The hip joint can move in many directions and therefore although hip opening (also known as external rotation) is one way to release tight hips it is not the only way. As with everything in life our bodies thrive off balance. If we are always focussing on opening our hips we are neglecting the other movements of the hips and creating imbalance. This imbalance is just some yogi idea of your Chakras being out of balance this is a physical imbalance within your joint which can translate into pain, lack of mobility, lack of stability and even excessive wear and tear of the joint (osteoarthritis). Okay, so now you are probably terrified of ever doing a hip opening pose again – don’t be – remember the word BALANCE.
To have healthy and functional hips we need to make sure we are using all the different aspects of the hip of which there are many and I’ve broken them down for you below. Before we get into them though, let’s touch on the reason the hip has so many aspects and why it is such an important joint.
The hip is a ball and socket joint. Which in essence means the top of the thigh bone (femur) is shaped a little like a ball…one that your dog chewed a bit and left in the garden, but a ball none the less. This ‘ball’ sits into a socket which is a cup-like space in pelvis. The socket and ball don’t completely match shape and as you can imagine bone rubbing against bone wouldn’t really be pleasant so there is a cartilage lining in the joint and which the movement of your hip much more pleasant and keeps the head of the thigh bone in place. One of the dangers of overusing your hip in one direction is that you can wear this cartilage down potentially causing osteoarthritis.
Pigeon Pose is an example of external hip rotation and features in most hip opening classes
Your hip joint is what attaches your leg to your torso, which you’ll agree makes it a pretty major joint. As well the hip joint is the largest ball and socket joint in the body, so definitely it is one of the body’s celebrities in terms of joints. The hip takes the weight of your spine and head while you walk or run therefore strength and stability are important. Just try to imagine walking if your hip joints were weak and unstable, it would be a nightmare! If we have imbalanced hips, we begin to compromise the function of the joint and simple things like walking and running can be affected. It is important we keep our hips strong as well as mobile. You can read more about that here.
A ball and socket joint provides the largest range of motion of all the joint types. We all know our daily habits don’t promote complete use of our joints. For example, sitting in a chair isn’t going to keep our hips mobile for when we want to squat down to pick up a heavy amazon order. This is why moving our hips in yoga became a thing! It is in principle really good for us, as long as we do it in a balanced and safe way.
So now you know what the joint is and why it is useful let’s get to the physical movement bit.
External Rotation – The famous yoga super star This is the hip opening bit and the most popular direction of movement in many yoga classes, probably because is there is oddly pleasant sensation that comes with stretching out the hip to release it.
Examples: Pigeon pose, sitting crossed legged
Internal rotation – The neglected sibling of external rotation Internal rotation is the rotation of the thigh inwards, so the direct opposite to external rotation. The is probably the least used movement of the hip in yoga.
Examples: Eagle Pose, the hip of the floating leg in Warrior 3 to keep the pelvis level
Flexion and extension - The silent hardworking friends who are always around but you don’t really know what they do These are the forward and backward motions of the hip. Flexion is when the leg moves forward and the belly and thigh get closer whereas extension is when the leg moves behind you.
Flexion Example: Forward fold, knee to chest, sitting into a chair Extension Example: Hip of the back leg in a lunge, all backbends
Abduction and Adduction: The people whose names you can’t place till you see a photo These two movements are becoming slightly wider known given the increase in popularity of training glutes. These guys are responsible for moving the leg to the side of the body (abduction) and moving it back towards the body (adduction)
Abduction Examples: Getting out of a car, wide legged forward fold Adduction Examples: Getting into a car, side plank when you stack your feet
These are the basic motions of the hip. These actions can be combined to create multidimensional movements which help us in daily life and yoga.
Your brain is probably swimming by now but hopefully you can see that the hips are not just designed to be opened, there are loads of directions of movement. The ball and socket hip joint is a mobile and strong joint which we need to keep in top form to be able to walk and run and live. You don’t have to avoid hip opening poses, or even hip opening classes, but just make sure you are finding some balance.