In this excerpt from her book Yoga for Riders, horsewoman and yoga teacher Cathy Woods explains how to do a pose that is beneficial for your hips and back.
The Hip Cradle pose opens the hips and stretches the lower back. It is a fairly simple but great hip and lower back stretch. The hips and lower back interconnect, so both benefit from this pose, thus making it an excellent one for riders—it keeps the hips “happy” and free of tightness.
Why are certain yoga postures, like Hip Cradle, particularly helpful for riders? Riding requires the use of specific muscles—some more than others. Equestrians need to focus on developing strength in their legs and core, open hips, and a supple, healthy back and spine. Specific yoga postures can focus on these areas. Of course, you must not neglect other areas of the body, since everything interconnects.
As a horse person, you probably are doing other physical things besides riding, such as lifting saddles, cleaning hooves, pushing wheelbarrows, carrying water buckets, picking up feed bags, and hauling hay. These are other good reasons to keep the body strong and flexible. As we get older it’s typical for balance to become more challenged, flexibility to decrease, and strength and bone density to diminish. In addition, our reflex time and coordination becomes compromised. It’s not uncommon to hear about older people taking a fall around the house or when performing ordinary tasks. Doing yoga helps us to stay strong and healthy for longer.
Due to ever-increasing scientific research on health and longevity, more people are taking fitness of body, mind, and spirit seriously. My local riding group has members well in their seventies. They are an inspiration and a testament to how self-care can improve quality of life.
Note that when first learning yoga it’s wise to practice it as recommended by an instructor. As you learn more and gain experience, you may find additional postures to include, creating your own routine. You may come up with creative ways to go from pose to pose. Remember, it’s all yoga: sitting, standing, even moving from one posture to the next. It’s all an opportunity to be present as you encounter body, breath, energy, and your mind.
How to Do Hip Cradle
- Sit tall and extend both legs on the floor, straight out in front of you.
- Place one foot into your opposite hand, wrist, or elbow (wrist and elbow placement make it more challenging). Listen to your body about where you need to be.
- Take your other arm and wrap it around the bent knee, hugging the knee toward your chest. Remember: You may not look like I do in the photos; work from “where you are.”
- Once in the posture you can simply hug the leg in, or rock a little (a micro-movement) if that feels good, then become still again. When still, find the spot that brings you deepest into your hip (with no pain, of course), close your eyes, and hold in that position, breathing down into the hip three or four times. Send the hip breath, energy, oxygen, and permission to soften.
- When done, extend the leg back onto the floor and give it a little shake-out before doing the other side. Notice how the hip you have stretched feels “softer” than the one you haven’t.