Hip-Opening Stretches

Overview/ Anatomy:

Some of the Movements of the Hip are:

  • Flexion: Bending at the hip, the leg moves forward and upward toward the torso.
  • Extension: The return from flexion
  • Abduction: The leg moves to the side away from the midline of the body.
  • Adduction: the return from abduction – bringing the leg sidewards toward the midline of the body.
  • Medial Rotation: Inward rotation
  • Lateral Rotation: Outward rotation


watermarked piriformis

The Piriformis muscle originates on the anterior surface of the sacrum and inserts at the superior portion of the greater trochanter of the femur. It’s primary action is to laterally rotate the hip. When the hip is flexed, it abducts the hip.





Gluteus Maximus:
Originates at the posterior iliac crest, edge of sacrum, coccyx, sacrotuberous and sacroiliac ligaments. It inserts at the upper fibers of the iliotibial tract and the lower gluteal illustration small wmark (1)fibers of the gluteal tuberosity. It extends the hip, laterally rotates the hip, and abducts the hip. The lower fibers adduct the hip.

Gluteus Medius
Originates at the outer surface of the ilium between the posterior and anterior gluteal lines. It inserts at the Greater trochanter, lateral surface (side of hip). It’s action is to abduct the hip. Anterior fibers medially rotate the hip. Posterior fibers laterally rotate the hip.

Gluteus Minimus
Originates at the outer surface of the ilium between the anterior and inferior gluteal lines. It inserts at the greater trochanter (anterior/ front) surface. It’s action is to abduct the hip, medially rotate the hip and flex the hip.

 Activities that use the Gluteals are climbing stairs, cycling, running, walking, skating

Opening the Hips: Stretches For the Gluteals, Piriformis and Quadriceps
Get more from your stretch with Mindfulness, Intention, and Breath 


Stretch 1:

(featured image above) Begin supine (lay on back) with both legs bent, feet on the floor underneath your hips. Take one foot and cross it over the other leg. The ankle will lay just above the knee of the other leg. Both hands wrap around the leg (as shown in above image). As you pull the leg towards you, imagine the knee of crossed leg easing away from you towards the opposite wall. Breathe into any tight areas.


watermark sitting fig 4

Stretch 2:
Begin by lying supine on a mat. Cross one leg over the other to make a figure four. Bring yourself up so that your hands are on the floor, fingers pointing back behind you. Keep your back straight in order to feel the stretch. I like to feel as though my foot, ankle, lower leg is rotating towards me while my knee is easing back in the opposite direction.

Stretch 3: 
Lay supine (on your back) on the floor, legs stretched out. Bend one leg and bring it up in a flexed position. Take the opposite hand and place it on the knee of the flexed, raised leg and draw your leg straight across to the opposite side. Imagine the face of a clock underneath you with the number 6 in the direction toward your pelvis and the 12 toward your head. If you are stretching the right leg, you would be moving across your body towards the number 3. Left leg would be towards the number 9. Your shoulders stay on the floor. As you move across, your hip can leave the floor and follow the movement. Come back to center. Draw your leg across and up towards the opposite shoulder. Your shoulders and hips stay on the floor. Come back to center. If you have the flexibility and it feels like a ‘good’ stretch, change hands so that the same hand clasps your knee and the opposite hand clasps around the lower leg or ankle. Take this stretch in the direction towards your head (12 o’clock). Explore the stretch and find out what works best for you.

sitting crossed legs 640 wqtermqrked

Stretch 4:
One way to get into this position (above image) is to begin on your hands and knees. Cross one leg over the other and sit back to a seated position as the image above shows. Hands can be as shown or lightly placed on knees. Breathe. I find breathing into the tight areas goes a long way in helping tight areas melt and release. To increase the stretch, bend at the waist and fold over legs.


Stretch 5:
Quad Stretch: Begin kneeling on a well padded mat. Place one leg forward with foot on the floor, knee over ankle. Drop your pelvis down towards the floor so that your back is straight and not in a sway back position. Engage your abdominals. Lunge forward. Put your attention on your breath. On your exhale pull your navel back towards your spine. It’s not about how far you go in your lunge but instead keeping good alignment with the pelvis in order for the stretch to be effective.

Suggested External Links:

Why Is Breathing Important During Stretching?:

Piriformis  – Attachments, Action & Innervation:

What is Piriformis Syndrome?

Here is a good demonstration of a quadricep stretch with foot on a chair. If you need a simple stretch for tight hips check it out here


Vanda Scaravelli Yoga

When tensions leave, the body goes back to its original state, and balance is re-established. – Vanda Scaravelli

Years ago, at a small yoga studio I regularly attended, I purchased Vanda Scaravelli’s Awakening the Spine. Perhaps what impressed me the most were the images of Scaravelli practicing the asanas. At the time of the book’s first publication (1991), the author was in her eighties. It was inspiring to see a woman of her age showing the poses with such flexibility and ease.

