Opening the hips through proper stretching counteracts the degenerative effects of a sedentary lifestyle spent in front of a computer, sitting in traffic and on the couch. Tight hip flexors are also caused by athletic activity such as cycling and running. Regardless of the cause, loosening up stiff hips alleviates lower back pain, allows for greater benefits to be reaped from abdominal exercises and improves overall efficiency of movement. Hip stretches range from simple to complex, and should be practiced according to your level of flexibility. Added benefits of hip stretches are improved circulation throughout the vital organs including the intestines, pancreas, thyroid and liver.
Seated Stradle Stretch
From a seated position the legs are splayed out in a "Y" formation with the backs of the knees as flat to the floor as possible. Place both hands behind your buttocks and push forward, forcing the hips as far apart as comfortably possible. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to one minute. The stretch should be felt but should not burn. Lean as far forward as possible, making sure to take deep, even breaths. Slowly force the hips further apart as they open to the stretch.
Head to Knee Stretch
Begin sitting Indian style. Straighten your right leg while keeping the heel of your left foot tucked into the inside of your right thigh. Reach out with both hands and grab the bottom of your right foot. If you can not yet reach it, grab your ankle. Bend your torso, bringing your head as close to your knee as possible. Hold the stretch for at least 20 and preferably 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg. Any stretch held for less than 20 seconds is ineffective as it does not significantly expand muscle fibers. Hip expanding stretches should be performed at least three times weekly.
Half Pigeon Pose Stretch
Begin in a lunge position with your right leg bent in front of you and your left leg knee down and pointing straight behind you. Slowly walk your right foot across the frontal plane and lay your foreleg in front of you with the outer side of your leg flat on the ground. The leg should form an acute angle with the knee pointing straight ahead and the ankle flexed at a right angle. Slowly walk your torso forward over your leg while breathing deeply and evenly. Hold for a minimum of 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. You can run into significant resistance from your pelvic girdle when first trying this stretch. At first you may find it necessary to support the buttocks of the angled leg with a yoga block or a folded towel until you begin to loosen up.
Frog Pose Stretch
Begin on knees that are fully bent and feet together beneath the buttocks. Open the knees into a "V" shape and slowly walk your arms and torso forward while breathing deeply and evenly. This stretch progresses in extremity according to how far apart you position your feet once your hips are in the "V" position. Thin pillows or an extra yoga mat can be necessary as the position can place pressure on the knees. The forearms rest at a 90-degree angle while supporting the torso. This stretch should be held for two to five minutes, getting progressively wider as your hips begin to relax and open. Frog pose effectively expands hip flexors while providing relief from digestive and menstrual cramps.
Additional Stretching Poses
The need to open the hips through deliberate stretching has been addressed through numerous approaches. There are many different poses that achieve similar results. Some additional stretches are Eye of the Needle, Crescent Lunge, Reclined Bound Angle Pose, Cow Face Pose, Happy Baby, Sumo Squat, Lizard Pose and Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch with Raised Foot. All should be practiced on a firm surface padded by a yoga mat after a minor calisthenics warm up.