Do you suffer from tight hip flexors and stiffness or pain at your lower back? This simple, yin yoga sequence is designed to release tight hip flexors and alleviate lower back stiffness so that you can practice your daily activities with more comfort and boundless energy!
WHAT ARE THE HIP FLEXORS?
The primary hip flexors are the psoas, iliacus (known together as the iliopsoas) and rectus femoris (one of the four quadriceps). All three muscles cross the front of the hip, connecting the upper half to the lower half of the body. The rectus femoris is a superficial muscle that is located closest to the surface of the body and the psoas and iliacus are located deeper, underneath several layers of muscles.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE HIP FLEXORS?
The psoas, iliacus and rectus femoris are the primary muscles involved in hip flexion—pulling the torso and thighs closer together.
WHAT CAUSES TIGHT HIP FLEXORS?
Muscles adapt to the position they’re most often in, so the hip flexors tighten up if we spend considerable time in partial hip flexion with the iliopsoas contracted—sitting, driving, working at desks and riding our bikes. They also tighten up from overuse or repeated muscle contraction when we walk, run, cycle, row or do interminable abs crunches!
It’s also important to think about the ranges of movement that you might be neglecting on a daily basis that do not show up in your sports and common activities. Like squatting, lunging, twisting, cartwheeling and roly-polies.
WHAT ISSUES CAN YIN YOGA ALLEVIATE?
The three primary issues that this sequence is designed to address are:
- Hip flexor and lower back tightness.
- Lower back pain.
- Lack of hip and lower back mobility.
The iliopsoas originates at the lower back, runs through the pelvis and attaches at the top of the femur (thigh bone). When the hip flexors are tight, they tilt the pelvis forward, compress the lower back and create pain and tightness in this area.
Tightness in the hips and lower back results in a lack of mobility that can affect form and impact performance. Lengthening the hip flexors will allow for more comfort during daily activities and can improve your athletic efficiency.
YOGA POSES FOR TIGHT HIP FLEXORS
This yin yoga sequence works on a number of different levels:
- We release tension in the hip flexors—through diaphragmatic breathing, static stretching and joint mobilisation.
- Improve mobility in the hips, pelvis and lower back.
- Lengthen the hip flexors, abs and quadriceps.
- And free up the pelvis.
In yoga, to extend (the opposite of flex) the hips, we have a couple of key categories of poses—backbends and hip openers. And as everything in the body is connected, we not only want to stretch the hip flexors but also the abs and quadriceps—the muscles that connect above and below.
WHEN SHOULD YOU PRACTICE YIN YOGA?
It is best do this yin yoga sequence in the evening or after your workout. In the evening, these poses, combined with deep diaphragmatic breathing, will help you transition into the parasympathetic “rest or digest” nervous system and prepare your body for sleep.
After your training session, you can practice these poses to release tight muscles, restore normal tissue length and improve your range of motion. Long, static stretches like this can diminish power, strength and speed in the short-term so it is not advisable to perform them before particularly explosive activities.
If you are particularly tight, I encourage you also to experiment with longer holds of up to 3-5 minutes in each of the poses as many studies show that long duration stretching is one of the best ways to improve your baseline flexibility.
A YIN YOGA SEQUENCE TO RELEASE TIGHT HIP FLEXORS
1. Corpse Pose (10-15 breaths)
Benefits. In Corpse pose, we allow all the muscles in the body to soften and relax. Putting a pillow or bolster under your knees will create space at your lower back and alleviate pressure. Deep, diaphragmatic breaths start to release the psoas which is attached to the diaphragm.
Instructions. Lie down on your back. You can put a pillow or bolster underneath your knees to reduce the pressure at your lower back. Let your feet fall open, relax your arms by your sides—palms face up and close your eyes. Allow all your muscles to soften and your bones to become heavy. Seal your lips and take long, slow, diaphragmatic breaths, deep down into your abdomen. Allow your belly to expand on your inhalations and contract on your exhalations. Try to keep your attention on your breath.
2. Pelvic Tilts (6-8 reps)
Benefits. Pelvic tilts activate the core, loosen up the pelvis and improve mobility in the lumbar spine (lower back). They are a great, simple exercise for reducing stiffness in the lower back and alleviating pain in the area.
Instructions. Put your bolster to one side, bend your knees and bring both feet flat to the mat in Constructive Rest. For this exercise, you’re going to move with your breath. You may want to rest the palms of your hands on the fronts of your hips. Inhale deep down into your abdomen. Exhale, tilt your pelvis back and press your lower back down towards the mat. Inhale, come back into a neutral spine—feel your lower back lift away from the mat. Repeat, 6-8 times, moving with your breath.
