In the rare occasion I take requests from my students nine out of ten times someone yells out, "Hips!" (That random one-off yells "Core!" and everyone starts to show their true colors.) I typically follow it up with, "What part of the hips?" and I'm usually left with crickets. Half Pigeon is the typical go-to hip opening posture in most Vinyasa classes. It's a good one, but I think there's better options out there. In no particular order, here are my top five favorite hip opening postures:
1. Gomukhasana--Cow Face Pose
I actually don't love this posture, but I know it's good for me. It's one of those postures I've avoided at all costs until my teacher started throwing it into most of his practices. Over the last few months I've regularly worked Gomukhasana into my home practice and I've seen some progress in the tightest part of my hips. The constricted posture forces me to settle down and turn inward even when my body is resisting the shape.
2. Anjaneyasana--Low Lunge Variation
When we talk about hips most people think outer hips, however, there's a lot more going on around those big joints. It took me a few years to realize I was ignoring a very essential part of the hip: the hip flexors. The front of the hips and thighs are incredibly tight for most Americans and a simple Low Lunge goes a long way. On a day when I can't fit in a full practice, I always squeeze in a few Lunging Salutations to counteract all the time I spend shorting my hip flexors from sitting behind a computer screen or steering wheel.
3. Supta Agnistambhasana--Reclined Double Pigeon Variation
It might not look like much and it's a tad clumsy to get into, but this one blew my mind the first time I tried it. From Double Pigeon you just lay back and let the magic happen. As my teacher says, "If this one gets you, it gets you good." Oh, this one gets me good. And it gets me good in a place I can't get any other way. For everyone it's different, but I feel this one in my tensor fascia latae. Once I'm reclined it's hard to get me out because I love this one so much.
4. Standing Ankle to Knee Variation
I really appreciate the exploration that happens in an asana practice. The smallest shift of the torso, legs, arms, etc. can turn a good posture into a great posture. I love Standing Ankle to Knee (Figure 4), but this variation on the balancing posture transitions it into one my top five favorites. When the hand pushes into the foot and the foots pushes back into the hand, the stretch goes even deeper into the abductors and glutes. If you're unable to touch the floor, use a block to prop you up.
5. Utkata Konasana--Horse/Goddess Pose Variation
Either my teacher or one of my peers in my 300 Hour Teacher Training lovingly referred to this one as "Groin Exploder". I don't think you need much explanation after that, but by pressing your forearms into your inner thighs and lightly pulling outward you'll feel your adductors like you never thought possible. You're welcome.