If you have ever felt strong emotions rising up during your yoga practice, this is a result of a powerful link that exists between the hips and our stored emotions. Referred to in yogajournal.com as “the junk drawer of emotions“, the hip opening postures in yoga provide the perfect release.
As a holistic practice, yoga sessions feature a sequence of postures designed to awaken all areas of the body leaving you feeling relaxed and with the sensation of having worked, stretched and coaxed your body closer to the limits of its possibilities, while generally focusing on deepening one aspect of our practice, such as opening the hips.
When we repress strong emotions, the body finds a way of storing them that can later cause repercussions in the form of blockages at a physiological level. This is particularly true of the hip flexors which is where we store emotion, often the kind we keep hidden, such as anger, anxiety, sadness and frustration.
The pelvis itself is a complicated structure of bone, muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia. Not surprisingly, when sitting or standing for long periods of time, the hips get tight unless we deliberately aim for them to experience a full range of movement. This is because being sedentary shortens our hip flexors and tightens our hip rotators. With over 20 muscles in this area, the hips are understandably a key focus in yoga postures.
On a physiological level, the muscles of the hips have a strong link to the flight or fight response triggered by stress. We are born with the reflex action of activating the hip flexors to bring us into the fetal position when under threat. One of the hip flexors, the psoas muscle is connected to the diaphragm, so tightness here can lead to restricted breathing.
On a psychological level, how we approach hip openers, and other strong poses, can be a reflection of how we approach challenges in our lives; hop openers require a softening and surrendering into the pose, staying present and staying with the breath.
On a Yogic/Tantric level, the pelvis is the home of the second chakra or Svadistahan. The brain is connected to the hips via our emotions and the hips can be activated for flight, fight or freeze. When we experience trauma, grief or feelings of inadequacy, we clench these muscles and never really let go. The residue – in the form of emotional toxins – remains trapped. The hips act like a bowl scooping up difficult emotions and keeping them down. Work stress, particularly when sitting at a desk all day long, is a recipe for stored negative emotions.
If we do not release this tightness, the hips can build up scar tissue and joint damage causing soreness and this can cause pain, not only in the hips, but also lower back, as well as symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia.
In the West, medicine is not tuned into the theory of body memory ie the idea that the body itself stores memories not just the brain. But there is empirical evidence that mental and emotional conditions affect the body. Distortion in the body is only released when the inner tension is released.
The Hips Don’t Lie
As the title of Shakira’s song intimates, “The hips don’t lie”… This is particularly true of negative emotions. If you are constantly hearing negative messages and holding on to painful and negative feelings, these will eventually manifest in our expression, posture and pain. When we repeatedly tighten our hip flexors as a response to fear, anxiety or anger, we can easily lose our connection to our first chakra energy, cutting us off from our innate sense of stability, leading to even worse feelings of insecurity.
As a case study, one woman who has been practicing yoga regularly for 12 years, had been going through relationship trauma, at the same time as handling a particularly stressful job in a not wholly supportive environment and said that over a six month period her hips had tightened to the degree that she experienced constant pain and even developed a limp. Other physical symptoms of internalized stress and emotional pain include headaches and frequent neck and shoulder pain.
Yoga Hip Openers
Working on the deep tissues, in yoga, the hip opening asanas can release both physical and emotional tension. At the most fundamental level, just practicing yoga gives a profound spiritual message that you matter. And while, in yoga we are not here to change but to meet ourselves where we are, yoga is a place where emotional breakthroughs can happen in a safe and supported environment.
In yoga, it is not a case of trying to have an emotional release. The Anna Forrest Yoga Circle in Santa Monica practices Poses that Push, with the aim of students coming across “what is stored in the cells” which Anna refers to as yoga’s “gift”.
Daily focus on releasing tension in the hips, with hip opening yoga postures is an effective method of slowly opening up those emotional storage units. Yoga hip openers loosen up the trapped emotions, along with other health benefits such as easing back pain, deeper breathing and better circulation to organs such as intestines, liver and pancreas. It also means that we are releasing what no longer serves us, giving us space to grow and thrive. Here in How Do I Unlock My Hips? yoga expert and emotional coach Willow Ryan delves into the issue of how to identify what is causing the stiffness in the hips and how to release it.
Key Yoga Hip Opening Postures
There are so many hip opening asanas in yoga, including the commonly used Warrior II and the one-legged lunge. Following are some of the most effective hip openers to weave into your practice:
- Balasana – Child’s pose
- Eka Pada Rajakopatasana – One-legged pigeon
- Anjaneyasana – A low runner’s lunge
- Vrksasana – Tree pose
- Ardha Matsyendrasana – Seated spinal twist
It is important to soften into these postures, using the breath to ignite prana in the body that, in turn, lights your internal fire and softens the joints so that they can open up. Alongside the hip openers, to free the hips, it is also fundamentally important to work on releasing mentally stuck thought patterns.
Radiant Yoga Marbella offers a variety of yoga classes in our Marbella studio including Hot Yoga (similar to Bikram, but with more varied sequencing), Vinyasa Yoga Flow, Anusara Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Strala Yoga, Traditional Hatha Yoga and Kids’ Yoga.
Please keep an eye on our Facebook page where you’ll find up-to-date information about our classes, workshops and other yoga information. Blog by Louise Cook Edwards