In my last column, I discussed standing poses in relation to the root chakra (muladahara), feeling earthed and grounded, steady, safe and secure. We looked at the benefits of standing postures from the mental, spiritual, physical and emotional perspective. Today, we move to hip-opening postures (Affirmation: I base in the pleasure of life. I glow with the ecstasy of my beautiful body and the integrity of my soul. I create beauty, meaning and joy.)
by Sandra Shama Kaur
The Yogic tradition relates the hips with second chakra and the water element, known as the sacral chakra, which is associated with sensuality and sexuality, movement and flow, creativity and production and emotions such as lust. An imbalance in the sacral chakra leads to addictions such as alcohol, sex, shopping, etc. You may also feel depressed, frustrated creatively, stuck in life and judgment of others.
On a physical level, performing hip openers gently and over time starts to open up the over 20 muscles that cross the hip. These include the collection of inner thigh muscles, known as the adductors as well as the collection of thigh muscles known as the abductors, the hop flexors in front, deep lateral rotators in the back, and more. Any movement that stretches these areas could be considered a “hipopener.”
Having tight hips affects everything from your ability to get into challenging yoga asanas such as the wheel pose to running or biking to simply being able to pick up something off the floor. When hips are tight, they increase the load on the back and cause overuse of the spine. In addition to the benefits of improved range of motion and circulation and decreased back pain, opening the hips can create an energetic shift or release as well.
On a mental-emotional level, it is believed that hips store emotions, memories and things in our lives, which we can’t control and are resisting/pushing back. Performing hip-openings postures creates a physical space in the body that manifests into openness in life in response to new challenges, opportunities and ideas. More openness in the hips gives birth to creativity and provides us with an access to freedom in the body and in our own unique expression.
So let’s get starting on hip opening Asana. (Always remember that Asanas need to be held steadily and comfortably. No pain should be experienced while holding the postures or in the hours or days that follow. Or in the words of Patanjali Sutra 46: “Sthirasukhamasanam’’ (II Sūtra 46): sthira = steady; sukham = comfortable; asanam = posture.)
Hip-opening poses work predominately on the second (sacral) chakra — known as Svatistahana which can be found in the pelvic area. The name comes from the word Savdhithana, which means sweetness.
The second chakra is the center of feeling, emotion, pleasure, sensuality, intimacy and connection. The gift of this chakra is experiencing our lives through feelings and sensations. The element associated with this chakra is the water element, because just as water flows, we are also meant to flow with the river of life, rather than resisting challenges that come our way. To balance this chakra, dance, wear the color orange, work on the hips and enjoy a healthy sex life.
Here are a few recommended poses. Other poses you can try out are the Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana), the Pigeon Pose and the High Lunge.
Extended Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana)
Tip: You can hold this pose longer by supporting the raised-leg foot on the top edge of a chair back (padded with a blanket). Set the chair an inch or two from a wall and press your raised heel firmly to the wall.
Benefits: Strengthens the legs and ankles, stretches the backs of the legs and improves sense of balance.
Wide-Legged Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana)
Tip: Some beginners aren’t able to easily bring their hands to the floor and need a good deal of support in this forward bend to protect their lower back. Try raising your hands off the floor by resting each on the end of a block. If your back is still rounded, then use a folding chair to support your forearms. Always remember in forward bends to emphasize the length of the front torso.
Benefits: Strengthens and stretches the inner and back legs and the spine. It also tones the abdominal organs, calms the brain and relieves mild backache.
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Tip: To improve balance practice this pose facing a wall. Press the big toe of the front foot against the wall and stretch your arms up, finger tips to the wall.
Benefits: Relieves sciatica.
Standing Split (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana)
Tip: Support the lifted leg by pressing the raised foot against a wall or hooking its front ankle over the top edge of a chair back.
Benefits: Calms the brain, stimulates the liver and kidneys and stretches the hamstrings, calves, and thighs. It also strengthens the thighs, knees, and ankles and stretches the back of the leg, the front thigh and groin.
Sandra Shama Kaur is a Kundalini yoga teacher and founder of Yalla Yoga.