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Hip Openers - what are they?

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Joined: 23 Sep 2006
Posts: 1117
Location: Vancouver

PostPosted: Mon Aug 04, 2014 2:58 am    Post subject: Hip Openers - what are they? Reply with quote

Recently I received the following questions:

    Lately, I have been giving a lot of thought to what teachers really mean when they say certain phrases and one that you use ooften and most teachers do is that some postures open your hips. I need to understand the physiology behind this as the hips are not going to open. Is it just a phrase teachers use to discuss the muscles and lengthening and strentheing the hip muscles? And why do teachers say to open hips as this is not what you really want the body to do and also it is impossible to open the hips? I hope this question makes sense and I hope you are happy to answer these question.

Good questions: Opening the hips is not a very precise term and I can see why you would be confused by what is meant. Lets start with some basics: there are 6 movements possible in the hip, by hip we are referring to the joint where the femur (the thigh bone) and the pelvis meet. This hip socket is called the acetabulum. The thigh can move forward (called flexion) or backwards (extension); out to the side (abduction) or to the middle (adduction); or rotate (externally and internally.) These movements are shown in more detail in the newsletter article called The Planes of Movement. In reality, we often do not move in just one of these 6 directions: movement is a combination of these, but it is okay to simplify for now and say that we move in only 6 ways.

So, what is a hip opener? Generally we open the hip when we increase the range of motion available in external rotation and abduction. We could make the case for including in this definition internal rotation, but that is rarely what is meant. Think of two classic postures: Butterfly and Lotus. In Lotus, we are externally rotating the femur in the acetabulum, so tightness there may restrict the range of motion available. In Butterfly, tightness in the adductor muscles may make it harder to abduct the legs apart. Part of the challenge in Butterfly may also be an restriction in the ability to externally rotate as well.

What causes these restrictions? It could be muscular tightness, especially for beginners, called tension. Tension can also arise from contracted fascia or shorted, contracted ligaments that wrap the hip socket. The good news is - tension can be worked and over time, the hip socket can be opened, which means more range of motion can be achieved. However, another potential cause of restriction could be due to compression: this arises when the body comes into contact with another part of the body. The points of compression can not be changed and no further opening is available, at least not in that direction. (Sometimes it is possible to go around the points of compression, but this entails a different kind/direction of movement.) This is shown, for abduction, in the newsletter called The HIps: Abduction.

I hope this answer your questions. I would suggest reading the whole series of newsletter articles entitled Your Body - Your Yoga.

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