3. Wind-Relieving Pose (10-15 breaths on each side)
Benefits. Wind-Relieving pose creates space at the lower back and frees up the pelvis. It is also a gentle stretch for the iliopsoas on the straight leg and the hamstrings on the bent leg. (Tight hamstrings are also often correlated with lower back pain and tight hips.)
Instructions. Hug your right knee into your chest and lengthen your left leg to the mat. Hold the pose for 10-15 breaths on each side side. Breathe deep down into your belly, using your breath to soften the muscles in your abdomen, pelvis and lower back. Extending your exhalations will help you to release tension and free up the places that feel stuck. Try to keep your attention on your breath. This pose is also great if you are suffering from digestive discomfort.
4. Dragon (10-15 breaths on each side)
Benefits. Baby Dragon and Low Flying Dragon stretch the hip flexors on your straight leg. The second version of this pose increases the intensity of the stretch. You can practice Dragon with or without blocks, depending on your flexibility.
Instructions. Hug your knees into your chest and take hold of the backs of your thighs. Then rock and roll, forward and back, a few times. Cross your feet and come forward onto all fours. Step your left foot outside your left hand and slide your right leg back. You can rest your hands on blocks or on the mat. Breathe into the stretch in your right hip flexors, allowing your hips to sink down and forward. You can drop down onto your forearms in Low Flying Dragon after 5 or 6 breaths to deepen the intensity. Repeat on the other side.
5. High Flying Swan (6-8 breaths on each side)
Benefits. Swan with straight arms lengthens the hip flexors on your straight leg and stretches the abs. It also opens up your hips and improves mobility in the spine. This version is both a gentle backbend and a deep hip opener.
Instructions. From all fours, bring your right knee forward behind your right wrist and position your right ankle as close to your left wrist as is comfortable. Walk your left knee back to straighten your back leg, release your back foot and point your heel straight up. If your hips are not level, you can support your right hip on a block or a cushion. Press into your fingertips, lengthen your spine and square your hips with the top of your mat. Hold the pose for 6-8 breaths before repeating on the other side.
6. Half Saddle (10-15 breaths on each side)
Benefits. Half Saddle stretches the hip flexors but as we bend the knee, it is primarily a quadriceps stretch. The quadriceps are the muscles below the iliopsoas so this pose helps to make space for the hip flexors to release.
Instructions. From kneeling, bring your right foot flat to the mat, bend your left knee and bring your left foot back by your left hip—toes point straight back. Move your right foot out to the side of your mat as far as you need to to bring both sitting bones flat to the mat. Place your hands behind you, fingertips face forwards and start to lean back. Come down just as far as is comfortable—a few inches, to your elbows or all the way down. If you’re on the mat, you can bring your arms up overhead and take hold of opposite elbows. Straighten your right leg to the mat to reduce the intensity. Hold for 10-15 breaths on each side.
7. Tadpole (10-15 breaths)
Benefits. Tadpole is a natural counterpose to the backbends and hip openers that we have practiced in this sequence. It is also a gentle groin stretch and a pose that relieves tension and makes space at your lower back.
Instructions. Come to all fours, bring your knees out wide, touch your big toes together and press your hips back towards your heels. Cross your arms, take hold of opposite elbows and rest your forehead on the mat. Close your eyes and bring your attention back to your breath. Soften your belly and breathe deep down into your abdomen and lower back. Allow your belly and lower back to expand on the inhalation and contract on the exhalation. Fill your belly, lower back and ribcage, relaxing deeper on every exhalation. Hold the pose for 10-15 breaths.
Now you can move back into your day.
HAPPY HIP FLEXORS AND A SUPPLE LOWER BACK
Practice this sequence as often as you need it to release tension in your hip flexors, improve hip mobility and alleviate the build up of lower back tightness and pain. The perfect time to do these poses is in the evening before bed but you can do a shorter version after your training, at the end of your work day or after long trips in planes, trains and automobiles.
It will be most effective if you are able to avoid distractions and focus on your breath—breathe deep into your abdomen and draw out the length of your exhalations.
YIN YOGA VIDEO SERIES
If you would like more yin yoga sequences like this one in video form, check out this series. Yin is a restorative style of yoga in which we hold poses for up to 3-5 minutes to increase flexibility, improve range of motion and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s the perfect antidote to our hectic, always-on lifestyles.
If you’re not already a member, you can sign up for your free 14-day trial to see how practicing these videos makes you feel, both physically and mentally.