Child’s pose, reverse pigeon, happy baby… these poses are favorites for many people. They can promote the deep relaxation that comes from releasing the hips.
But there are some who cannot achieve this relaxation due to a pinching sensation in the front of the hip. The pinch most commonly occurs when the thigh is pulled toward the chest (hip flexion).
This pinch is different than a stiffness that gets worked out over time. It does not seem to go away, frustrating yoga students and their teachers alike. And it seems to get worse instead of better with stretching. What causes this, and how can we make it feel better?
Excessive Hip Extension
This hip pinch is often the result of excessive hip extension. Runners, dancers and yogis are prone to it, because hip extension happens when one leg is back further than the other (as in lunging, splits, and running).
The swayback posture is the result of too much hip extension. In this posture, the femurs (thigh bones) are allowed to shift too far forward in the hip sockets as the hip extends. The hip joints develop excessive motion in the direction of anterior glide.
In consequence, the femurs lose the ability to glide posteriorly (backward) in the sockets.
In order for the hip to flex (bend up toward the chest), as in child’s pose or reverse pigeon, the femur needs to be able to glide backward. When this movement is limited, a pinch results as the femur presses against the front tissues of the joint capsule. A pose like child’s is not comfortable.
So what to do?
1. Fix your standing posture
Follow this guide from Esther Gokhale to fix a swayback. (Or come to my yoga class!)
2. Stop overstretching the front of the hip capsule
Perform low lunge variations with the hip joint of the back leg directly over your knee, without shifting the pelvis forward. (More on this to come.)
3. Improve the ability of your femur to glide backward
Do this by performing the following exercise:
Lie on your back and hold onto your thigh. If you cannot reach it, use a towel or belt. Try to relax the leg completely, and then pull the thigh in the direction of your chest as you breathe out.
If you feel a pinch with this, try the same movement but let the knee move slightly out to the side as you pull the leg up toward your chest. Stay in a pain-free range of motion. It will take some practice to get the leg to relax fully, but gradually you should gain some range.
4. In the meantime, modify your child’s pose
Use a bolster underneath your hips so that you do not have to flex the hips as much. The bolster should be high enough that your pelvis can rest on it evenly. You can also move your knees out to the sides.