You don't need to be in your golden years to experience hip problems. While some aches and pains come with age, many hip issues are the result of a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, sitting all day is the number one cause of tight hips, according to the International Sports Science Association.
"But if we don't take the time to do some hip-friendly stretching, we could end up with a condition called adaptive shortening," says Brendon Abram, author of Teaching Trauma-Sensitive Yoga and founder of Get Yoga in Ontario, Canada.
This happens when "the muscle groups that support the hips become shorter and weaker and the hip joint narrows to the point where we could start experiencing chronic discomfort," Abram says.
Luckily, there's something you can do to counteract feeble hip flexors. When you start to notice stiffness, your hip muscles might just be yearning for a bit of yoga.
Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here — we’ve got something for everyone.
How Yoga Helps Relieve Hip Tightness
"Yoga addresses tight hips by reversing the shortening and keeping supporting musculature — hip flexors, quads and hamstrings — long and supple, thereby preventing narrowing of the joint," Abram says.
What's more, "holding poses for 30 to 60 seconds permits your natural relaxation response to kick in," he says. That means doing yoga can counter the stress response, which preps the body to fight or flee by, among many things, tensing your muscles. But when your hip muscles are relaxed, you can get a better, deeper stretch to relieve tightness.
On top of that, yoga also involves breathwork — which is a key factor in eliciting the relaxation response — so you get double the calming benefits for your mind and body.
20-Minute Yoga Flow for Tight Hips
Breathe your way through this slow-and-steady yoga flow by Abrams that'll ease your tight hips and simultaneously help lower your stress levels.
Count how many breaths you can comfortably take in 1 minute (for most of us it will be between 4 and 6), then use your breath to measure the time you should hold each pose. For example, if you’re supposed to hold a pose for 2 minutes, it’ll be equivalent to 8 to 12 breaths.
Do: each of the following poses for 1 minute each.
Move 1: Corpse Pose (Savasana)
- Lie on your back in a comfortable position and take a minute or two to get grounded and centered.
- Connect to your breath and slow it to the rate you will use during your practice.
- Do a quick body scan and notice where you seem to be tight. Is it your quads, your hip flexors or your hamstrings? Resolve to bring compassionate awareness to tight areas as you move through your practice.
Move 2: Supine Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
- Lying on your back, place your feet flat on the floor and bring your legs together.
- Lower both knees to the left. If the left knee does not touch the floor or the right knee separates from the left, use a prop (ex. rolled-up towel) to support the knees.
- You should feel a mild to moderate stretch through the outside of the hips and the lower back.
- Connect to your breath to measure time.
- Repeat on the right side.
Move 3: Reclined Butterfly (Supta Baddha Konasana)
- Lying on your back, bring the soles of the feet together and allow the knees to lower to the support of the floor or a prop.
- Look for mild to moderate sensation through the inside of the legs up into the groin.
- Connect to your breath, releasing tension with every exhalation.
Move 4: Reclined Butterfly Counter Pose
- Lie on your back with feet flat on the floor about hip width apart.
- Bring your knees inward to touch and support each other.
- Keep the knees together and shift the feet outward until you've created a mild to moderate stretching sensation through the outside of the hips.
Move 5: Revolved Downward Facing Dog (Parivrtta Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Begin in a tabletop position on all fours with wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- Exhale as you tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor.
- Reach your pelvis toward the ceiling, keeping the spine long by sending the tailbone back and up and gently straighten your legs without locking your knees.
- As you inhale, lift your left hand and reach under the body to grasp the right ankle. If you can't reach comfortably, rest your hand on the outside of your right shin or upper thigh.
Do: each of the following poses for 1 minute each.
Move 6: Standing Cross-Leg Forward Fold (Uttanasana Variation)
- From standing, place the right foot flat on the floor on the outside of the left foot to cross the legs.
- Inhale, lengthening your spine, then exhale as you bend from the waist to fold forward over the left foot.
- Bend the knees as needed and watch for a sensation through the outside of the right hip. Adjust your position to bring the stretch to the place it feels best.
Move 7: Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
- From Forward Fold, inhale to rise and step the right foot back into a low lunge. Feet are hip-width apart on separate tracks (they shouldn't line up front to back). Left and right toes are both pointing forward.
- Keep the spine long by lifting the heart and extending the crown of the head away from the tailbone.
- Allow the hips to shift forward and down. Notice where you feel sensation through the hip region.
Move 8: Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
- From Low Lunge, inhale to rise, shifting the left foot toward the center line of the body.
- Keeping your left toes pointing straight forward, turn your right toes out to face the right side of your mat.
- The heel of your left foot should be aligned with the arch of your right foot while your left knee remains above or slightly behind your left ankle.
- Rotate your torso to the right and lift your arms to shoulder level, with your right fingers extended to the rear and left fingers extended to the front.
- Turn your gaze over your left fingertips, lengthening your stance to go deeper. Look for a mild to moderate sensation through quads, hamstrings, and/or hip flexors and connect to your breath to hold.
Move 9: Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
- From Warrior 2, straighten the left leg, coming to a stance with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Exhale to send your right hip toward your back foot and hinge at the waist toward the front of your mat.
- Twist the torso to the right reaching your left fingers towards the floor as your right fingers extend toward the ceiling. Gaze toward your top hand as long as it's comfortable on your neck.
- As best you can, stack your right shoulder above the left shoulder and right hip above the left hip. Keep the left leg as long as you comfortably can, but it's fine to bend it to protect the joint.
Move 10: One-Legged Chair Pose (Eka Pada Utkatasana)
- From Triangle pose, inhale to rise, then exhale as you step to the top of the mat into a standing position with your arms at your sides.
- On the next inhale, cross the right ankle over the left knee and exhale as you begin to sit back and lower the base of the body toward the floor.
- Open the right knee toward the floor to create sensation through the hips. Hands can be at heart's center in prayer position, or if you wish to deepen the pose, fold forward and allow hands to touch the floor.
Perform moves 6 through 10 again, this time on your opposite leg before moving onto Move 11.
Do: each of the following poses for at least one minute each.
Move 11: Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)
- Lie on your back, then bend your knees and bring them toward your belly.
- Grip the outsides of your feet and gently pull them down toward your armpits.
- Try to keep your ankles directly above the knees, so your shins are perpendicular to the floor. You want to feel a mild comfortable stretching sensation into the hip region.
Move 12: Corpse Pose (Savasana)
- Lie on your back in a comfortable position and feel the ground beneath you.
- Finish by doing another body scan, paying attention to your breath. Stay here for as long as you want.