Beautiful images of nature, architecture, art are scattered throughout the book complimenting the author’s insightful guidance. The author explains that Awakening the Spine is not the typical instructional yoga book. Instead Scaravelli stresses the importance of learning “how to listen to your body” (16) and avoid “all effort or strain” (16). According to Scaravelli, at the waist, around the fifth lumbar vertebrae, movement goes in two opposite directions: down through the hips, legs, feet and upwards through the top of the head. Gravity pulls the body towards the earth and also allows the body to extend upwards in the opposite direction. This allows tension to be released between the vertebrae (8).

You have to learn how to listen to your body, going with it and not against it, avoiding all effort or strain and centering your attention on that very delicate point, the back of the waist.  – Vanda Scaravelli.

Vanda Scaravelli formed a new approach that emphasized the practice of yoga  with an intelligence that encouraged sensitivity and self awareness. The poses should not be forced but bring ease and freedom. She believed to practice yoga in this way would bring transformation.

Practice transforms the body and the mind and a new life begins
– Vanda Scaravelli

Born in 1908, Vanda Scaravelli grew up in an artistic family in Florence, Italy. Her home life was full of music. She herself studied at the Conservatorio Luigi Cherubini in Florence (Scaravelli 184) and became an accomplished pianist. Her father was a business man with a great appreciation for music (184). Her mother and father hosted a salon for a number of well renowned artists (em yogastudio). . Later she married Luigi Scaravelli, a professor of philosophy, and had two children (em yogastudio). Artists, philosophers, and scientists were frequent guests at Scaravelli’s villa near Fiesole, Italy. Musicians regularly congregated and gave concerts (Scaravelli 186).

When Vanda Scaravelli was in her mid forties she was introduced to yoga and took her first lessons with B.K.S Iyengar (Scaravelli 19). She quickly noticed improvement with her health. It was later she learned the importance of breathing with lessons from T.K.V. Desikachar (20). No longer receiving lessons from Iyengar and Desikachar, she continued her yoga practice on her own. This motivated her to find a new approach to yoga (24).

Vanda Scaravelli touched lives through her teaching. Her only published book Awakening the Spine has been quoted from frequently; often coupled with an image of Scaravelli showing a beautiful yoga pose.

Do not kill the instinct of the body for the glory of the pose. Do not look at your body like a stranger, but adopt a friendly approach towards it. Watch it, listen to it, observe its needs, its requests, and even have fun.

To be sensitive is to be alive  -Vanda Scaravelli

Works Cited

The Human Potential Movement

I was excited when I came across Walter Truett Anderson’s The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the Human Potential Movement: The First Twenty Years as I had long been interested in individuality and human potential. Esalen fostered exploration in human potentiality and a new world view. A historical account of an American cultural revolution, The Upstart Spring is an absorbing and fun read. Anderson takes the reader through the history of Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California starting from it’s inception in the 1960’s. Founded by Michael Murphy and Dick Price, they brought a number of well known figures to lead seminars such as Aldous Huxley (English author and philosopher), Abraham Maslow (American psychologist), Joan Baez (American singer), Ida Rolf (creator of Structural Integration. Also known as Rolfing), Fritz Pearls (German psychiatrist. Developed Gestalt therapy) and many others. Anderson shares this culturally important history with care and honesty making for an entertaining, sometimes sobering, and informative read. Esalen, over fifty years later, continues to offer workshops and continuing education in arts, psychology, meditation, massage, and movement.


Three Stretches for Latissimus Dorsi & Teres Major

Overview/ Anatomy:

Teres Major is often referred to as the Lats ‘little helper’. Synergists, Latissimus Dorsi and Teres Major work together to perform the same actions of the glenohumeral joint (shoulder): Extension, Adduction, and Medial (inward) Rotation.

The Latissimus Dorsi is the largest muscle of the back, and it’s main function is movement of the upper limb. It originates in the mid back thoracic region ; the thoracolumbar fascia, and iliac crest (hip bone). It inserts into the humerus (bone of the upper arm).

Teres Major lays between the Lats and Teres Minor on the lateral (outside) border of the scapula (shoulder blade).

Some of the Movements of the Shoulder are:

  • Flexion: From a position of arms down at the sides of the body, the arms move forward and upward toward the head.
  • Extension: The return from flexion – arms lower down toward the sides of your body. *Lats and Teres Major extend the shoulder (glenohumeral joint).
  • Abduction: with the arms down at the sides of the body, the arms move in a upward direction out to the sides of the body.
  • Adduction: the return from abduction – arms that start out to the sides of the body lower down towards the body. *Lats and Teres Major adduct the shoulder (glenohumeral joint).

Latissimus and Teres Major also medially rotate the shoulder.

A few activities that use the Latissimus Dorsi (and to a lesser extent Teres Major) are: Swimming, rowing, and climbing rope.

Stretches For Latissimus Dorsi and Teres Major
Get more from your stretch with Mindfulness, Intention, and Breath 


Standing Hands Clasped Over Head:
Stand with your feet parallel about hip width apart. Clasp your hands and place them above your head with palms facing the ceiling. Drop your pelvis, tail bone straight down toward the floor. Chest, shoulders open. Ears ease back in line with your shoulders.

