Around the World with Your Hips: A Yoga Mini-Sequence

One of the most common requests I get while teaching yoga asana is to help my students create more mobility in their hips. Among other issues, tightness in the hips and legs can contribute to difficulty moving and low back pain.

Here’s a yoga asana sequence for the hips I call “around the world” (a call-back to a basketball game I used to play with my big brother as a child). This mini-sequence stretches all four sides of the hips. It’s a perfect sequence for beginners and advanced practitioners alike to bring more awareness to the lower body. This sequence can help alleviate lower body tightness. It’s fairly accessible to most practitioners because all of the poses are practiced in a supine position.

Enjoy your journey “around the world” with your hips! 

Supta Padangusthasana 1 (Supine Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose 1): 

This pose is a staple for me. I begin almost every private session I teach with this pose. It stretches the back of the thigh (hamstring) muscles while keeping the lower back in a safe position on the floor. 

  1. Have a strap nearby and lie on the floor in a supine Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with your feet about hip-width apart, and your knees and toes actively pointing toward the ceiling.

  2. Draw your right knee toward your chest and loop the middle of the strap around the ball of your foot (the area just above your arch but below your toes). Straighten your right leg, adjusting the angle of your leg so that your knee can stay straight.

  3. Keeping your shoulders and head on the floor, reach up and grab the strap, holding one end of the strap in each hand.

  4. Pull back equally with each hand so both the pinkie and big toe sides of the foot are level to each other.

  5. Keep your right leg straight, without hyperextending (locking) your knee, even if that means your leg doesn’t move very close to the torso.

  6. Using the weight of your arms, gradually begin to pull your right leg back toward your torso.

  7. Push your left leg into the floor keeping your left knee and toes pointing straight up toward the ceiling.

  8. Stay for 1-2 minutes, breathing deeply.

Yoga Pose Modifications 

Here are some other ways to practice this yoga pose:

  • No strap? Use a towel or scarf! Use something without a ton of stretch. You can also interlace your hands behind the thigh or calf of your aerial leg.

  • Are your arms getting tired? Lie through the threshold of a door with your aerial leg supported by the doorjamb and the opposite leg on the ground going through the doorway. This keeps your arms uninvolved and could allow for a longer holding time.

  • Is your low back tender? Try bending your non-aerial leg and placing the sole of your foot on the floor.

  • Is your head tilting back so your chin is popped toward the ceiling? Put a blanket or towel under your head so that your chin can drop slightly down toward your chest. 

Supta Padangusthasana 3 (Supine Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose 3):

I know, I know. Why go from Supta 1 to Supta 3, and not chronologically to 2? In this variation of Supta 3, it’s actually a closer segue! This pose moves the stretch to the outer hamstring, IT band and gluteus medius and gluteus minimus muscles.

  1. From Supta Padangusthasana 1, pass both ends of the strap into your left hand and direct your right leg about 10 inches to the left.

  2. If you picture your right leg on a clock face, it’s moving from your 12 o’clock to your 10 o’clock. It should be just enough of an angle that your right hip feels light on the floor, but not so light that it has lifted off the floor and begun to twist over your left hip.

  3. Pull back on the pinkie toe side of your foot a bit more vigorously, as it will want to sickle away from your torso more than your big toe side will.

  4. While keeping your right leg straight, direct your right hip toward your left heel and gradually encourage your right foot toward your left armpit.

  5. Stay 1-2 minutes, breathing deeply.

​Yoga Pose Modifications 

Other ways to practice this pose:

  • Are you feeling a pinching sensation in the front of your lifted leg’s hip joint? Use your free hand to lightly traction your lifted thigh away from the hip crease. Place your hand in the hip joint (the place where the femur meets the pelvis) and press the femur bone away from your shoulder.

Supta Padangusthasana 2 (Supine Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose 2):

This pose moves the opening into the inner thigh/adductors and is potentially the most gravitationally difficult pose of the bunch. As such it’s pictured with block support for the aerial leg.

  1. Coming from Supta Padangusthasana 3, draw your right leg back toward the midline. Then pass both ends of the strap into your right hand.

  2. Press your left hand down onto your left hip to keep it stable, and use your right hand to guide your right leg up and over to the right.

  3. Keeping your right leg straight, direct your right outer hip toward your left leg’s heel and press your left thigh and hip down to keep the two halves of your hips parallel to the ceiling.

