Why your hips are keeping you sad (and what to do about it)
Hips don't lie — they bury.
One of my favorite aspects of yoga is the connection between the physical self and the mental and spiritual self. It's amazing to explore how our inner and outer experiences affect our physical body in the form of tension (or flexibility) and imbalance.
In my yoga classes, I see a hip trend. I mean, really, I'm talking about your hips. (See what I did there?) When I lead the class through a hip-opening sequence or pose there's often a hum of audible "ahhhhh" as students release that built-up tension.
Hip-opening poses are a favorite of many students, and for good reason. Most of us have tight hips and it feels wonderful to release that tension.
Why are our hips so tight?
There are a few reasons.
1. Hips store trauma.
Any time you experience a traumatic event, your hips cling onto it and store it for hours, days or often times, years. How? When you're stressed out, your body responds by tightening/clenching. This is most visible in tight, hunched-over shoulders or clenched fists. What isn't visible is the tightening of your hips, but it's happening. And trauma causes a huge compression or tightening in the hips. Just like people who are stressed a lot have extremely tight shoulders/neck, someone who has experienced trauma has extremely tight hips. (This is especially true of sexual trauma because of the proximity to your reproductive system.)
2. Hips store stress.
The tightening of your hips is more severe in a traumatic event than an everyday stress. But stress builds up over time, and can really take a toll on your hips if you don't work it out. This is very obvious if you take a yoga class that focuses on hips, because students often say they feel so much less stressed when they leave; it's because they were able to relieve stress that was stored as tension in the hips.
3. Hips store anxiety.
One reason you might have a lot of tension in your hips is that you suffer from anxiety. Repetitive stress will quickly accumulate in this instance.
It makes sense that all these feelings would be stored in our hips. Our hips are located in a central place in the body, and are a woman's center of gravity. All those feelers are being suppressed in the nucleus of our body.
Releasing this tension is wonderful, but know that it can also stir up emotions (which is kinda why it's wonderful).
Releasing that tension can open up unhealed wounds.
When I was in treatment for my eating disorder, I did EMDR — Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing — a treatment for PTSD. In this treatment, I had to re-experience my trauma. It was as if I was going through it again, but from a bird's eye view. Through this treatment I was able to process the trauma fully so that I could begin the healing process and recover. Unhealed wounds were hidden under a bandage and EMDR ripped it off and opened the wounds. It was extremely emotional, but necessary. I had to open those wounds before they could heal.
This same principle applies to yoga. When you begin to release stored tension, you can open up wounds — the wounds from the trauma or stress that is being stored in your hips and caused the tension. It's not uncommon to feel a rush of emotions in hip-opening poses. It's a good thing.
Emotions are healthy. Because we are taught to remain poised and collected (read: don't throw a temper tantrum in the grocery store), it's easy to suffocate those emotions so they don't come out.
I'm giving you permission to let them out on your mat. Have the temper tantrum you couldn't have in aisle five.
It can be hard. It can make you cry. But it allows you to work through the emotions and move forward. It allows you to open up space for love, compassion and positive things in your life. It can help you work through the root causes of issues you might be facing with addiction, food or an eating disorder. It helps give you freedom to just be ... happy.
Let's open those hips up, shall we?
Below are some of my favorite hip-opening postures. I've also linked to them on yogajournal.com, where you can read about proper alignment, benefits and contraindications.
Want to practice with me? Subscribe to my YouTube channel and do this 12-minute restorative hip-opening sequence on YouTube.
Cow face pose (Gomukhasana, shown here with eagle arms)
Deep low lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Bound angle (Baddha konasana - shown in restorative variation with bolster and blankets)