Movement Monday: Hip Rotation

When we’re thinking about doing asana, or yoga poses, we are often inclined to think about the shapes our bodies are making, or maybe what muscles are contracting or stretching.

If we want to move and feel better, however, it might be helpful to think instead of the bones.

My friend, Bertha

That’s where my friend, Bertha, comes in. As you can see in the photo above, Bertha consists of a pelvis, a small section of spine, and two sawed-off femur (thigh) bones. In spite of her limited size, she is useful for visualizing what the hips are doing as we come in and out of poses.

As we saw in last Monday’s post, the ball-and-socket joint of the hip can move in several different ways. Today we’ll be looking at hip rotation. It can sometimes be a little tricky to isolate this movement, as people tend to combine it with other movements to “borrow” a little more mobility. My favorite cue for rotation comes from Cecily Milne at Yoga Detour: rotate the thigh bone like you’re turning a door knob in the hip socket. Just like a door knob doesn’t move from side to side when you turn it, neither does your femur.

External rotation in red. Internal rotation in green. Unfortunately, Bertha doesn’t do rotation well because her connective tissue is (literally) elastic, but hopefully this gives you an idea.

Side note: there is nothing wrong with combining movements. We often combine rotation with other movements, and it can be a good way to make a movement more effective – as long as it is working for you! However, if you’re getting some discomfort in your practice, or if you want to work on improving your hip rotation, it may be helpful to be able to isolate this movement and work on it on its own. Being able to isolate movements also expands our movement options – and having more options is always a good thing!

Yes, there are muscles that generate this movement, and if you’re curious, you can look up “hip rotators” and find lots of detail. However, humans aren’t very good at telling specific muscles to engage, so I find it more useful to think about what your skeleton is doing. If you focus on moving the bones well, your muscles will get stronger and your movements will become more coordinated, so that you can build capacity for the movement over time.

Hip Rotation in Asana Practice

So how do we use this movement in our asana, or postural yoga practice? We use hip rotation a lot, on its own and in combination with other movements. Here are a few examples:

  • External rotation in the front leg in standing poses such as Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) or Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
  • External rotation in the lifted leg in Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
  • Internal rotation in Garudasana (Eagle Pose) and Virasana (Hero’s Pose)
  • External rotation in the front leg in Raja Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose) and its variations
  • External rotation in seated poses such as Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle or Cobbler’s Pose), or any cross-legged seat

Working on Hip Rotation in Asana Practice

Here’s a short video showing one way you can explore hip rotation within your asana (postural yoga) practice. If you’d like to know more, I do a lot of this work in my online group classes. Or for a more in-depth customized practice, my private workshops on the hips can include a lot of rotational work, and are also being delivered exclusively online!

The information, instruction, and advice contained in this video and post are in no way intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content is for general informational purposes only. Not all exercises are suitable for everyone. Consult your doctor before beginning this or any exercise program.

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