While there are a plethora of folks that need more hip mobility or range of motion (see previous post if that's you!), there are also people on the opposite end of the spectrum that need more strength and stability in their hips. If you are able to be completely comfortable laying flat on the ground in pigeon pose and you are looking for further ways to make the pose challenging, then this is for you!
In our day-to-day lives, our hips take a tremendous amount of weight in all different planes of motion. Therefore, it is essential that our hips are stable and strong enough to enable movement throughout the day. If you are blessed with very open hips and continue to lengthen the muscles that create the muscular stability in the joint, you are creating more tension on the stabilizing cartilage (the deepest layer of the joint) and risking the development of injury in the hips. Instead of stretching the hip joint further to feel more of a "stretch," try backing out a bit and strengthening the muscles while they are slightly stretched. The following three exercises are modifications to yoga postures that you experience in almost every group class.
Begin on your back with knees bent and feet planted hip width apart. Align your knees right on top of your ankles. Arms rest by your sides with your palms facing down toward the ground. Lift one leg, bent or straight, towards the sky. On an inhale, push into the planted heel to activate the back of the stabilizing leg and lift your hips into a bridge position. Keep the lifted leg reaching up while you engage the lower gluteus maximus and gluteus minimus on the stabilizing leg to feel strength and stability in this posture. You may stay however long you would like at the top of this posture, but lower the hips down with control with the leg still lifted and repeat the posture for 5-10 rounds of breath on each side.
For this exercise, find a regular pigeon pose with the right knee forward and placed slightly behind the right wrist. Place the right ankle somewhere in front of your left hip. Due to our concentration on strengthening in this pose, refrain from bringing the lower leg parallel with the front of the mat. Slide your left leg back, straighten the knee, heel is pointing up, and point the toes while making sure your leg is behind your body and not drawing outwards. Keep your hips level and square to the front of the mat. Rather than lowering the torso down, elongate the spine upwards and place the fingertips on the ground next to the hips for support. Engage the muscles of the legs and hips to isometrically (without actually moving) draw the knees toward each other while slightly lifting the hips up out of the stretch. Hold this pose for 5 deep breaths and then repeat on your other side.
Chair Taps Around The World
Continuing with the hip strengthening, the next posture is all about moving slowly and stabilizing. Begin by holding Chair pose with your feet hip width apart and the chest open and lifted. Hands come to prayer at heart center or lift the arms. As you inhale, keep the knees bent, shift the weight into the left foot, and straighten your right leg to the front to tap the heel down. On your exhale, bring the foot back to it’s original position, but hover off the ground. Inhale, straighten your right leg to the right side and tap the big toe down. Exhale, bring the foot back to it’s original position, yet hover again. Inhale, straighten your right leg behind you and tap the big toe down. Exhale, bring the foot back to it's original position, yet hover again to start back towards tapping to the front. Repeat the exercise on the same side 5-10 times or until the hip stabilizing muscles starts to fatigue and then repeat on the other side.
While it may be ever so enticing to continue forging your way towards more flexible hips and those insanely challenging postures, be sure to take the time to ask yourself if those endeavors will be beneficial for your body in the long run. Every action we take to either replenish or deplete our bodies on a daily basis becomes our medicine. Something beautiful about yoga is that it allows us to take time to listen to our bodies and know what we need. Please, just make sure both your mind and ego are ready to hear what your body has to say.