By Linda Ransom and Sharon Story
A note to our readers: This series is not necessarily designed to be done in a single session. (This post reflects an amalgamation of Hip Opener classes, including several poses that you must warm up for and work up to). One of the most important tenets of Healing Chair Yoga is that you must listen to your body and practice ahimsa (kindness, non-harming), and that includes not pushing yourself too far too fast. We are not here to change ourselves; we are here to meet ourselves where we are.
Tightness or tension in the hips is a common challenge for yogis, and hip opening poses are among those most frequently requested in yoga classes. The complexity of the musculature around the hips contributes to this phenomenon. There are over twenty muscles that cross the hips, including adductors (inner thigh muscles), abductors (outer thigh muscles), hip flexors (muscles connecting the femur to the hip in the lower spine), the lateral rotators (muscles connecting the femur to the hip bone, responsible for external rotation), and many more.
It is often said in yoga, that hips are the storage container for negative feelings and unresolved emotions, especially ones that are related to control. Hip opening asanas/poses therefore not only provide release of physical tension, but may also provide an opportunity for emotional or energetic release. Hip opening creates space for decision-making, new ideas new pathways, and even new beginnings. Opening the hips gives us the ability to find freedom and our bodies and in our own unique creative, physical, and spiritual expression.
Tightness in the hips affect everything from our ability to get into yoga poses to simply being able to pick up something off the floor. Opening the hips improves range of motion and circulation, and decreases the load on the spine, lessening overuse and resultant back pain.
Hip openers are powerful poses, both physically and emotionally. Always listen to your heart and body to help make the poses work for you. Most importantly, have fun and play!
Seated Chair Abductors and Adductors
Begin by sitting in your chair with both feet on the floor. Bring one hand to your knee, placing the palm on top of the knee. Gently lift your legs up, a few inches off the floor. Move your leg from left to right, keeping the foot on the floor and the palm of your hand on your knee for a bit of resistance. This will strengthen your abductors and adductors. Move slowly back-and-forth, five to ten times each side. Repeat with the other leg.
Butterfly Chair Pose
Begin seated on the chair with your feet flat on the floor. Place blocks under the soles of your feet. Choose a height that feels the best for you. Gently begin to bring the soles of the feet together, letting the knees splay out. Stay here and enjoy the stretch. To intensify the stretch, begin to bend forward keeping your back as straight as possible. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Come back up slowly with a straight back as much as possible. Repeat 2-3 times each side.
Straight Leg Chair Abductor and Adductor with Belt
Sitting on the chair, place a belt under the sole of one foot. Straighten your leg to a point that is comfortable for you; do not force it or over extend the knee. Once you have found that stretch, slowly move your legs out to the side and back to the middle. Move slowly, backand forth, five to ten times to each side. Repeat with the other leg.
Seated Chair Pigeon
Begin by sitting in your chair with both feet on the floor. Gently lift your leg and cross your ankle over knee. Be sure to keep yourself in alignment with seated mountain pose. Stay right here if it if this feels good to you. If you would like a deeper stretch, begin to gently bow forward, keeping your back straight. Breathe. Hold for twenty to thirty seconds or until you feel you need to release. Repeat with the other leg.
Rock the Baby with Chair Pigeon Pose
Begin in seated pigeon pose. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Place your left palm on the sole of the right foot or under the outer ankle and gently lift. Softly and gently begin to rock with small movements, from side to side. You are rocking the baby. Rock for approximately thirty seconds or until you need to release. Repeat with the other leg.
Start by standing up facing the chair. Place a blanket on top of the chair also covering the seat of the chair. Begin to place your hands on the sides of the upper chair. Gently lift one leg onto the chair seat into a modified pigeon pose. Be gentle and kind to yourself. Breathe into your hip. The back leg will extend back. This will lengthen your standing calf and deepen the stretch. You may bow forward as you use your hands for support and balance. Hold for approximately thirty seconds or until you feel you need to release. Gently release the pose by bringing the back leg in towards your chair. Repeat with the other leg.
Chair Warrior 1
Warrior lunges are wonderful for stretching and strengthening the hips. Turn sideways on your chair to the right. Place your bolster lengthwise in front of your chair. Keep your right foot on the ground in front of the chair. Make a lunge as your left knee comes to bolster. Your left knee will line up with your left hip making a 90 degree angle if possible. Keeping your alignment, begin to bring your hands into Namaste. Keep your neck long and look towards where the ceiling and the wall meet. Check in with your body; if it’s comfortable for your shoulders bring your hands to a goal post position or overhead. Hold and play with arm positions for about 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
Chair Warrior II
From warrior one (above) reach one hand forward and the other hand back. Turn your upper body away from the front of chair. Gaze over your forward hand as you lengthen your body from fingertips to fingertips. Stretch and breathe. Hold for about 30 seconds.
Chair Reverse Warrior
From warrior one, (above) with your left knee on the bolster, take your left hand to the lower left leg. Come into a gentle backbend, keeping the heart lifting towards the ceiling and the neck in line with the spine. The right arm can reach up to the sky or come to your heart. Be sure this pose feels good on your back, neck, and shoulders. Hold for approximately 20 seconds and repeat the other side.
Chair Warrior Variations
Here are different variations of Warrior Lunges. Have fun and play! Always listen to your heart and body. It will tell you if these poses are right for you.
Wind Relieving Pose
Lying down on your mat, gently bend your knee towards your belly. Embrace your fingers around the shin keeping all ten toes flexed. Gently hug your knee towards the midline of your body. Enjoy the stretch and breathe. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat the other side. For a variation you may choose to use a belt around your shin and a blanket under your head.
Big Toe Stretch
Lying down on your mat, bend one knee and place a belt under the sole of your foot. Extend your leg towards the sky, being kind and gently to your hamstrings. Place the belt in the hand of the extended leg and bring your leg to the outside. You may use a bolster to rest your extended foot. Try to keep the other hip anchored towards the earth. Slightly bend your knee and gently bring your leg to center. Switch hands with the belt. Bring your leg across your body into a gently spinal twist. Breathe and enjoy. Repeat the other side. Hold each side approximately 30 seconds.
Set your mat up with a bolster, 2-4 blocks, and a couple of blankets. Two blocks will be placed under the head of the bolster, one block will be on the highest height. The other block will be placed on second height making a ninety degree angle in front of the highest block. Bring your sacrum to the edge of bolster. Place the soles of your feet together. Place rolled blanket over your feet, under your knees, and gently tuck under your hips. (see picture) You may need two more blocks for your knees. Slowly begin to lie back on your bolster. You may want a blanket under your head and an eyebag. Stay for ten to twenty minutes. Breathe and reap the benefits for this bound angle pose!