Healthy Hips

The hip joints house a lot of physical and emotional tension -- especially for women. The reason? Chalk it up to a combination of a sedentary lifestyle and nonstop stress. "It may feel like you're not doing anything sitting at your desk all day, but this position actually contracts the front of the hip and stretches the back of the hip, which can throw off your alignment," says New York-based yoga and Pilates instructor James Darling. If you ignore the need for balance in this central area, you could wind up with low back pain, poor posture, and debilitating tension. Practice these three hip stretches and strengtheners to increase flexibility -- and stave off stiffness and injury down the road.

Crescent Lunge
What It Does
Opens the front of the hip while strengthening the opposite leg, helping you to stabilize the muscles around the bone and engage the core muscles.

How to Do It
With your feet hip-width apart, step the right leg back into a deep lunge, bending your front leg to about 90 degrees. Stay on the ball of your right foot and keep your hips squared. Extend the arms straight overhead, using the abdominal muscles to keep your upper body erect and stable (above). Take three to five deep breaths, imagining that you're breathing into your right hip and releasing tension there. Repeat on the other side.

Reclining Pigeon
What It Does
Releases tension in the hip socket and loosens the glutes.

How to Do It
Lie on your back with legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift the right leg and rest your right ankle on your left knee, rotating the right hip out. Reach your arms around your left leg, gently hugging the leg toward you (below). For a deeper stretch, press the right knee outward. Take a few deep breaths, keeping your spine long and letting your lower back release into the floor. Switch legs and repeat. "Do this regularly," says Darling, "and you'll notice a difference in how you walk and move."

What It Does
Stretches the glute muscles, hip flexor, and the lower abdominal muscles.

How to Do It
Starting in a push-up position, draw your left knee in and sit up, resting with your left leg bent in front of you and the other leg straight behind you (below). Keep your hips squared and your weight balanced between them. You can also bend forward, stretching your arms out in front of you and resting your forehead on your mat. Take five to 10 deep, relaxed breaths, letting gravity draw you down deeper into the stretch.

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