Woman doing Yoga for hips, internal and external hip rotation in half pigeon yoga pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

Yoga Asana for Hip Mobility, Part 3: Spotlight on Internal and External Rotation

Dr. Nolan Lee

We’ve finally made it to the third and final part of my hip opening anatomy posts! In this post, we’ll take a look at how we can open the hips in the transverse (horizontal) plane.  If you missed the sagittal and coronal planes, please check out part I  and part II of this series. Remember that the transverse plane is all about rotation, so we’ll be looking at internal and external rotation of the hips.

The Hip Rotator Muscles

Rotation is definitely the most complex of the hip movements. It involves stretching mainly the external rotator muscles: gluteus maximus, and the front parts of gluteus medius and minimus; and the deep external rotator muscles: piriformis, obturator internus, obturator externus, gemellus superior, gemellus inferior, and quadratus femoris.

There are a lot of muscles, so just call them the hip external rotators and deep external rotators if that helps! These muscles connect from the back and outsides of your pelvis to the big bony bump on the top and outside of your thighbone (femur). See the external rotators below.


yoga anatomy diagram of hip muscles, external rotators


Just as we focus more on mobilizing the hip flexors and adductors in the other planes, in the transverse plane, we do more to mobilize the external rotator muscles than the internal rotator muscles: tensor fascia latae (TFL), some adductors, gluteus medius and minimus (anterior fibers).

Mobilizing the External Rotators with External Rotation

Mobilizing the external rotators can be a little confusing. We’ll need to break our “use-the-opposite-motion-of-a-muscle-to-stretch-it” rule. Hip mobilizers with rotation often involve flexing the hips first. Hip flexion is then combined with different degrees of adduction, abduction and/or external rotation to stretch the external rotator muscles.

The reason is that flexion changes the angle of pull of some of these muscles. Most of these poses will involve some variation of Ardha Raja Kapotasana (Half-Pigeon Pose) or Eka Pada Utkatasana (Figure 4 Pose) leg as in the poses below.


Mobilizing the External Rotators with External Rotation in Seated Twist yoga pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana)Mobilizing the External Rotators with External Rotation in Cow Face yoga Pose (Gomukhasana)
Mobilizing the External Rotators with External Rotation in Standing Figure 4 yoga pose (Eka Pada Utkatasana)

Mobilizing the External Rotators with External Rotation in Eka Pada Galavasana (Flying Pigeon yoga Pose)






And don't forget your Half Pigeon variations...

Mobilizing the External hip Rotators with External Rotation in Half Pigeon yoga pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
Mobilizing the External hip Rotators with External Rotation in Reclined Pigeon yoga pose (Supta kapotasana)


Mobilizing the hips with external rotation will help you access poses such as Eka Pada Galavasana (Flying Pigeon Pose) (photo above right).

Opening the External Rotators with Internal Rotation

Internal hip rotation can also be used to mobilize the hips in the transverse plane. Internal rotation by itself will focus on stretching the deep external rotators. You can feel these stretches really deep and low in the back of the hips. Take a look at the pictures below for some examples.


Woman practicing prone yoga pose to release the outer hips and open the external rotators with internal rotation

Opening the External Rotators with Internal Rotation in Reclining Hero yoga Pose (Supta Virasana) Man practicing reclining spinal twist to release the outer hip and open the external rotators with internal rotation


Mobilizing your hips with internal rotation will release those deep external rotator muscles that work so hard playing a part in stabilizing your pelvis. It will also help you deepen your Garudasana (Eagle Pose) to finally get your foot to wrap behind your calf!



Summary of Internal and External Hip Rotation

That’s it for basic hip flexibility! Now you know how to mobilize all the parts of the hips, and which parts to open for the poses you’re preparing for. Remember:

Extension: Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose), Anjaneyasana (High Lunge Pose) and backbends will mobilize the fronts of the hips.

Abduction: Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose), Vatayanasana (Horse Pose) and Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose) will mobilize the insides of the hips.

External rotation with flexion: Raja Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose variations), Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) and Padmasana (Lotus Pose) will mobilize the external rotators in the back and outside of the hips.

Internal rotation alone: Reclining Hero yoga Pose (Supta Virasana) (pose pictured above) will mobilize the deep external rotators deep and low in the back of the hips.

Read Part 1 in Dr. Nolan Lee's series focusing on asana and hip mobility - Yoga Asana for Hip Mobility, Part 1: Focus on Flexion and Extension.

More from Dr. Nolan Lee, Yogi Doc, Yoga Asana for Hip Mobility Part 2: Spotlight on Adduction and Abduction.

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Reprinted with permission from nolanlee.com


YogaUOnline contributor Dr. Nolan LeeDr. Nolan Lee is a yoga teacher and physical rehab specialist in Chicago, IL with an extraordinary passion for understanding how the body moves and functions. Nolan has the unique ability to blend the science of anatomy with the art of yoga. With an active practice at this clinic, Balanced Flow Wellness, he practically applies yoga to restore and maintain health. Dr. Lee also holds a Master of Acupuncture degree and is a NASM certified corrective exercise specialist (CES). He enthusiastically shares his knowledge of yoga and anatomy in lectures, workshops and on his blog.