When practicing yoga, you may hear different cues regarding the position of your hips: “square your hips”, “stack your hips”, “keep your hips even”, etc. What do these cues really mean and is there a difference?
To understand this position of the hips, stand in Mountain Pose with your feet parallel and feel the bony part of your hips. These are referred to as your hip points. In this pose, your hips are in a closed position. Now give this a try in the following poses:
Bring the hands to your hips and see if they feel the same as they did in your Mountain Pose. Often in this pose, yogis that feel unbalanced will begin to rotate the hip of the back leg to an open position. Another way to find balance in this pose, while keeping the hips closed, is by widening the stance of your feet.
In this pose, it can be difficult to keep the hips in a closed position as it requires strength in both legs and also lengthening through the hamstring of the standing leg. If the hamstrings are tight, it may be difficult to lift the leg back behind. In this case, yogis maybe compromise by rotating the hip to a more opened position. Instead of opening the hip, be sure to take time to stretch the hamstrings and practice Santosha or contentment with where you are at in your practice. Over time and with a consistent practice, the hamstrings will lengthen and allow you to lift the leg higher without having to open the hips.
3 Legged Dog – Closed:
Just like the previous two poses, 3 Legged Dog is a pose with closed hips. This one, however, may be harder to align as you cannot use your hands to check the positioning of your hip points. Instead, you will need to feel the alignment by playing around with it. To keep the hips closed, think of pointing your toes down to the ground rather than out to the side to keep the hips square.
This pose is somewhat similar to a high lunge, but one of the main differences is the position of the hips. Unlike High Lunge, Warrior 2 requires opened hips. In this pose, you want your front knee to track over your middle toes and your shoulders to stack above your hip points. To help with the opening of the hips here, you can take your front hand to the inside of your front knee and your back hand to the front ribs to help rotate your torso to the side.
Warrior 3 and Half Moon share some commonalities: they are both balancing poses with one leg extended behind. However, the hips are closed in Warrior 3 and open in Half Moon. You can begin in Warrior 3, and begin to rotate your chest and hips to a stacked position. Think of pressing out through the heel of the back foot and extended through the fingertips to find length in the arms and chest. A block can be helpful underneath the bottom hand.
3 Legged Dog – Opened:
As I said in the 3 Legged Dog – Closed variation, it can be difficult to know the positioning of the hips without using your hands to locate the hip points. Practice moving back and forth, starting with the hips closed and then opening them up to a stacked position.