Some men think that women naturally have open hips and that they are just plain out of luck simply because they are guys. Yet in my experience as a teacher I have seen many students who have tight hips irrespective of their gender. Tightness usually stems from deeply ingrained habit patterns in the body and changing these can sometimes feel as difficult as changing your gender. But with a careful application of technique combined with the purifying heat developed in the yoga practice anybody’s hips can begin to open.
Bendy limberness is not the gift of only one gender, if anyone sets their mind and body to work towards it they can accomplish the goal of increased flexibility in the body. One of the first steps toward becoming more flexible in a particular area is to gain increased consciousness around that particular portion of the body. So with your hip joint, first be conscious of the feeling all the muscles, bones and soft tissue around the hip joint. In fact having open hips actually means being able to freely move and rotate the head of the thigh bone as it sits inside of the hip socket. Tight hips are tight because the musculature around the hip joint, inside of the pelvis, near the groin and around the upper thigh is stuck, locked down or too dense to move freely. If you want to start opening your hips the best thing to do is to gain consciousness around the full movement of the muscles, the joints and all the tissues around the hip joint, the pelvis and the upper thighs. Knowledge both intellectual and experiential is crucial to your discovery of your hips and their ultimate opening.
You can begin directly working with the hip joints and all of the surrounding musculature from the very beginning of your yoga practice. Ideally the first forward bend in the Sun Salutations lubricates the hip joints if you are able to initiate the forward bending movement from the hip joints themselves. With each movement and each breath the internal fire of purification called agni will warm up the sleeping areas around your hip joints if you consciously direct the full power of your awareness there. Wherever you place your mind your awareness follows and ultimately stokes the inner fire. This careful cultivation of both awareness and internal purification continues in the Standing Postures and comes to a crescendo in the Seated Postures of the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series when some very external hip rotation postures are presented. Many students only notice that their hips are tight when they approach a half lotus position or a deep seated hip rotation movement such as putting the legs behind the head. However, if awareness of the actual sensations of the hip joints are part of the focus of the entire practice then when you get to the more demanding posture the whole area will be lit with the pure fire of awareness and sooner or later much more flexible too. Rather than waiting until the hard postures presents its challenge keep your mind diligently focused on the hip joints during all postures in order to learn the steady technique that will set the foundation for truly open hips.
Take for example, Utthita Trikonasana from the Standing Posture sequence of Ashtanga Yoga. This deceptively simple posture begins the subtle rotation of the head of the femur inside the ball and socket of the hip joint that will open up a free range of motion. Starting off in Samasthitihi step the legs open to approximately three feet. Then rotate the right hip joint outward while keeping the pelvis and the sitting bones at the same level. Initiate this external rotation by allowing your right thigh bone to drop back and down while you pull the right trochanter back and down as well. You will need a firm foundation in the strength of both legs, thrusting into the floor to connect deep within the hip joint. Once you engage your legs and allow the external rotation of your right hip to start, feel how far the natural movement inside of the hip socket allows you to move your right foot out to the side, leaving your feet perpendicular with each other. Then begin reaching from deep inside the right hip socket outward until the body begins to lengthen as though you are pulling your torso away from the pelvis. Be conscious of working both legs throughout the movement and engaging the appropriate muscles around the pelvis to facilitate the external rotation of your right hip joint. Deepen and feel the right hip crease while strongly drawing in on the lower stomach and contracting the pelvic floor. Keep the spine in as straight a line as possible and dangle your right fingers towards the right shin, ankle or toe. Be sure you dangle the arms and fingers instead of pressing them down into the shin so that gravity can work on your hip joints and pelvis and you can use the strength of your legs as solid foundation. Do not lean or arch your spine forward or backward. Keep the chest, hips and legs all in the same line, while using the external rotation of your hip joint to create the space for the movement of your torso. After you dangle your arms for around five breaths you might start to feel the right hip joint opening and the left side of the pelvis stretching. Once you have worked this opening and elongation for at least five breaths fold slightly forward while pressing even more firmly down on ground with your legs enough so that you can then grab hold of your right toe with the first two fingers of the right hand. Pull back strongly with the right hand to open the shoulder girdle and also deepen the right hip crease. Work your legs firmly into the ground so that you can pull strongly away from the solidity underneath. Do not push into the ground with your right fingers, but lift up out of the ground and use that pulling and lifting action to open your hips joints, strengthen the legs, and increase energy flow in the posture. Repeat the same principles on the left side.
One crucial thing to remember when you are working with to increase flexibility is that just being able to do a certain movement does not mean that you are conscious and aware of the inner body in that movement. The goal of yoga is not to just be bendy and strong, although that certainly comes. The goal of yoga is actually to be totally aware of each movement of the subtle body. In this way the yoga practice heals the body and trains the mind over a long period of time. When I first started practicing yoga my hips were one of the first place to show dramatic improvement in flexibility. However one thing that I noticed is that although my hip joints would rotate and do what I wanted them to I had literally no sensation around the the whole area of my body from the lower pelvis, through the hip joints and down the upper thighs. It took years of conscious training for me to actually be able to feel with delicate articulation what was actually happening along my inner body and even more years of practice to direct, feel and be acutely aware of the movement of my hip joints. It is this journey that measure the true success of yoga, not how deeply you get into the posture. So if you are working with tight hips remember that as long you are feeling your body and gaining inner awareness you are far along the yoga journey. If you are naturally flexible it does not mean that you are doing deeper yoga unless you are also developing the heightened awareness of the subtle currents deepen within the energetic plane.
The real journey of yoga is the path of inner awareness. Using the subtlety of the movements of your hips joints from the very beginning of your practice will help you develop the kind of purifying consciousness that burns through the accumulation of past habit patterns and tightness in the body. When you make every movement throughout your yoga practice about focusing on the inner body you will open the door to the transformation of the inner and ultimately the outer body as well. The time it takes to open your hips is secondary to the process of discovery from within. If you give yourself the task of feeling intimately every movement of the hip joint throughout your practice and perhaps also your day you will discover a whole new level of your body. If you keep your mind consistently focused on the deepest truth available in your practice and also in your life you will find the keys to knowledge right within the fabric of your body.