As I mentioned earlier this week, I decided to take on a little fitness challenge in February: daily hip and heart openers. Here is a bit more background on why I’m doing this challenge, plus a more detailed plan.
The main reason I decided to do this challenge is because I’ve been noticing how tight my hips still are, despite a lot progress in my yoga practice overall. While I’ve definitely made advances in some hip-openers, my Warrior I pose is still…not good. My hips refuse to open up in that pose. I’ve also noticed I really struggle with some of the exercises at DEFINEbody because of my hips. Tight hips are typically a side effect of sitting at a desk all day and can lead to lower back pain and knee pain, so this is an area I’d really like to improve upon.
Though it’s good for you, stretching your hips can be pretty uncomfortable. I’ve written before about how yoga instructors are always saying that we store emotions in our hips, and the release of said emotions is something I experience repeatedly during yoga. I really have a love-hate relationship with hip-opening poses.
Here are some of my favorite hip-openers:
Pigeon pose. For me, this is the gold standard for hip openers. While I don’t find myself weeping during pigeon, I have noticed that my thoughts turn extremely negative whenever I’m in that pose — I tend to think about criticism I’ve received.
Wide squat. It took me forever to be able to do this pose; I hated it when instructors told us to do it because I felt like the only person in the class who just could not do it. Now I can do it but I still feel like it challenges my entire body.
As part of Go Red for Women month, I decided to add heart openers to my February challenge. Not only are heart openers a reminder to do right by your heart, they are also good for your heart in that they relive stress (and Heart-opening poses are pretty literal in yoga; according to Yoga Journal:
Any time people feel threatened, be it by pain, challenge, or pressure to perform, the need to guard or defend oneself usually results in holding the breath or breathing in shallow, erratic patterns. These defensive breath patterns cause muscle tightness in the very areas we’re trying to open, as well as gripping in the upper abdomen, which restricts the normal movement of the diaphragm.
So by physically stretching the muscles in the chest, shoulders, back, and abdomen, you can improve blood flow to the heart, improve your breathing, and be more open emotionally.
You can find several heart-openers on Yoga Journal; here are some of my favorites:
Utkatasana (chair pose). It took me a while to like chair pose, but when I learned it was a back stretch (rather than just torture for your thighs), something clicked. Now I actually really like it, and chair twist is one of my favorite poses. I love the way it makes my chest and back feel.
Dolphin. Another pose that has really grown on me. I’ve read several places that dolphin is a good “detox” pose — that the position of your body helps flush toxins out of your body. While I can’t say whether that’s true or not (and I haven’t had a toxin binge in a while), it does make me feel great. I just feel so strong when I do it.
Camel. I find this pose pretty intense for me as far as heart openers go. Yoga Journal has some good tips for beginners for this pose.
Podcasts that focus on opening the heart:
My plan for this challenge is pretty simple: do at least one hip-opener and one heart-opener every day in February. On days when I’m not doing any other yoga, I’ll probably do 5-20 minutes of some specific poses, using podcasts for the longer sessions. On days when I’m already practicing yoga, I’ll definitely achieve this in the course of the class, but I’m also going to make it a point to add on other poses when it feels appropriate. (For example, if a flow class doesn’t have many hip openers beyond pigeon, then I’ll add on a couple extras at the end of the class.)
I hope that by doing this challenge I’ll just feel healthier and more open on a daily basis, and that by March, I’ll have an easier time with backbends and Warrior I. Eric is going to do it with me, and I’d love for others to join in too! Let me know in the comments if you plan to join in!