Tight hips and hamstrings are a common issue for many people. This happens for many reasons (running, cycling, and hiking just to name a few) but the most common reason for reduced flexibility in the hips and hamstrings is that we spend a lot of time sitting.
Driving, commuting, working at a desk, watching tv, eating, checking our phones: we usually do all this while sitting! Heck, I’m sitting as I’m writing this and you’re probably sitting as you read it. All the while, our hamstrings, the group of muscles on the back of the thigh, are shortening, and our hips are getting stiff.
Yoga increases flexibility in our hamstrings and hips.
Getting on our yoga mats for a few classes each week helps to improve flexibility in our hips and hamstrings tremendously! But on those days when we are feeling especially tight or don’t have time for a full class, a few minutes on our mats with the right asanas (poses) can really increase our range of motion and help us feel better.
Our hips and hamstrings are so interconnected that when our hips are tight, it causes our hamstrings to get tighter. And conversely, when our hamstrings are tight, it causes our hips to hurt.
When we stretch our hips and hamstrings, we move better. It also helps our posture improve, our lower backs feel better, and we reduce the risk of injuring ourselves.
Looking to release tight hips and hamstrings?
These five poses will help increase flexibility in your hips and hamstrings no matter where you are starting.
Reclining Hand to Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)
Use the strap on this one. I find it’s invaluable in quieting the ego.
Lying on your back, bring your right knee to your chest and wrap a yoga strap (or towel) around the ball of your foot. Hold one side of the strap in each hand, keep your pelvis firmly planted on the mat, and stretch your right leg up to the ceiling.
Keep your elbows straight as you walk your hands up the strap toward your foot until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Don’t worry about how close your hands are to your foot. Flex your ankle.
If you can straighten your leg without your pelvis lifting off of the mat, extend your left leg down onto the mat. If that causes your low back to lift off the mat, bend your left knee and keep your foot on the mat.
Focus on lengthening the back of your right leg especially your hamstrings.
Stay for 5-10 breaths then switch legs.
Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana)
This pose encourages a deep stretch for the hamstrings similar to Forward Fold pose but for only one leg at a time. Not only will this point out any imbalance from side to side but since it only works on one leg at a time, it allows us to go deeper as the muscles lengthen.
Sit tall on your mat with both legs straight out in front of you. Bend your left knee out to the side and bring the sole of your foot to the inside of the right thigh. Reach your arms up along your ears. Turn your upper body a quarter turn to the right. As you exhale, slowly lower your upper body down toward your straight, right leg.
Hold onto your right foot or wrap a strap around it and walk your hands as close to your foot as possible. Push the back of your right leg into the mat to keep it straight.
Take 5 – 10 breaths then repeat on the other side.
Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
Because this pose stretches the groin and inner thigh of the front leg, it releases stress and tension around the hips. This creates greater ease and range of motion in the hip.
Standing on your mat, step your feet wide apart. Point your right toes toward the short end of your mat and your left toes toward the long edge of your mat. Check to make sure the front heel lines up with the arch of the back foot.
Lift your arms to shoulder height. Stretch your upper body toward your right toes and slowly lower your right arm to your right shin, a block, or the mat. Reach your left arm toward the sky.
Rotate your chest away from the floor and take 5-10 breaths. Repeat on the left side.
Twisted Crescent Lunge (Parivrtta Anjaneyasana)
This pose is great for stretching the hip flexor on the back leg. For a bigger stretch, lower the back knee down onto your mat for a twisted version of Anjaneysasana.
Come into Crescent Lunge pose with one hand on each side of your right foot. Your right knee will be bent to a 90-degree angle over your right ankle. With your left toes tucked under, straighten your back leg for Crescent Lunge pose.
Inhale and lift your right hand onto your right thigh or up to the sky. Twist your chest away from the floor.
Hold for 5-10 breaths. Then switch to the other side.
Sleeping Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
I love this one because it provides the external rotation and flexion that our hips need to remain agile. It’s nice in the evening because it releases the tension that accumulates in the hips from sitting all day. Sleeping Pigeon pose also stretches the hip flexor of the straight leg.
From lunge pose with the right foot forward, gently bring the right knee to the mat next to your right wrist. Let your right foot come down to the mat near your left hip. Walk your left foot back as far as you can.
Take a breath. As you exhale, lower your chest toward the mat. You can bring your forearms onto a block or the mat. If you can go deeper, lower your forehead to the mat and walk your arms out in front of you.
Take 5-10 breaths before switching sides.
When you know, you know. And now that you know, how will you make more time for stretching your hips and hamstrings?
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