What do tight hips say about your emotional health? Are you carrying around emotional tension in our pelvis?
Often times, people initially come to yoga because of physical pain. It’s only later that they get to enjoy all of the other emotional and spiritual benefits that go along with the practice. In our society, where we sit too much, at our desks, in front of the television, and in our cars, tight hips can take their toll. They can stem from a host of other issues including tightness in the quadriceps, inner thighs, hamstrings, lateral rotators, and psoas. In fact, lower back pain often stems from tight hips and buttocks muscles.
Looking at this from a Hindu or tantric/yoga perspective, the pelvis is the home of the second chakra, Svadhisthana, which is closely associated with emotions and with the unconscious. The second chakra is linked to creativity, sexuality, desire, pleasure, and emotional freedom. When the second chakra is blocked it hinders our ability to let go and let it flow. You may have noticed that in deep hip openers, you have a tendency to clinch or hold on because you simply can’t fully open up to the posture.
Love ’em or hate ’em, hip openers are really good for you, physically, mentally and energetically. Most people love them because their hips are so tight and they need that release; and then again, most people dislike them for the same reason. So why are the hips filled with so much tension?
Think of what you do when you are threatened or experience a sudden jolt. Our response to physical threat is to draw our knees to our chest and curl up into a fetal pose for protection. If we hear devastating news that brings us to tears, the response is to retreat to fetal pose to weep and guard ourselves. The action of drawing the knees in, no matter how dramatic, starts at the hips. The muscles are tightly clenched but never fully released. This lingering grasp of the hips not only traps muscular tension, but emotional tension too. It is the same action of clenching your fist when angry or grinding the jaw when stressed. Whether it is one traumatic event, or multiple small events, the feelings of fear, anxiety and sadness are stored at the hips until we bring them to the surface and allow a release. The longer you suppress emotion, the tighter the grasp.
The pelvis is a complicated piece of engineering, with bone, muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia helping both stabilize the body and allow for motion. Several muscles, the iliacus and psoas major, make up the group everyone commonly refers to as hip flexors. These are big muscles, and tend to be tight, as we hold them in one position—whether we are standing for a long time, or sitting at a desk all day. We rarely let our hips play or explore a full range of movement.
From birth, our sympathetic nervous system response, the rest and relax response, can stimulate a strong contraction of the flexors of the body, drawing the ribs around the visceral organs and the knees up to the torso to offer protection should the infant suffer a fall, the hip muscles are programmed to be easily activated for this fight, flight or freeze response. When the body suffers a trauma, our instinctual reflex is to clench these deep muscles. The problem is, we don’t let go.
“Trauma is a pervasive fact of modern life,” writes Dr. Peter Levine in his book, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. He says trauma can result from experiencing a natural disaster like a fire, being in an accident, falling down, suffering the loss of a loved one, undergoing surgery, and even the happy stresses of pregnancy and birth. These traumas stay with us, as a “frozen residue of energy that has not been resolved and discharged; this residue remains trapped in the nervous system where it can wreak havoc on our bodies and spirits,” causing long-term and sometimes alarming symptoms, like anxiety, back pain or insomnia. Our hips are like a bowl, then, catching and holding the residue of a trauma or prolonged period of stress.
You can read more about this concept in my recent book Breaking the Attention of Pain.
So are you ready to confront your unresolved emotions?
The body and mind are connected, so take it one step at a time. Acknowledge the emotion or experience you are working through and allow yourself to let go. When moving into hip opening postures, be cautious and go slow. You may need time and a consistent practice of hip opening sequences to experience release. So, be patient and gentle with yourself. The surfaced emotion may feel like a weight has been lifted, and you may feel that sense of relief accompanied with saying “Ahhhh.” But don’t be surprised if the emotion is released through tears. Be present through the experience and trust that it is leading you to your highest potential and true self.
Practicing regular focused hip openers is a way to cleanse the body and welcome renewal into the cells of the body. Slowly, controlled and with kindness to yourself.