Yoga for Tight Hips: A Restful Cow Face Pose
Wouldn’t it be great if all of life’s problems could be solved by lying down and taking it easy? The good news is that some of them can. Take tight outer hips, for example.
This might be one of your problems if you cycle, run, do weight training, spend a lot of time sitting, or are simply getting older—which pretty much covers all of us. Tight outer hips lead to numerous ills, including sore knees, sore backs and sciatica (a bolt of pain running from your buttock down your thigh), which can be caused by the sciatic nerve encountering a tight piriformis muscle.
Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) is a good way to stretch your hip rotators, including piriformis. That’s why you’ll find it recommended in books such as Mary Pullig Schatz’s excellent Back Care Basics: A Doctor’s Gentle Yoga Program for Back and Neck Pain Relief.
If your hips are very tight, you’ll have to prop yourself up on a stack of blankets or blocks to sit in this pretzel-like pose. Even then, you may not be able to find a comfortable stretch. If you stay in a painful position, you’ll irritate your muscles instead of relaxing them. If you already have sciatic pain, you’ll make it worse.
Facing the Cow
The solution? Lie down, cross your legs, and rest a spell.
With no props, except possibly a blanket or block behind your head, you can get a good stretch in your outer hips, just by changing your relationship to gravity. It works because when you lie on your back, the weight of your upper body is no longer dropping into your pelvis, as it does when you’re sitting. Because the hips aren’t pinned to the ground, they have more freedom to move.
When you’re lying down, no matter how tight your hips may be, you can stay, breathe, explore, relax and smile. You can find your right, moderate stretch, stay with it long enough to make a difference and return to it willingly every day.
(Get a strong internal rotation on both upper thighs before you cross your legs.)
Why not just do the better known Supta Ardha Padmasana (Reclining Half Lotus Pose or “Thread-the-Needle Pose)? By crossing your knees, you’ll bring the stretch to the center of your top-leg buttock, which is a more effective piriformis stretch. Naturally, you could always do both.
(Hold behind your knees and draw your thighs toward you.)
A Restful Cow Face Pose
Lie down on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor.
Rotate your inner left thigh strongly inward, and lengthen your left leg.
Rotate your right thigh inward, and bring your right thigh over your left thigh.
Draw both knees toward your chest.
Continue rotating your inner thighs toward each other. You should feel an intense and yet pleasant stretch, deep inside your right buttock. If you feel pinching in your inner groins, undo your legs and rotate your thighs more strongly inward as you come into the pose.
Draw your knees closer, hands behind the knees, until you find your ideal stretch. (see this variation above)
At first, your calves will line up beside each other. After a few breaths, bring them out to the sides, as they would be in the seated version of Cow Face Pose.
If you can go deeper, reach out to hold your feet, and pull your knees closer to your chest. (see this variation photo above right)
Stay for at least 90 seconds, then change the cross of your legs.
Safe forward bending with master teacher, Julie Gudmestad and YogaUOnline–Anatomy-Based Yoga Teaching Methodology: Principles of Safe Forward Bending.
Reprinted with permission from Eve Johnson, MyFiveMinuteYoga.com
Eve Johnson taught Iyengar Yoga for 18 years before being introduced to Spinefulness in 2016. Convinced by the logic, clarity, and effectiveness of Spineful alignment, she took the teacher training course and certified in July 2018. Eve teaches both Spinefulness and Spineful Yoga at Prodigy Movement, in Vancouver. For class information, go to http://spinefulness.ca.