Feel the bottoms of your feet like a tripod. Feel the balls of the big toes, little toes, and heels on the floor.

Breathe and think about stretching your elbows straight and reaching your palms toward the ceiling. Increase the stretch by bending side.

Variation 2: Cross one hand over wrist to guide yourself into more of a stretch.


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Sitting Side Stretch:
While this side stretch targets Quadratus Lumborum, it also stretches the lats and teres along the outer border of the scapula and back. Sit cross legged on a mat. Drop your shoulders down and feel that the two shoulders are level. Open chest and shoulders. Head draws back so the ears are in line with the shoulders.

If you feel discomfort sitting cross legged (perhaps your knees are high as opposed to closer to the floor; therefore forcing you to lean back) you can place 1 or 2 folded blankets underneath your sit bones. Your feet will of course need to be off the folded blankets as you want your sit bones to be higher.

Bending to the side, bring one arm over the head and the other at your side on the floor, palm down. Breath and feel the length along the outer border of your scapula and sides of back. You can increase the stretch by placing the forearm on the floor. Look down towards the floor or straight forward as you bend side then slowly turn your gaze to look up (refer to the image above). Breathe.

Having straightened up to the beginning position, keep the arm above your head for a few more deep breaths. Enjoy the feeling of length from your seat on the floor to your finger tips — then lower the arm and begin the side bend to the other side.

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Chair Stretch:
Begin by kneeling on a mat in front of a chair. Place your hands shoulder width apart on the chair’s seat. Lower your torso and head below shoulder level as pictured above. Feel the length in your back, along the lateral (outside) border of your scapula (shoulder blade),  and out through your fingertips (they of course are still placed on the chair). Following a few or more breaths you can take your hands off the chair and lower all the way down to child’s pose. An exercise ball can be used in place of a chair as seen in the photograph.


Safe Stretching:

  1. Don’t stretch to the point of pain. If lessening the intensity of the stretch still causes pain, stop.
  2. Stretch with consistency – as a daily routine or every other day.
  3. Gradually increase the intensity of the stretch over a period of time.
  4. Stretch slowly. Don’t bounce. Breathe

Body Alignment: Mindful alignment makes for more effective stretching. It also helps in injury prevention. A few alignment reminders:

  1. When standing, think of your foot as a tripod. The ball of the big toe, the ball of the small toe, and the heel form a tripod. Distribute your weight equally among these three points. Feel the weight on your left and right foot equally. As you put your intention on this you may notice that you have a tendency to favor one side over the other.
  2. When standing, feel your pelvis, tailbone drop straight down toward the floor (or chair if sitting).
  3. Many of us allow our shoulders to round and our head to jut forward from it’s gravitational center. Think about opening your chest and shoulders and easing your ears back in line with your shoulders.


Suggested External Links:
Why Is Breathing Important During Stretching?:

Latissimus Dorsi Muscle – Attachments, Action & Innervation:




Circulatory & Deep Tissue Massage

“What style of massage do you do?”, is a question many new clients ask. My massage sessions are eclectic in that they integrate various modalities depending on a client’s needs. My education at IPSB college introduced me to a wide variety of Western and Eastern modalities. I eventually chose to focus my practice around the Western modalities Circulatory, Deep Tissue, and Trigger Point Therapy.

Circulatory (or Swedish) is a style of massage that has a number of therapeutic benefits. Circulatory helps to release tension and stress in the body. The release of tight, constricted muscles eases pain while bringing nutrient rich blood to the muscle tissue. In his text Orthopedic Massage Whitney Lowe writes, “One of the most significant effects of massage is the encouragement of blood flow in smaller capillaries that are restricted due to muscle tightness” (Lowe, 2009). A release of tension in the body is often accompanied with a feeling of release emotionally or/and mentally as well as increased clarity and energy. It has been suggested that this modality aids the lymphatic system by helping to clear out metabolic waste. A variety of strokes are used. A few of these strokes are: Effleurage (long gliding strokes that move in the direction toward the heart are incorporated throughout a massage session), Compression, Petrissage (grasping and kneading), and Tapotement (percussion strokes). These strokes can be done with light, medium, or firm pressure.

Deep Tissue uses techniques to address the deeper layered muscles. The work is slow so that the therapist’s tool (thumb, palm, soft fist, elbow) can melt into the muscle tissue; slowly gliding along the direction of the muscle fiber as tension in the muscle tissue melts and dissolves. Effleurage is a massage stroke most commonly associated with Circulatory or Swedish massage, but in Deep Tissue work, deep effleurage strokes can be most effective in easing out tension and helping to move tissue fluid.

Neuromuscular Therapy focuses on relief of pain that can be brought on by postural distortion, bio-mechanical dysfunction, and Trigger Points. Trigger Points are hyper irritable areas that can develop in taught bands of muscle tissue and refer pain or other sensations. Trigger Points can be the cause of hypertonicity in muscles, pain, and muscle weakness. My sessions incorporate Trigger Point Therapy with Circulatory Massage.


Lowe, Whitney (2009). Orthopedic Massage: Theory and Technique. Mosby Elsevier.