If your job has you sitting down for several hours in a day, day after day, your hip is constantly in a flexed position. Over time, this makes for a habitual tightness in this area, as the muscles get too accustomed to flexing and find it tough to relax and open up.
The hip flexors (muscles in the thigh area which affect knee mechanics) start to shorten and shrink, limiting your ability to fully extend (straighten) the hip and thigh. If left unstretched for long periods, the shortened hip flexors affect the normal position of the whole pelvis, which in turn affects the lower back. Tight hips also contribute to knee and ankle problems.
That’s why, for the more sedentary among us, it is important to make exercises that “open” the hip a part of our daily practice, especially after a long day of remaining seated.
Start by extending each of these poses to your maximum comfort level. Slowly your hips will get accustomed to opening more and more, and you will be able to relax into the fully extended pose.
Inner thigh stretch
The Supta Baddha Konasana is a gentle stretch for the inner thighs, groin and knees. Start the workout with this.
Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint; Make-up: Ritika Karna
Getting started: Lie down on the floor with two rolled-up blankets below your buttocks, supporting your outer thighs. Bring your feet together and draw them in towards your pelvis, dropping your bent knees to the sides and pressing the soles of your feet together. Bring your heels as close to your pelvis as you comfortably can. Stretch your arms out along the floor, at 45 degrees to your torso, palms up.
The natural tendency, once you are in this pose, is to push the knees towards the floor in the belief that this will increase the stretch of the inner thighs and the groin area. But if your groin area is already tight, pushing the knees down will have just the opposite of the intended effect: The area will tense up, as will your belly and lower back.
Instead, imagine that your knees are floating up towards the ceiling and continue settling your groin area deep into your pelvis. As your groin drops towards the floor, so will your knees.
To come out of it, use your hands to press your thighs together, roll over on to one side and push yourself off the floor to sit up.
Count: Stay in this pose for a minute at first, gradually extending it to 3-5 minutes.
De-stress your pelvis
Now that you are sitting up and your hips are slightly more open, move into Agnistambhasana, an excellent asana to stretch the hips and groin area and release stress.
Getting started: Sit up, knees bent, feet on the floor (you can sit on the edge of a folded blanket if your hip or lower back are extremely tight).
Slide your left foot under your right leg, pushing it to the outside of your right hip, and lay the outer leg flat on the floor. Then stack your right leg over the left. Be sure the right ankle is outside the left knee, sole of foot perpendicular to the floor. The aim is to get the shins parallel to each other (if you’re tight in the hips, you may find that bringing the ankle to the outer knee is difficult or uncomfortable. Simply sit with your shins crossed in Sukhasana (easy pose).
Press through your heels and spread your toes. Keeping your front torso long, exhale and fold forward from your groin area. Be sure not to round forward from your belly: Keep the space between your pubis and navel long. Go until the point where you can feel the stretch and your back is not rounding. Lay your hands on the floor in front of your shins. Hold for 1 minute. Inhale and bring your torso upright, and uncross your legs to come out of the pose.
Count: Repeat with left leg on top.
Pelvis and pecs stretch
The Eka Pada Rajakapotasana stretches the thighs, the groin area, the psoas muscle, the abdomen and opens the shoulders and the chest.
Photo: Kedar Bhat / Mint
Getting started: Begin on all fours, with your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly ahead of your shoulders. Slide your right knee forward to your right wrist; at the same time bring your right foot to the front of your left knee. The outside of your right lower leg (shin) should now rest on the floor. Slowly slide your left leg back, straightening it at the knee and letting the front of the thigh touch the floor.
Lower the outside of your right buttock to the floor. Position the right heel just in front of the left hip. The aim here is to get the right shin parallel.
The knee can angle slightly to the right, extending beyond the line of the hip.
Look back at your left leg. It should extend straight out of the hip (and not be angled off to the left) and rotated slightly inward so that its midline presses against the floor. Exhale and lay your torso down on the inner right thigh for a few breaths and push your fingertips firmly to the floor.
Lift your torso away from the thigh. Lengthen the lower back by pressing your tailbone down and forward.
However, try and maintain the upright position of your pelvis without putting too much weight on your hands. Inhale and feel the lower rim of your rib cage lifting up, lengthening the spine. To lift your chest, push the top of your breastbone straight up towards the ceiling.
Hold for a minute. Then, with your hands on the floor, carefully slide the left knee forward, exhale, and keeping feet on the floor, straighten your legs and arms so that your pelvis is pointing back and up in the Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog pose). Hold for a few breaths, drop to all fours on the last exhalation.
Count: Repeat with the legsreversed.
After doing all three asanas, shake out your legs and lie on your back in Shavasana for 3-5 minutes and relax.
Maya Rao is a Mumbai-based authorized ashtanga yoga teacher who conducts private classes.
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