Paying attention to alignment in your yoga postures can be confusing. Lift this, drop that; lengthen here, shorten there; soften one side and strengthen the other one. And, in the meantime: don't forget to breathe.
For many students, looking more closely at alignment can be intimidating. Alleviate that stress by breaking the postures up into sets with alignment points in common. For example, in standing postures, we can say that we are either focusing on squaring the hips or on opening them. Although this is somewhat of an oversimplification, it can help students that are newer to alignment principles get a handle on where to start.
Today we'll take a look at standing postures that ask us to open our hips. (If you need a visual on any of these poses, just click on their names in blue below.) For our purposes we will define "opening the hips" as creating space in the lower abdomen between the two frontal hip bones.
We will begin with Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II).
Start in a wide-legged stance with your arms reaching out to the sides, feet placed underneath of your wrists. Turn your right foot to the right, and turn your left toes in slightly so that your left heel is further away from you than your left toes. Now, find all four limbs in the pose; feel both feet evenly bearing your weight, and pay particular attention to the outer edge of the left heel, and the base of the right big toe. Maintain that attention as you bend the right knee until the right shin is vertical. Keep the knee moving towards the little toe side of the front foot, and do not allow it to go beyond your ankle.
Now for the work in the hips.
Continue to press through the right big toe as you gently tuck your tailbone and scoop your right buttock underneath of you. Make sure you've established a connection in the outer edge of the left heel, and then press the top of your left thighbone back into your hamstring muscle (at the back of your thigh). Ideally, your belly and chest are squaring towards the side, and you are broadening the space in the lower abdominal region between the frontal hip bones. Elongate your spine, and without allowing your hips or chest to move, turn your neck to gaze towards your right fingertips. Enjoy the posture for as little as five breaths, or for up to two minutes. Press into your left leg, inhale up to stand, turn the feet, and repeat on the left side.
Now, practice the same hip alignment suggestions in other "open-hipped" standing postures, such as Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), Utthita Parsva Konasana (Extended Side Angle Pose), and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Balancing Pose).