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Yoga Moves to Improve Hip Health

Protect yourself from pain and disability with simple exercises you can do at home

spinner image woman holding hip
Fertnig/Getty Images

Modern life provides a perfect recipe for hip replacement.

Because daily activities can involve spending much of our time locked into a G shape — knees bent, butt on a chair, upper body hunched over a desk or a steering column — most of us develop tightness and weakness in our hips and surrounding muscles, resulting in hip, back and knee pain. There's even a name for this phenomenon: dormant butt syndrome (seriously; look it up).

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As a result, you probably know someone who's had a hip-joint replacement, or maybe this procedure has been recommended for you. Fortunately, there's a way to fight back. Strength and flexibility exercises can help absorb shock and protect your hip joints from painful movements and further damage. A small 2017 study of women with osteoarthritis of the hip found that after 12 weeks of exercise, pain declined by 30 percent. Another study showed that hip-strengthening exercises can cut the need for hip-replacement surgery by 44 percent.

Stronger hips can also help protect against falls and pelvis fractures, and reduce back and knee pain, too.

As a yoga instructor and therapist, I make improving hip strength and flexibility one of the primary goals for my patients. Here is the program I use to help them beat pain and, with luck, avoid further injury and surgery. (If you've already had a hip replacement, these exercises may play a role in helping to support the new joints — especially by strengthening and moving the surrounding muscles. But be sure to check with your doctor first.)

spinner image illustration of woman doing deep breaths while in a floor pose
Illustration by Andrea D’Aquino

1. Breathing

Start with some belly breathing. Try to keep this pattern of relaxed breathing throughout the routine.

  • Lie flat on your back and place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Put a small pillow or folded blanket under your head if you have tension in your neck or if your chin tilts upward. Place a large pillow under your knees if your back is uncomfortable. Your hand position helps you detect motion during belly breathing.

  • Inhale slowly and deeply, expanding your abdomen, then pause for a few seconds. Exhale slowly, contracting your abdomen. Again, pause for a few seconds. Keep your chest and throat as relaxed as possible. Take 10 to 15 breaths.
spinner image cut paper look illustration demonstrating legs up wall pose
Illustration by Andrea D’Aquino, wall pose photograph by Randy Harris

2. Wall yoga

Legs-up-the-wall poses are not only great for your hips, legs and back — they are often calming and relaxing as well.

Part 1

  • Lie on your back with both legs up on a wall and your hips at a comfortable distance from the wall; let your arms rest comfortably at your sides, with your palms down.

  • Bend your knees and join the bottoms of your feet together; let your knees drop to their comfort level.

  • Hold for six to eight breaths, then return to the starting position.
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Part 2

  • Get in the same starting position as for part 1.

  • As you inhale, keep both legs straight, but let the right leg drift down slowly to the right, toward the floor.

  • As you exhale, slowly bring the leg back up.

  • Repeat on the left side.

  • Next, relax and let both legs drift apart as far as is comfortable for you.

  • Hold for six to eight breaths, then return to the starting position. Slowly work up to 12 to 16 breaths.
spinner image seated warrior pose cut-paper illustration
Illustration by Andrea D’Aquino

3. Chair yoga

If wall yoga seems a bit too challenging, you can use the following chair yoga exercises to target all the necessary muscles and tendons that support your hips.

Seated Pigeon*

  • Sit tall in your chair.

  • Exhale, bringing your bent right knee directly up. Next, hold the outside of that knee with your right hand and the outside of your right heel with your left hand.

  • Place the outside of your right ankle on top of your left thigh, just above your left knee; drop your right knee toward the floor, as far as is comfortable for you.

  • Hold for four to six breaths, then repeat on the other side.

You can slowly, gently move your top knee up and down a few times, to limber up the hip joint, before you relax and breathe.

* Don't attempt this posture if you've had a hip replacement (you don't want to risk dislocating the new joint). Instead, try a gentler modification, such as extending both of your legs straight out, with your heels on the floor. Next, cross your right ankle over your left, hold for four to six breaths, then repeat with your left ankle on top.

Seated Warrior

  • Straddle your chair sideways, with the back of the chair on your right. Rest your right thigh on the seat, and keep your left foot on the floor.

  • Bend your right knee so it forms a right angle; try to straighten your left leg, with your toes or foot on the floor.

  • Inhale, raising both arms upward until they are parallel to the floor.

  • Hold for four to six breaths; repeat on the left side.

Larry Payne is a yoga therapist and writer. He is cocreator of the yoga curriculum at the UCLA School of Medicine and the author of AARP's Yoga After 50 for Dummies.

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