  4. Stay for 1-2 minutes, breathing deeply. 

Yoga Pose Modifications 

Other ways to practice this pose:

  • Do you feel like you are going to topple over? Try bending your non-aerial leg and letting it fall open to its side—almost like a half Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)—to help counterbalance. You can also try putting a block or blanket underneath your aerial leg as a brake. The block or blanket should be low enough that a stretch is still happening, but not so low that the hips are no longer level to the ceiling.

Figure 4 Pose: 

This shape brings the opening back toward the outer hips, but usually a bit deeper into the back of the external rotators (gluteus medius and minimus and piriformis muscles) than Supta Padangustasana 3. This version is particularly useful for those with knee issues or low back injury or dysfunction.

  1. From Supta Padangusthasana 2, draw your right leg into the midline and bend your left knee, placing your left foot on the floor.

  2. Cross your right ankle (just above your foot) over your left thigh.

  3. Thread your right hand and arm between the two thighs and wrap your left hand around your left thigh. Clasp your hands behind your left thigh or around your left shin.

  4. Use your clasped hands to pull your left leg closer to your left shoulder while extending your right knee away from your right shoulder.

  5. Stay 1-2 minutes, breathing deeply. 

Yoga Pose Modifications 

Other ways to practice this pose:

  • Are your hands not connecting? Use a strap between your hands to make your arms longer.

  • Is your head tilting back so that your chin is popped toward the ceiling? Put a blanket or towel under your head so that your chin can drop slightly down toward your chest.

  • Are your arms getting tired? Lie down with your hips about shin distance away from a wall and your head extending away from the wall. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh. Then step your left foot onto the wall with your shin parallel to the floor for support. If your pelvis is lifting up off the floor, move away from the wall until your pelvis can rest on the floor. You can also place a block or two under your left foot for similar support with less intensity.

Salamba Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose):

My students have heard me say this a thousand times: This is the MVP, “most valuable pose,” these days in my book. With the amount of sitting inherent in daily life, plus all of the propulsion we do (walking, running, cycling) the fronts of the hips are often very tight.

There are very few passive positions that allow for lengthening these tight areas. Supported Bridge Pose is just the ticket! This is probably the pose that I use and give as homework the most right now. 

  1. With a block nearby, lie on the floor with both knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor. Your feet and knees should be about as wide as your hips.

  2. Push into your feet to lift your hips. Slide the block—at any of its three height options—under your sacrum (the flat-ish, triangular-shaped set of fused vertebrae at the base of the spine, just above your tailbone.)

  3. Both knees can stay bent, or one leg can straighten and drop down toward the floor.

  4. To deepen, try bending your other knee and pulling it back toward your torso. It is possible to straighten both legs in this pose, but be very mindful of your low back as it can get compressed when your legs are straight.

  5. Stay 1-2 minutes each side, breathing deeply. 

Yoga Pose Modifications 

Other ways to do this pose:

  • Is your low back tender? Try a lower height or softer support under your sacrum, such as a rolled up blanket or towel. Keeping both knees bent may also help to keep the lower back happy in this pose.

Repeat all poses on the left side.

More from special contributor Kate Heffernan – Befriending Your Body: It’s an Inside Job.

Yoga asana instruction with Kate Heffernan – Join Kate on our YogaUOnline Premium Practice Channel – the practice channel designed for yoga students and teachers alike. 

Study with Lillah Schwartz and YogaUOnline – Yoga for a Healthy Back Part 2: Addressing Pelvic Asymmetry.

Reprinted with permission from

All photos courtesy of Omar Robinson

Kate HeffernanKate Heffernan is a Boston-based Vinyasa Flow Yoga Instructor.  As a teacher, Kate is known for her ability to weave together an intelligent and well-crafted sequence that builds on a specific theme.  In her Vinyasa Flow classes, students can expect to find the joy of vigorous movement married to the consciousness of precise instructions focusing on proper alignment.  Kate creates a space for her students to experience their own yoga practice on any given day, whether that practice includes a more vigorous Vinyasa sequence or a cooling Yin and Restorative sequence with an extended Savasana.  Kate is a lead instructor at Down Under Yoga, where she instructs public classes as well as teacher trainings.

Kate was named one of Boston’s Top 20 Yoga Instructors in 2012 by   



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