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Opening the Hips in Yoga: The Frog, Fire Log and Swan

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Soreness in the hips is another occupational hazard, a byproduct of sitting for many hours at a time and living in a city with significant traffic-laced drive times. At times like this I am inclined to check in with my friend and yoga instructor, Darlene Vander Hoop, for her opinion on what to do to remedy my pressing situation. Turns out, lucky for me, that she considers "the ungluing of the hips" to be one of her specialties.

Who among us hasn't had hips that ache, hurt, stiffen, and give us lots of troubles, especially as we age, asks Darlene. Five years ago her own condition deteriorated to the point she was limping, in chronic pain and was told by her medical doctor to anticipate a hip replacement in three to five years. Instead, she turned to one of her yoga colleagues and came up with three postures that have worked so well for her that surgery is nowhere in sight at this time. Darlene calls the frog her "savior posture," followed up by the helpful fire log and swan, which is a variation on the proud pigeon. Darlene claims that doing these three poses religiously is the reason why her hips hurt no longer.

Darlene is a study in duality both deadly serious and playful. Here's an example of the latter. She suggests that I do what she does. "Always say, 'Hello to Dad!' when opening the right hip, and 'Hi Mom,' when opening left hip." As a therapist of course I find this interesting, but what to make of it, unsure at the moment. I am unlearning to ask so many questions, though Darlene assures me we will get into this more deeply at another time. I go along, for now.

Increasingly, Darlene has been using essential oils in aerosol form to heighten the yoga experience. She suggests scenting my yoga practice space with "chill," a rainforest blend of copaiba, ocotea, lavender, cedar wood and hint of vanilla, creating an ambiance designed to coax students into surrender to enjoy the moment. Darlene also asks me to "give your hips a color, a texture; breathe into the gluey and funky; open the jaw and release that color right out of your throat." Surprisingly, the color that comes to me is a ruddy brown.

In the frog posture, she guides me to keep my feet flexed; shin bones parallel, tailbone pointing downward like a flashlight shining between the heels with a straight spine. There are variations: one frog leg at a time, feet resting more naturally. I like her suggestion best to try frog against the wall, feet pressing into the wall, ankles, shins, and inside knees on the floor, tailbone backs up to wall as close as body allows. "Oh, yeah," she exclaims.

Fire log is also known as square, or full seated pigeon which involves the external rotation of the hips. Bring the two shins one on top of the other like logs. Look down and see a triangle in the negative space; groin the apex, shins the base. Use blocks or blankets under knees as needed to keep the pain in check. Stack just your ankles to start.

Swan is an incredibly vigorous hip opener. Darlene advises to put two hands on two blocks on the floor just under the armpits, but this doesn't work for me. As you rise up in this posture, she recommends, sit with one leg in a right angle in front and the other extended along the floor relaxed. Chest up, shoulders down.

Flexible people bring the front shin parallel to mat, foot beneath the sternum. A normal person (which is what Darlene has named the less flexible among us) bends that front leg as needed. Leading with the heart come down to floor into sleeping swan and rest your head on your folded hands or a block. Hold each side three minutes for the full effect.

So there you have it. After a few days of these three postures, about 15 minutes a day, I am feeling appreciably better. These postures will definitely be part of my daily regimen to address the nagging stitch in my hips.

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