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Sedentary Lifestyle Weakens Hips - Yoga Strengthens Them

I have been on the receiving end, recently, of an email chain about moving from Downward Facing Dog into a low lunge. Specifically, how hard it is for a good number of folks to get their foot to their hands in one fluid step. There was talk of dropping onto the knees first to step the foot forward, grabbing the foot with one hand and using arm strength, and first extending the leg to the sky to get some momentum going. There seemed to be a generally agreement that the number one reason it is so difficult to get the foot in between the hands is weakness in the hip flexors (specifically in the iliopsoas).

Every part of the "modern" Western lifestyle seems to weaken this muscle group. Instead of walking to the store, we have to drive there. Instead of working on our feet, we sit. So many things send messages to our body that the iliopsoas has no evolutionary reason to extend and lengthen, and so it shortens. Pretty quickly, too. Even after only two weeks of lots of bus rides in the name of travel, lunges make me see stars (No, I didn't practice any hatha yoga. Zip).

Lots of my students use the "pick up your foot and move it" method in my classes. Of course, the more they practice, that can change. Here, I'm soliciting ways to help strengthen the hip flexors and iliopsoas. Postures, positions, warm-ups (known in Kripalu as pratapana). I'll bring it to the good people of Cornell University, and together we shall move seamlessly into lunge.

While I wait patiently for any hints, tips, suggestions, here's a sequence that uses some of the strenghteners I could dream up.

  1. Begin with 15-20 minutes of warm up
  2. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
  3. Take legs into a wide legged Downward Dog
  4. Shift weight forward into plank
  5. Wide legged side plank
  6. Wide legged plank
  7. Wide legged side plank on other side
  8. Push back to Downward Dog
  9. Lift right leg 
  10. Bring right leg into chest at top of push-up ("jack knife")
  11. Exhale 3-legged Downward Dog
  12. Moved between steps 10-11 for 6 cycles of breath
  13. Hold jack-knife for one breath
  14. Low lunge
  15. High lunge
  16. Straighten and bend front leg (hands either in air or on either side of front foot). Repeat 6x
  17. Vinyasa
  18. Jump through to seated
  19. Urdhva Navasana (Upward Facing Boat Boat). Hold for 5 cycles of breath.
  20. Jump or step back to Downward Dog
  21. Repeat steps 2-20 on other side
  22. Cool down, or continue practice


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