You know it all too well, the aches and pains and stiffness in your hips. You sit for too long, they're stiff. You walk, run, jump, climb too many stairs, they’re sore and still stiff. You find the perfect balance of both sitting and moving, and they're still freakin' bothering you. You go to yoga to "stretch 'em out" you find some relief but it seems the work is never done. In yoga we're always talking about this "problem area." How often do you hear the phrase "we're going to work on hip openers today?" ...maybe more often than you would like. As a teacher I know this is a tricky area for many of my students. I say "we're focusing on the hips" and I see the fear set in in some of their faces. Not only is this physically a challenging area for them to work through, but there's also the mental barrier. As I type this I can hear some of them groaning, or rolling their eyes, or wincing (my students like me most of the time 😉). For some of them I think just hearing the word "pigeon" pains them. Is it the intensity, or the perceived challenge? Or the idea that they're not successful because they're hips aren't "open" enough and seem like they ever will be?
Here's the thing, referring to our hips as a "problem" area is the first and biggest of our problems with our hips. Tight hips are not bad. They're not a problem. They become a problem when they lack functional range of motion and restrict you from doing the things you need to do on a daily basis. They become a problem when they are weak and they cannot support your structure...but "tight" hips are not a problem. Next time you start to think that they are, think about the shape of them, think about what they do, how they function, how they serve your body as a whole.
First and foremost, it's important to understand the shape and structure of the hips. The hips themselves are specifically the ball-and-socket joint (see the image above) where your femur bone (thigh bone) inserts into your acetabulum (the socket). AKA the hip is where your giant leg bone meets your pelvis. The pelvis and hip joint itself were designed for weight bearing. The word “pelvis” actually translates to basin. Your pelvis itself is made up of both of your hip bones, which consist of three fused bones (the ilium, ischium, and pubis) and your sacrum (the fused vertebrae in your low back) and coccyx (tailbone). Not only is your pelvis designed for weight bearing, or supporting your human frame, but it’s also designed as a container for your vital organs. They support the weight of the body above them, and absorb forces of walking, running, and moving, from the ground up.
While they are designed for stability the hips are also designed for movement. They essentially are a fulcrum for almost all gross motor movement in the body. Think about it, they have to flex when you sit, extend when you lay flat. They repeatedly and consistently flex and extend when you walk, run, jump, climb stairs. They have to abduct (rotate outward), adduct (rotate inward) for cutting, twisting, changing direction, and everything else you do. They essentially are the center of your body and your movement. When they’re too tight and they cannot perform these movements or actions with ease is when “tight” hips become a problem.
Stability + Movement
The hip joint is reinforced by some of the densest connective tissue (ligaments, tendons, fascia); and is supported and moved by the largest and strongest muscles in the body. While these muscles need to be moveable and pliable, they also need to be strong and stable. This is important to keep in mind when you’re in a yoga class and “your hips are talking to you.” Because they are larger muscles they consume more energy when they are working, meaning you will feel like you're working when working your "legs" or lower body. Working larger muscle groups will require a little more exertion and therefore may cause you to fatigue easily. Because the hips are reinforced by dense connective tissue, it will take a little more time and patience for them to "loosen up." Meaning you may have to spend a little more time stretching around your hips than another body part and because it's a generally tight area you may experience some discomfort.
With all of that in mind the question is how do you care for your hips in a way that you can build stability and maintain mobility. The answer is yoga. Well, I may be pretty biased; personally yoga has helped me A LOT, it's what works best for my body. The truth is there is no definitive remedy to "fix" the "problem" with your hips. Every body is different. The discomfort, tightness, imbalances we experience in the hips can be attributed to almost infinite possibilities; our own unique anatomy, past injuries, our daily habits, ect. So what works great for someone else may not be the best option for you, but not doing anything to help yourself is not an option. If you'e never tried yoga, or practice irregularly I recommend getting to a class or doing yoga at home on your own at the very least 1-2 times/week. Consistency is key. You will not notice a difference in tension, tightness, strength, or whatever it is you're working through the hips unless you are consistent. A little bit of patience and a sense of humor when working through the hips go a long way as well :). To learn more about how you can mindfully care for your hips check out the this month's Total Body Tune Up workshop, or catch a class with me.