We often have to sit for long periods at work, in the car or just to relax after a long day on our feet, and the hips are at the center of all the action. Whether you're suffering from low back pain, knee discomfort, an ankle injury or a pain in the butt, many of these symptoms are either caused or exacerbated by chronic tension in the hips.
I myself had a big pain in the butt. I thought myself to be quite flexible, until one day I lifted my massage table from the trunk of a car. A slight slip on a patch of ice left me immobile for almost 2 full years. I had a bad case of sciatica, and the pain my rear shot down to my foot with every breath.
The pain that I felt stemmed from Piriformis Syndrome. Once I realized that, I began to see a pattern: I had studied ballet and meditation and had become very used to sitting cross legged and standing with my toes out for many hours every day. My body was habitually positioned with my hips turned outwards, thereby chronically shortening that poor little piriformis muscle. When the injury happened, my sciatic nerve was being strangled in my over-tense and spasming butt muscle, causing me relentless pain. This injury happened in 2008, and in 2010 I decided to retrain my body to sit in positions which counteract the constant hip external rotation. To my delight, and without medical treatment, I am now 99% recovered!
If you have suffered from this type of injury, or have observed someone who has sciatica, you know that there's no comfortable position to be in. But there are positions that, though they may feel counter-intuitive, actually help loosen your hips!
Here are the 3 positions I use habitually to loosen the hips, no matter where I am seated:
1. Supported Kneeling - Sometimes referred to as 'Hero pose,' this position is best when done on a yoga brick or two. Depending on your comfort level, you can also use 2-3 cushions to take the pressure off your knees. The further away from your body that your feet can be, the better. But as always, stay within your comfort zone. No need to cause any new discomforts!
2. Half Cross-Legged Pose - I use this pose most because I tend to sit cross legged when seated for a long time. Take one leg and swing it to the outside of your body instead of tucking both legs under you. As you know, it is very important to maintain balance in the body, so remember to alternate the leg that is twisted to the outside of your body every 20-30 minutes. I also find much relief in my low back by tucking a pillow under the supporting hip (as seen in photo).
3. Chair knock-knees - I suggest you get into the habit of sitting with your knees together, ankles apart with your feet pigeon-toed. This position off-sets the external rotation in the hips without compromising blood flow in the legs, maintains your modesty and even strengthens and tones your inner thighs if you practice squeezing your knees together!