOT true. We are all good enough right NOW, actually, we are even better than that. Therefore my intention in this practice is to release this habit.
Picture when this habit or emotional thing has affected you. Remember a time it made you unhappy. Now, remember that you CAN let it go. Feel yourself letting go. Really feel the release. Imagine yourself without it. Feel how free you are, how much lighter you feel. As you inhale think “let”, and as you exhale think “go”. Take a few long slow deep breaths.
Now we are ready for our practice. Remember your intention and the feeling of letting go during the asanas.
Example Hip Openers
Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle pose)
Lie straight on your mat. Gently bend your knees and bring your feet together. Keep the outer edges of both your feet on the floor. Keep your heels close to your groin.
Place your arms to your sides with your palms facing up.
Exhale, and tuck your tailbone in and feel the elongation of your spine as your pelvis tilts.
Inhale. Exhale slowly, and open and lower your knees towards the mat. Feel the stretch in your groin and inner thighs.
Stay in this pose for at least a minute. Focus on breathing slowly and deeply. Did you know turtles live so long because of how slow they breathe? Let’s all be like turtles.
Exhale, and bring your knees to your chest. Hug them, and roll from side to side giving yourself a beautiful massage on the floor. When you are ready to release and come out of the pose.
Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged forward fold)
From Tadasana (mountain pose) step your feet 4 feet apart. Turn your toes in for stability.
Exhale, and place your hands on your hips.
Inhale, look up and open your chest.
Exhale, slowly bend from your hips with a straight back bringing your palms to the floor under your shoulders. Make sure your fingertips are in line with your toes.
Inhale, look up and lengthen the spine.
Exhale, and bring the crown of your head towards to floor. Bend your elbows towards the back. Press into your feet to lengthen your legs and raise your hips up towards the ceiling.
Note the spine lengthening in both directions as you press your head down and lift your hips up.
Breath and hold for 5 slow breaths. Think about the turtles.
To release, inhale and look up. Exhale, and bring your hands to your hips. Inhale, come back up to standing. You DID it! Well done you.
Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog split)
Come into the downward-facing dog from tabletop (all fours). Push your hips up and draw your belly in. Make sure your spine is in a straight line from your head to your tailbone.
Lift up your right leg, and extend it up and behind you.
Bend your knee, open your hips and let your foot fall over your glute. Feel the stretch in your outer hip.
Look under the left (opposite) armpit. Make sure the weight is equally distributed in both arms.
Take 5 slooooooow breaths.
Return to the downward facing dog. Repeat on the other side.
Malasana (Garland/Squat pose)
Start in Tadasana (mountain) and hop or step your feet roughly as wide as your mat. Bring your hands into Namaskara (prayer position).
Bend your knees and sink into your hips, coming into a Squat.
Widen your thighs so that they are wider than your torso. Open them using your arms, whilst keeping your arms in a prayer position. Keep your feet grounded (or place a towel/mat under your heels if they lift).
Keep your head up and spine lengthened. Feel one line of energy from your crown all the way down to your root.
Stay here for at least 5 breaths before coming up to standing again.
Come back to your Shavasana (corpse pose). (Optionally – come back to supta baddha konasana).
Feel your hips. Are they lost? What do you feel? Just observe, do not judge. It does not matter what the answer is. Simply practice listening to your body.
Now take a deeeeeep loooong sloooooow breath. Hold it, and let it go. Imagine all the tension leaving your body like a gentle grey mist. Come back to your deep and rhythmic breath.
Picture a bright white divine light above your head. It’s getting closer and closer. Larger and larger until it surrounds your whole body. You relax from the tip of your head to the bottom of your toes. You can feel the light shining inside you, healing and relaxing. The light shines out of you. You are glowing brightly. You are at one with love and self-acceptance. You are at one with divine light.
It encourages you to let go. Remember your intention. Let it go. Let it go. Remember your intention. Remember your perfection, your truth. You relax deeper.
Stay in silent meditation for 5-10 minutes.
When you are ready gently come back to your body. Feel the light energising and moving your fingers and toes. Feel your whole body energising and preparing for the beautiful day ahead.
When you are ready, bring your knees to your chest and turn to your right side. This foetal position symbolises a new birth, a new birth after releasing what no longer serves you. Keep this divine light with you for the rest of the day. Remember this feeling of lightness.
With your eyes closed come to a sitting position at the front of your mat. Bring your hands into namaskara (prayer) position. Thank yourself and your body for coming to your mat today. Tell yourself one thing that your love about yourself. Remember how whole and perfect you are. Gently hug yourself. Find your softness. Then gently blink your eyes open. It is a beautiful day at the Yoga Shala at the beach in Gokarna.