Updated: May 28, 2020
Stretching the hip flexors and piriformis can relieve the tension built up from too much sitting. Learn how to stretch open up your hips with these 4 daily chair yoga postures.
Too much sitting....
As a yoga instructor and a current desk-dweller, I feel the difference in my body after sitting down for eight to nine hours per day. If you’re like me and clock the hours in a seated position, you may experience tightness in your body, cranky hips, or a sore lower back.
“Sitting all day will make the front of your body tighten up—especially your hip flexors, rectus femoris, pectoralis, upper traps, and anterior scalenes (the front of your neck),” explains David Reavy, a Chicago-based orthopedic physical therapist at React Physical Therapy. “When these muscles tighten up, it creates musculoskeletal imbalances.”
How the Hips Lose Flexibility
Most problems with the hip flexors don't originate in a lack of strength but in a lack of flexibility. To understand how these muscles lose their flexibility, it’s helpful to imagine someone with a broken arm with bent elbow encased in a plaster cast. When it’s time to remove the cast after the cast after 6-8 weeks, the soft tissues around the elbow (muscles, tendons, ligaments, and even skin) will have shortened. As a result, the elbow won't straighten out. The person will have to attend physical therapy or patiently stretch for several weeks to restore the range of motion. Similarly, if the hip is constantly kept in a flexed position—like sitting—for hours every day, day after day, the hip flexors will shorten and shrink, limiting your ability to fully extend (straighten) the hip.
If the iliopsoas and other hip flexors are tight, they pull down and forward on the pelvis, which tilts the pelvis forward and compresses the lower back. Picture a man standing with the front of his pelvis tilting forward and his tailbone lifting. To stand upright, he has to overarch or “hyperextend” his lower back. Prolonged standing or sitting in this position increases pressure on the facet joints of the lower spine, which can contribute to arthritis or herniation in those joints.
Get to Know Your Hips
Your Hip Flexors: Why you need to stretch them:
When you sit, your hips are flexed—and when your hips are flexed, the muscles of the hips shorten. And if your hips are placed in a shortened position for an extended period of time—and you don’t do exercise to extend the muscle back to a normal length—this then pulls your pelvis into a more forward position. And that can lead to limited mobility and lower back pain, she adds.
Your Piriformis: Why you need to stretch it:
Your piriformis is a muscle located deep in the butt, behind your glute max. Sitting engages the piriformis. If that muscle gets too tight, it can shorten and put pressure on your sciatic nerve which can be super painful and tricky to release.
Daily To-Do: Stretch Your Hips to Counteract Prolonged Sitting
For people in a sedentary society, daily hip flexor and piriformis stretches are important to help counterbalance the prolonged hip flexion of sitting for hours.
Try these 4 activities daily to give your body the love it needs to free up this region of your body.
Start sitting toward the front of your chair with your feet flat on your floor and your spine tall. Lean back in your chair a bit, but keep lifting your chest so your lower back stays long.
Hug one knee into your chest and give it a squeeze. As you hug your knee, keep lifting your chest and reach the top of your head towards the sky.
Hold it for a moment and then lower your leg down and switch sides, hugging your other knee into your chest.
Keep alternating sides for as many times as you’d like.
Sit towards the front of your chair with your feet on the floor and your spine tall. Lift your right leg and bring your ankle to rest on your left thigh. Try to keep your top knee in line with your ankle as much as possible and gently flex your foot.
As you inhale, sit up a bit taller, and if it feels ok lean forward a little to deepen the stretch. Be gentle with your body and only go as far as it feels right for you.
As you hold this pose, take a moment to notice what parts of your body are stretching. Are there any parts of your body that can relax? If you stay here for a few breaths do the feelings in your body change over time?
When you're ready, switch legs and hold the pose for about the same amount of time on this side.
Stand alongside your chair on your left foot and grab your right shin or ankle by bending your leg behind you. You can hold your chair for support.
Tuck your pelvis in, pull your shin toward your glutes, making sure your knee is pointing to the ground. Try not to pull the knee backward or sideways.
Hold for 30-60 seconds and then switch sides.
Stand facing your chair and step back about 2 to 4 feet. Point your toes forward. Make sure that your chair is secure and isn't rolling or sliding around. (you can always brace the back legs of the chair against a wall for more stability)
Carefully place the sole of one foot on the front edge of the chair. Slowly shift your hips forward. Straighten your right knee.
When you feel the right amount of stretching along the front of your right hip, pause, breathe naturally, and hold the position for up to 30 seconds. Repeat a few times and switch to your other leg.