The hips are complex and there are many dysfunctions that can cause pain and discomfort.
Pain often comes and goes and often times the pain is not sited in the location of the problem.
Therapeutic yoga for hips can be used as both a preventative and also to help soothe in the case of a flare-up and acute pain or long-lasting chronic pain.
The SI joints in particular, can get very ‘loud’ as can the piriformis and the psoas and it is useful to adopt the RASS (Release/Align/Strengthen/Stretch) technique taught to me by my teacher Dr. Elena Voyce from Teach Yoga UK.
Feel to heal is also a mantra that she uses regularly.
Whilst there are many different therapeutic techniques to help the ‘orchestra of the hips’, let’s use this 4 step technique to create a lesson plan that may be useful for you to take on as a regular and committed practice.
Step 1 – Release
Constructive rest is a brilliant all-round pose to help release and ease tension.
Here I’ve got my hands to my belly as I focus on relaxing and releasing tension around my hips.
Feeling myself on the ground and letting my thigh bones drop down into the sockets.
Stay for about 7 rounds of breath, really feeling to heal. The inhale – I am inhaling, the exhale – I let go.
Stay curious to your practice and as best you can with each exhale, release, and keep releasing and relaxing tension around your hips as you let the ground support you.
Step 2 – Align
Roll over onto your belly and feel the weight of your pelvis relaxing down into the ground.
As you lie on the ground with your forehead to your hands, check how heavy you are one hip versus the other. Often times, due to our every-day lives, we find ourselves twisted in our pelvis and this can cause aggravation in our hips. By lying in the prone position and feeling to heal, you are able to identify if you feel you have more weight into one of your bony protruding ASIS joints more than the other.
Here I find that my right side is heavier and so I use my hand underneath my right hip to raise it slightly and this then means my left side can relax more fully down and into the ground. Using gravity to encourage the relaxation response in my left hip as I settle here for several breaths.
Alternatively, you could use the edge of a blanket or a cushion to bolster the heavier side. You only need a small lift and should be able to feel a release on the side that is softening and relaxing down as you bolster the other side. The other side also may feel happier as it is gently drawn back into the correct alignment. I definiately feel the QL muscle on my right side relaxing as I stay and settle.
Step 3 – Strengthen and mobilisation
3.1 Thinking here about strengthening the psoas muscle
Rolling back into constructive rest and then extended one leg along the ground whilst keeping the other leg bent and foot pressing into the earth.
On the inhale breath, lift the leg only as high as the other thigh whilst stabilising the lower back with your hands. On the exhale either lower the leg straight or bend into the knee, bring the foot to the floor and then extend the leg away. Repeat about 5 times but listen to your body and never strain.
Repeat on the other side.
3.2 Thinking here about strengthening the inner and outer hip and also stabilising the SI joints with the SI clock.
With your lower back lightly lifting of the floor, again have your hands behind your back of waist if this is useful, press the soles of your feet together. Drop your knees equally to the side. This is your quarter-to-three position, your maximum expression of the pose and not necessarily with your knees fully to the floor. Then lift your knees equally and with your inhale breath to the five-to-one position. Then exhale and lower your knees to ten-to-two. Inhale and lift again to five-to-one and exhale and lower, again equally, to quarter-to-three.
Repeat a few times until your mind and body are satisfied.
3.3 Hip rotation
Drawing the knees in, take the knees wide whilst keeping your hands on your knees and then draw the knees back together. Circling into the hips. Feel yourself stirring your hip joints.
Repeat several times as you notice your breath and also notice how you are feeling into the hip joints on both sides. Is one side different to the other? Then change direction and again pin your awareness to what you are noticing and also how you are breathing.
Step 4 – Stretch
First lengthen one of your legs away whilst the other leg is bent and feel into the front of the hip of the leg that is lengthening away. Again see if you can maintain neutral in your lower back to maximise the stretch. To increase the stretch further you can place a cushion or a yoga block underneath your back of pelvis.
Next bring the ankle of the straight leg to the thigh of the bent leg and again keep neutral in the lower back. Rock on the rim of the pelvis and feel yourself gently massaging yourself. Linger where feels good. Bring the foot of the bent knee nearer to your buttock, take it further away, or lift the foot as needed to find comfort as you tease out any stiffness in your hips and buttocks.
What I also like to do here is bring my hands to my knee and press down. Here I’m pressing my right knee and I feel my right thigh bone dropping deeper into the hip socket. This is useful if there is some hip displacement.
Then rest in savasana for a few breaths.
This whole sequence could take upwards of 20 minutes if you go slowly and really notice.
What you’ll find is that you might want to stay in some of the stretches a lot longer to really trigger the para-sympathetic nervous system (the second branch of the autonomic nervous system).
Vital for our bodies to find this state of being in order to heal.
If we spend prolonged periods of our lives in the sympathetic nervous system then our bodies are more focused on survival and less focused on healing. Consequently, our inflammation response is acutely triggered, we suffer adrenal fatigue and our ability to fight illnesses is severely impacted.
Remembering always to listen to your body, only do what feels good in the moment and know that by adopting a more slower and gentler approach to your yoga, you might unlock much more of its healing qualities.
Yoga is medicine.
If in any doubt please contact your GP or medical practitioner before you commence practice.