Here's a little sequence to get your hips to shed tears of joy...
If you didn’t get the chance to make it to the hips don’t die class, don’t worry. Here I share with you the crux of the sequence. We started with some interesting hip-opening vinyasas to warm up before slowing down the pace and it is these ‘slow-down’ postures that I have reproduced here.
Some of the usual suspects are there (gomukhasana) but have been befriended by some members of the hip opening gang that generally lurk in the background (utthan pristhasana). And if all of this talk about gangs and suspects and lurking has you worried, there is no need. These poses are not part of the criminal underworld, they are not part of the cool girls gang or even a gang of super-elite yogis who sit around with their legs behind their head all day. These poses are part of a gang that we can all belong to—if you just believe in yourself, have patience, and try.
Before you try these poses, it would be a good idea to warm up with a few sun salutations. Try and hold each of these poses for more than a minute. Poses like gomukhasana and agnistambhasana or eka pada rajakapotasana could be held for longer (3- 5 minutes). Remember that your hips will not die although they certainly might cry (tears of joy in their new-found freedom). Relax the shoulders and your face (it is surprising how they can tense up subconsciously), and connect to your breath.
Finally, if you weren’t at the hips don’t die class and you have never done these postures before it might be a good idea to talk to your yoga teacher before trying them as they might have some pointers on the each of the postures that can benefit you specifically. I wanted to keep it basic here rather than go into too much detail on ‘how to’ do the pose and there is a lot of fine tuning that can be done. I tend to do all of the poses on one side first and then the other. You can see what works best for you.
You can come into this from kneeling. Have your knees slightly behind your hips. Take the left foot around the outside edge of your left hand. If it does not come in one smooth movement, no worries, just take it as far as it can and then move it with your hands. It might take three or four little steps to get it there.
Keep the front foot firmly connected to the earth. Take your back knee back a bit further if you can. You are going to feel this on the front of your back thigh a bit (or a lot, depending on how open it is!), but we want to keep the focus in this sequence on the front leg so don’t overdo it.
Eka pada rajakapotasana/Agnistambhasana/Chair variation
I am giving three variations of a similar pose here and you should find one of them works for you. If your hips are really tight you might need to take the chair variation at first. Then you could try eka pada rajakapotasana and, finally, agnistambhasana. Be mindful of the knee in all of these variations, remembering you are stretching your hips and there should be no strain on the knee.
Take the left leg up, keeping the foot and ankle in a shape as though it is still on the floor. Bring your left ankle across the right knee. Press your sitting bones evenly into the chair and shift your weight so you are sitting above them or in front of them but definitely not behind them. Take a firm hold of your left thigh bone and turn the whole thigh out and away from you. This might have two consequences: first, you will feel a more intense stretch in the outer left hip; second, your knee might come down a bit. From there you can sit tall and start to fold forward, imagining you are bringing your belly-button to your shin (not the head, never the head!) to keep your spine long.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
Now, if you have managed to come this far it is time to take the bottom foot out so that the arch of that foot is directly beneath your left knee. Looking from above your shins are roughly parallel. Sit up tall and, as for the chair variation, take a firm hold of your left thigh and roll it out. You will probably find the knee comes down a bit and the feeling in your hip intensifies. Stay with even weight on your sitting bones and, if possible, start to fold forward and take your belly button towards your shins.
Gomukhasana or Supta Gomukhasana
I give two variations here. This is because if your hips are really tight you are going to find gomukhasana quite difficult to get into. Most people can get into some form of supta gomukhasana, however.