I am writing this article and sharing helpful yoga poses for building strength in your hips and hamstrings because I have been working with these in my own body over the last 2 years and have healed myself from sciatic and hip pain.
After doing this strengthening series, I recommend practicing our sequence of 11 simple yoga poses to stretch tight hips. Following strength training with stretches will prevent your muscles getting too tight and causing pain or injury. I explain in this article that tight hips are often weak as well because it's hard to strengthen muscles that are tight. If we work a muscle that is tight, it will usually just get tighter, and not necessarily stronger. So I encourage you to find the right balance for your own body with regards to strengthening and stretching, and a combination of both.
Our hips are key stabilizing muscles, used to support our legs when we walk, run, and perform many other movements. So it's important to build strength in our hips so we reduce the effort of our leg muscles. Strengthening the hips can often heal running injuries in the knees and ankles because our hips then support our body weight, instead of our body weight bearing down on our poor knees, ankles, feet and all the smaller muscles of our legs.
Our hips are also our source of grounding and connecting to the earth, associated with our Root Chakra or energy center, at the base of our spine, connected to our foundation and stability in our body and in our life. So when we feel strong and stable in our hips, we often feel stronger and more stable in our whole body, mind and in our life in general.
Most of these postures are good for all levels, including beginners, although 2 of the postures (Ardha Chandrasana and Virabhadrasana 3) are a little more challenging and it may be best if you have practiced some yoga previously before attempting them. You can also adjust the poses by using blocks and following along with the adjustments provided.
Please read the detailed instructions and alignment cues for each posture carefully and don't just copy the picture. It's important to move into the pose safely and engaging the correct muscles, whilst also making some alignment adjustments once you are in the pose. I've provided some options and modifications for different bodies and abilities, so please listen to your body carefully and only move into the variation that feels available and comfortable for your body today, using your breath to guide you slowly and gently.
I recommend following along with this sequence as it is, or adjusting as you need, and then progress to holding each pose for longer, up to 5 long slow deep breaths. Remember to always perform the pose on both sides. Also, notice if there's a difference in sides as we often have one hip weaker or stronger than the other. Just notice, without judgement or attachment to any story or reason why this may be the case. Notice and breathe a little more deeply or hold for an extra 2 slow deep breaths on the side that feels weaker.
Always listen to your body and remember to breathe deeply and slowly. If any pose doesn't feel good or you are experiencing any discomfort or pain, please release out of the pose gently and feel free to leave a comment or question in the comments section below and I will be sure to respond and provide some thoughts and additional modifications or options. Honor your body and accept where you are in your practice at any given time. This is the practice. Breathe and enjoy!
Bird Dog (Parsva Balasana)
Starting on your hands and knees, with your shoulders directly over your wrists and your hips directly over your knees, spread your fingers wide and press into all 10 fingers. Draw your belly up towards your spine engaging your core, and draw the front hip bones towards each other engaging your transverse abdominus. Keep your spine long and your neck long as you keep your gaze down towards the mat. Inhale as you raise your left leg back, keeping your hips square to the mat, flex your back foot, and keep your back heel at hip height. Internally rotate your left inner thigh and engage your inner thigh, glutes and hamstring as you draw your hamstring upwards, keeping the hips square. Feel the strength and power in your back leg. Hold and breathe for 3 long slow deep breaths. You can either stay here or if it's available extend your right arm forwards, keeping your hips square, your core engaged and your gaze down so your neck and spine are long. Gently lower your knee and hand to the mat. Repeat on the other side with the right leg back and the left arm forward.
1-Legged Dog (Eka Pada Ahdo Mukha Svanasana)
Starting from Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), extend your left leg up and back, keeping your hips square and internally rotating your left inner thigh. Flex your left foot so your toes point down. Power through your left leg as you engage your glute, hamstring and quadricep, everything working together strongly. Keep pushing the floor away from you with your hands, fingers spread wide, draw your belly in and hips up high, pressing your right heel towards the mat. Hold and breathe for 3 long slow deep breaths. Gently lower your left foot to the mat. Repeat on the other side with the right leg extended up and back.
Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
Starting from Mountain Pose (Tadasana), step your left leg back about 3 feet and place your foot about 45 degrees facing forwards. Slightly rotate your left hip forward and engage your left outer glute strongly. Press into the outside of the back foot to stay grounded and strong through the whole back leg and hip. Inhale as you extend your right arm forward, exhale as you lower your right hand to the inside of your shin, ankle, foot or mat. Stay strong in the left outer hip. Press both feet firmly into the mat, particularly the inside of the front foot and the outside of the back foot. Hold and breathe for 3 long slow deep breaths, opening your chest, upper body and top shoulder as you take your gaze up towards your left thumb if it feels available for your neck to do so. You can either move straight into the next pose, Half Moon Pose (see below for details), or inhale as you press into your feet and come back up to standing, then step your left foot forward to Tadasana. Repeat on the other side with the right leg back.
Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)
Starting from Triangle Pose (Trikonasana), the previous pose, take your gaze down to your right foot and place your left hand on your left hip. Bend into your right knee and shift your weight into your right leg as you extend your left leg back towards the back of the room. As soon as your left leg lifts up off the mat, flex your back foot and engage your back leg strongly, engaging your outer glute/hip, hamstring and quadricep. Press your left heel to the back wall. Draw your belly back towards your spine to engage your core muscles. Place your right hand lightly either on the mat or on a block for support, then begin to straighten your standing right leg as you engage your pelvic floor, core muscles, hamstring and quadricep as if you're drawing your femur bone up into the hip joint. Either stay here and breathe or if it's available lighten up the weight on your right hand and maybe place your right hand to your heart. Keep both legs strong and active. Hold and breathe for 3 long slow deep breaths. Repeat on the other side with your left foot forward and your right leg extending back.
Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana 3)
Starting from Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with your palms at heart center, engage your pelvic floor and your core muscles, your right hamstring and quadricep as if you're drawing your femur bone up into the hip joint, then shift your weight into your right foot and extend your left leg back towards the back. Engage both legs strongly, lifting your kneecaps to engage your quadriceps, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings, strong core and keep your hips square, lowering your left hip if it's above the right. Either stay here or for a more challenging variation extend both arms out in front, keeping the core engaged and the hips square. Hold and breathe for 3 long slow deep breaths. Draw your palms back to your heart, then slowly come back into to Tadasana. Repeat on the other side by shifting your weight into your left foot and extend your right leg back.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Lie on your back, bend your knees and place the soles of your feet under your knees, up towards your sitz bones, so your fingertips can brush alongside your heels. Optional to place a block in between your knees and squeeze the block with your inner thighs, engaging and strengthening your inner thighs. Inhale, press your feet into the mat, and raise your hips up, engaging your glutes as you roll up one vertebrae at a time into bridge pose. Exhale hold and draw the heels back as if trying to slide the heels back along the mat towards the hips to engage the hamstrings and hips strongly. You can either stay here or lift one shoulder and draw it under the torso then lift the other and draw the shoulders towards each other and interlace the fingers under the hips. Hold and breathe for 3 long slow deep breaths. Again, you can either stay here or inhale to lift one foot off the mat, bend the knee to the chest then exhale to straighten the leg towards the sky, keeping the hips square and engaged and hold for 2 long slow deep breaths. Repeat with the other leg. Gently lower the hips down to the mat one vertebrae at a time and remove the block if you used the block.
Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)
Lastly, I invite you to finish this sequence with a nice deep hip opener and hamstring stretch, Happy Baby pose. Lying on your back, bend your knees and draw your knees into your chest, whilst keeping them a little wider than hip width, then extend your feet up so the soles of your feet are facing up towards the sky, then place your hands on the soles of your feet and press your feet and knees down towards the earth as you gently press your feet up towards the hands, providing some traction in the hip joints. Using your breath, you can gently rock side to side to release your hips more if that feels comfortable, and then hold and breathe for 5 long slow deep breaths.
After practicing these strength building postures for your hips and hamstrings, I highly recommend doing a little more stretching by following along with these 11 simple yoga poses to stretch your hips. Also, some simple hamstring stretches are high recommended.
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Author: Sally Mitchell, founder of Body Flows Yoga Retreats and RYT 200 Yoga Teacher leads yoga retreats in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Mexico and Costa Rica. Living in beautiful Sonoma, California, after 15 years in NYC and San Francisco, her approach as a leader and teacher is holistic, balanced and grounded. She enjoys practicing and studying Yoga and Buddhism, hiking and trail running in nature, traveling, writing and inspiring others to live a more spiritual and meaningful life.
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