Hips and hamstrings are the the most popular "issues" I hear when I ask if there are any concerns I need to know about the yogis body when I first meet them. "I have tight hips," "I can't reach my toes," "I have pain in my lower back." From athletes, to dancers, to those who have never been active in their entire lives - Here are two movements / stretches that I enjoy doing to warm up the large muscles and joints in the lower body.
Illiopsoas muscle is a key muscle to flex the hip and stabilize the lower back. It connects from the lumbar vertebrae to the lesser trochanter on the femur. It can get "tight" when one sits for a long period of the day, and also when one is out and about. To stretch the hip flexor is to find a deep lunge. Ensure the front knee does not pass the ankle to create space for the maximum stretch. There are two options: to have the back knee down on the mat or off the mat. Usually I like to start with the knee on the mat, and when the body is a little warmer from within, I invite them to find the full lunge with the knee off the mat. Even though the emphasis is on the hip flexor, I like to cue feeling the lengthening of the entire front of the body. Feeling energy out the crown and out the heel as the pelvis drops to the centre of the Earth.
There are three muscles that make up the hamstrings: semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. The muscles originate from pelvis to the back of the femur to the lower leg (tibia and fibula). To stretch the hamstrings is a forward fold. I like doing one leg at a time to create heat and warm up within. From the deep lunge whether the knee is on the mat or off the mat, bring the hips back to straighten the front knee. Flex the foot towards the face to ensure we truly tighten the fascia (the connective tissue that covers the muscle), and breathe through the stretch in the belly of the hamstring muscle. Also, playing with the activation of the back can change the stretch. I like thinking the spine is like a lever. In order to do the work in the right place, the spine must be active an straight. If you want to encourage mobility in the spine as well, allow the vertebrae to melt forward.
Below is a video of the forward and back motion of the hips and hamstring stretch. I invite you to press press and come play! Namaste.