relieving pain in hip joints with yoga

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When I do child's pose or Bikram's wind removing pose, I get a very uncomfortable pinching sensation in my hip joints. While my Bikram instructors tell me that it's to be expected, it keeps me from truly being able to relax. Am I doing something wrong? Is this something that will get better over time? Is there anything I can do to reduce or eliminate the sensation? What exactly is causing that sensation, anyway?  -Elaine

a yogi answers

Hi Elaine!

Sounds to me like it is our old "friends" the psoas and iliacus. I use the term "friends" jokingly here, as these are notoriously tight muscles for those of us in the West, as we spend most of our days sitting, whether at desks or in the car commuting. The psoas and iliacus are the primary hip flexors. Their function is to lift your leg in toward your chest. The psoas and iliacus are sometimes collectively referred to as the iliopsoas.

The first thing I want you to become aware of is your natural standing posture. Do you tend to arch your low back, allowing your low belly to (for lack of a better word!) pooch out a bit? By engaging your abdominals while releasing your tailbone towards the floor, you will help take pressure off these already overworked muscles. Next, in the two specific poses you mentioned, I recommend taking a hand towel and rolling it up, placing it in the hip joint to create more space when you fold forward. You can use a rolled up blanket if a towel is not big enough.

A great pose to stretch the back leg muscles is Lizard Pose, or Utthan Pristhasana. To get into this posture, come into a low lung, ensuring the front knee is tracking over the front ankle. Bring the heel of the front foot an inch or two to the outside of the mat. Place both hands to the inside of the front leg. Next, slide your back knee behind you so that the knee cap is behind the hip; the thigh bone should be in a diagonal from the hip to the knee. Untuck the back toes so that the top of the foot is down. If it's available, you can come down onto your forearms or a block to deepen the lung; then begin to lengthen the pubic bone toward the navel, extending your heart to the front of the room. Hold for ten deep breaths, switch and repeat.

The last point I want to leave you with is that in yoga, we should absolutely be working - this is how we build heat and create space - but never at the risk of injury or harm to ourselves. We yogis call it "tapas": purification through fire. However, the overarching principle above "tapas" is "ahimsa." Ahimsa means doing no harm. It is a very fine line we straddle, especially those of us who have more rajasic practices such as Ashtanga, Power Yoga, and Bikram. But, this is where we learn to practice our yoga. Can we practice strongly, but softly, as well? Can we push ourselves, but not beyond the limit of no return? Can we leave enough space so that we actually have room to grow and go deeper? Backing off is sometimes how one can end up going deeper in the long run. Because our bodies are like everything else, they do not respond to force. Yet if we are patient and loving and compassionate, they open up like a lotus flower and we take our practices to a whole new level.

I hope this helps!

- Sarah Ezrin, lululemon athletica Brentwood ambassador

more about sarah!

I am a yoga instructor from Santa Monica, CA. I teach at Bryan Kest's Power Yoga studio, as well as a few other top studios and gyms around the Los Angeles region. My daily practice is Ashtanga yoga. I feel very strongly that our mats are just a microcosm for our greater lives and that through learning how to cope on our mats, we can learn how to better deal in our lives. However, we must remember everyday that it is a path and a process, and one I know all too well :) That's why they call it a practice! More Sarah here:

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Thank you so much!! I will work on my posture and start practicing lizard pose.

Comment by elaine! — August 25, 2010 @ 9:33 am

a better photo(s) would really be helpful too…

Comment by Matt — August 25, 2010 @ 10:22 am

Thanks for this post!!

Comment by Lindsay — August 25, 2010 @ 10:28 am

Watch your technique with your yoga practice. The pinching sensation could also be due to anterior impingement in the hip or psoas bursa aggravation. It is important that you see a physiotherapist to ensure you don’t complicate this situation.

Comment by Tam — August 25, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

For the lizard pose. you mentioned that the leg is diagonal from the hip. is this the front leg that is on the diagonal? You also mentioned that the front leg is just off the long edge of the mat. is the long/back leg in the middle of the mat then? I always thought for lizard the front leg stayed the same as in lunge. So I think I may have been doing it incorectly?

Comment by katie — August 25, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

Hey Katie, It is the back leg that is in a diagonal. As I mention above, that front leg needs to maintain a 90 degree angle (knee tracking over ankle). Also, the front foot only need be heel-toed two inches or so in the direction of whichever leg is in front i.e. two inches to right if it is the right foot in front/two inches to left if left foot in front. Thus making the legs a little bit wider than hips width IF the legs were together. This gives the torso and forearms room to come down to the floor.

Comment by Sarah Ezrin — August 25, 2010 @ 8:18 pm

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