Ankle-to-Knee Hip Opening Stretch
When you’re locked up in your hips, sitting and squatting are uncomfortable and the tightness can contribute (or even cause) back pain, knee problems, and other mobility issues in both the short and long term. So why are our hips so tight?
Here’s what happens. In developed countries, most people don’t squat or sit cross-legged on the floor. We rarely (if ever) bend our legs past 90 degrees. We sit at desks, then stand back up. We sit on elevated toilet seats, then stand back up, and this “half bend” range of motion becomes habituated and our bodies adapt by forming shorter and tighter supporting tissues around our joints.
If we were living naturally, the squat would be a routine stance used throughout the day performed while eating, going to the bathroom, and even while bathing or working with our hands. The squat is a fundamental, functional movement that most people have simply lost the ability to do, and it’s likely impacting your quality of life and inviting future injury.
But here’s the good news. You can get your squat back!
Long-hold squatting itself, as a form of stretching, can be very effective; but for many students, it puts too much strain on their lower back and knees. They need to squat, and yet, they’re not quite ready to squat. So what do you do?
Fortunately, there are a number of poses that develop hip range of motion that can be practiced passively and will help you lengthen those tight tissues currently limiting your hip range of motion. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Ankle-to-Knee Pose. This simple-looking posture is intense (in a good way) and extremely effective for developing hip mobility.
Option 1: Knee Over Ankle, Ankle Over Knee
- Sit on the floor and place your left leg in front of you with the shin parallel to the edge of your mat
- Carefully, place your right ankle on top of the left knee, and allow the right knee to gently move toward the left ankle
Option 2: Knee Over Ankle, Ankle Over Block
Need to modify? If your right knee is way up off the ground while attempting Option 1 or if you feel any pain or discomfort, use a block in front of you and place your ankle on top of that block. This simple modification greatly reduces the outer rotation of the hip and should make it safe and comfortable to practice.
No block? Just use a book or a pillow.
Option 3: Going Deeper
If you were comfortable in Option 1 and would like to go deeper, flex both your feet and begin to walk your hands forward
The weight of your body and the forward fold will apply more pressure on your hips, particularly that right (top) hip
Flex your feet to stabilize your knees and to keep your ankles and knees from slipping away from each other
You do not want to feel joint pain in either the knees or the hips; instead, you want to feel a deep soft-tissue stretch all along the backside of that top leg
Option 4: All the Way
If you were comfortable in Option 1 & 3 and would like to go deeper, walk your hands as far forward as they will go
Next, drop your head and allow your body weight to gently press against your legs
Remember, flex your feet and be mindful of your knees
HOLD TIME: This is a Gravity Yoga pose and should be held for 2-5 minutes on each side provided you are safe and stable here. Your hips are huge joints with over a dozen major connective tissues supporting them that need time and encouragement to relax and release. Long-hold, passive stretches like this are an ideal supplement to your daily yoga or exercise practice, and should be done after (not before) any type of athletic practice including vigorous yoga.
SAFETY NOTICE: When your hips are tight, that reduced range of motion stresses other areas of your body such as your knees and your lower back. With that in mind, it’s important to practice mindfully and cautiously, listening to your body’s pain signals and modifying or backing off when appropriate.
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