This month I’ve been integrating my life in the country, and I’ve been walking loads more. Up and down hills. On trails and bridle paths. I’ve been feeling my legs moving, feeling the strength needed to push a buggy with kids in, or the energy to run down a hill. and back up again. It feels so good.
I was playing in the yoga room with some movements that would bring balance. I often, of course start by finding my hip joints, not because I don’t know, sense and feel where they are, but because touch brings greater awareness in the moment. If you have been to my classes recently, you will know that self touch for improved proprioception within poses is a huge feature of my classes these days. So I begin by finding the hip joints, and then sensing different movements of them.
The Language of Hip Mobility
I was tempted by the phrase “hip opening”. I really don’t like that phrase for a number of reasons. The first is simply that hips don’t really open. They get more mobile, balanced, fluid, flexible even. But they don’t open. But more importantly, the hip is a ball and socket joint, which means it is designed for three dimensional movement. What is hip opening? I have seen people with “tight hips” who struggle with wide leg forward bend, but can sit in full lotus. People like me with a large range of motion in flexion, but more average in rotation and abduction. And even, what do all these technical words have to do with your experience of your range of movement when you try to squat, or sit cross legged?
I don’t like the language of “hip opening” because it doesn’t encompass the range of different movements that we want to encourage, train and explore in the hip joint.
Flexibility vs. Strength
But there is something else too. When I was younger, and training as a dancer, I used to stretch in a side/box split as much as I could. I felt it was my most limited type of hip movement, and one that I needed for ballet. So I would try to do my homework in a straddle, or go to sleep in a frog (laying on the belly, with knees wide apart, and bent, trying to get feet to touch and lower to the ground). When I stopped doing all those stretches, and balanced out my hip strength, my hips got more flexible!
Hip mobility requires balanced strength. It requires the muscles around the hip joint to be properly “regulated”. That is to say, they are not gripped and tight, but nor are they overly loose and stretched. Many of the muscles around the hip joint create movements in the leg, with respect to the pelvis, but they also stabilise the pelvis in one of our most important movements: walking.
So what can we do?
- Bring awareness to the hip joint through touch. I have a video of how to do that in this post.
- Investigate your own posture. How do you stand on your hip joints? Do you lean to one side or the other? do you stand in front of your hip joints or behind them?
- Mobilise the joint in different ways, by rotating the leg at different angles, and circulating the leg in different patterns. Explore changing the range of these movements, so they aren’t always Full range, but are sometimes tiny.
- Think of kinaesthetic words to describe how you want your movement to feel. Slippery, lubricated, fluid hip joints can be good. In one teacher training session, a trainee said “buttery hips” and that became our shared image! (Images are personal, so that might gross you out. No problem. Find an image that doesn’t.)
- Don’t force it! Let your body follow where it likes to move, and where it doesn’t. Our body is a lot like our (toddler like)personality. It doesn’t like to be forced into things. It is much more likely to respond, open up and improve if it feels safe, relaxed and not pushed and forced.
- Here is a video of a short hip joint practice that includes finding the hip joints.