Tight Hip Flexors are an Epidemic
This might seem like an overstatement, but consider how our daily lives contribute to extreme tightness in these muscles:
(Before I get into this, the hip flexors are the muscles on the front of your hips. When your lift your knee to your chest in a standing position, your hip flexors make that hip flexion happen.)
Sitting for extended periods of time = tight hip flexors
Running/cycling = tight hip flexors
Many core exercises (i.e. bicycles) = tight hip flexors
So, we sit all day, mildly contracting the hip flexors, then we do some sort of exercise the contracts the hip flexors even more. Because these physical positions and actions are so customary in our culture, it seems like tight hips are something we’re willing to accept.
Many people don’t realize that the hip flexors attach to the front of their lumbar (lower) spine. This means that tight hips tug on the low back, pulling the front of your spine forward, putting excess stress on the front of lumbar discs and, therefore, potentially pinching nerves that run through the spine.
Still not concerned? Pinched nerves in this area can lead to sciatica (pain or lack of sensation in the legs) and low back pain.
How to Open Your Hips with Yoga
Enter low lunge (aka anjaneyasana), an elegant solution for our ever-tightening hips:
- Start with chest over hips over knee and work your grounded knee back from there. Starting with your grounded knee too far back will pitch the hips forward and put excess pressure on your low back.
- Do your best to keep your tailbone drawing straight down to the ground, effectively keeping your frontal hip points lifting. Building on the last point, this is another way to avoid excess pressure in the low back.
- Front knee can shift past your front ankle, unlike standing lunge poses like warriors and high lunge. Because the back knee is grounded, the pose doesn’t put high pressure in the front knee ligaments like standing counterparts.
- Put a blanket under your grounded knee or fold your mat under it if kneeling is painful. Don’t be a hero!
- You have the option of placing both hands on your front quad or knee, adding support for the upper body, or raise the arms overhead or in “field goal post” position, perhaps opening the chest and taking a mild backbend/chest-opener.
- Energetically scissor your back leg forward and your front leg backward while pressing the front foot and back shin down into the mat. This will create a lifting action in the midline of the pose, making it more dynamic and supported with the strength of your lower body and core. Stability = longevity.
Give these a try in your next low lunges and continue to incorporate this pose in your practice to release the constant tension we create in the front of the hip. Your back will thank you for it!