By Merrell Readman
mbg Associate Food & Health Editor
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career.
If you’re plagued by tightness and discomfort in your hips from sitting at a desk all day, stretching is an excellent way to release tension and improve flexibility. The figure-4 stretch is particularly effective for providing relief from hip pain, opening up the joints and ridding the body of the stress it may hold on to throughout the day.
Fit for all levels of flexibility, the figure-4 stretch is a great pre-workout hip opener but also fits easily within your daily routine to rid your body of workday irritation. Here’s how to do the stretch effectively as demonstrated by certified Pilates instructor Helen Phelan, as well as a modification to practice at your desk for improved flexibility as you release negative emotions.
How to do the figure-4 stretch.
Demonstrated by Helen Phelan
Cross your right ankle over the left knee.
Interlace your hands behind the left thigh.
Hug the knee in toward your chest.
To take it deeper, gently press your right elbow into your right inner thigh as you flex the left foot. This will increase the stretch you feel in the glute and side of the hip.
Stay here for seven to 10 breaths and notice the physical sensations present.
Before you move to figure-4 on the other side, lie all the way down with the legs extended and see if you can stay present with the release that happens in the hips.
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Phelan also adds this pose can have additional benefits beyond stretching the hips: “The deep rotator muscles are actually part of the pelvic floor as well, which is why figure-4 stretch is also so great for helping relieve back pain.”
While you get a deeper stretch doing this pose from a prone position, there are also a number of variations, like standing. If you’re doing this stretch in a standing position it’s important to brace your core in order to maintain balance and ensure you’re engaging your entire body. In single leg movements it’s common to lose balance when focusing on digging deeper into your flexibility, but holding your body taut will allow you to open the hips without tipping over.
Modifications & variations.
Demonstrated by Phyllicia Bonanno.
Ground down through your left leg. Lift your right knee, and plant your foot onto the thigh.
Flex your foot, hinge at your hips, and lower into a chair pose.
Repeat on the opposite side.
Demonstrated by Juanina Kocher.
Stretching at the office or your desk doesn’t have to be a big production and a figure-4 can actually be done from your chair to open the hips and release undue tension throughout the day.
I like to lift up my left toes and gently press my hand onto my right knee to enhance the hip stretch.
Breathe in, then slowly fold the torso forward as far as you can over the right shin as you exhale.
Hold for a few breaths, and repeat on the left side.
Add it to your routine.
While figure-4 can make for a great solo practice, it’s also well suited within a yoga flow targeting negative energy and releasing tension from the hips. Breaking up the day with some light stretching can also loosen up the body, and this seated flow from certified yoga instructor Juanina Kocher is the perfect midday treat for discomfort.
Stretching to kickstart your morning will also allow you to start the day on the right foot and this gentle five-move combination from Moy will set you in the right mindset for the coming hours, all while mitigating hip pain and discomfort.