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Musings from the Mat: Your History is in your Hips

August 2, 2017

When we think of physical activity bringing someone to tears, it's usually in connection with a torn harmstring, thrown back, sore shoulders, of the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.

In the field of  body psychotherapy, the body holds onto feelings even if it seems the mind has dealt with them.  During yoga movement, you have the opportunity to relax and release whatever has been held in the body to come to the surface.  The body wants to complete the emotional experience.

The body is the diary of our lives and we write everything to it. The pelvis girdle is especially interesting as the muscles deep in the abdominal cavity (psoas and illiacus) are incredibly deep and powerful. Opening the pelvis can be very emotional so try not to judge the event but observe it with the wisdom and use it for self-study. Let the emotion be without giving it a label as negative or positive. Without trying to attach thought processes to it, it can be a liberating release.

The hips are the human body's inner center of gravity. According to Japanese belief, it is here that profound vital forces reside, which they call Hara. In yoga we work with many of these forces when we do certain asanas involving the hips and balancing. Anytime you work with the body, you are also working with the mind and the energy system—which is the bridge between body and mind. And since that means working with emotions, emotional breakthroughs can be seen as markers of progress on the road to personal and spiritual growth. The holistic system of yoga was designed so that these emotional breakthroughs can occur safely.

There are indicators that tight hips are closely associated with the fear of making decisions and moving forward in life. These fears may be so deeply seated that it might take a lot of emotional work to release it, but once released the hips start to open and less pain is experienced. Difficult and stressful breakthroughs occur most often when the release involves long-held feelings of sadness, grief, confusion, or another strong emotion that a person has carried unconsciously throughout his/her life. If the underlying emotional and karmic issues contained in the hips are ignored and are thought of as only a physical issue, pain will be experienced during asanas. When emotional feelings emerge from the physical sensations, keep your focus on them to encourage these feelings to be drawn out and released.

The hips, shoulders, chest, and throat are the primary places where emotional tension resides in our bodies. Make note of these places during yoga practice, looking for tension or tightness in these areas. Once you are aware of where emotional tension is held in your body you can focus on postures that target that area such as Camel (ustrasana), hip openers, and lunges.  

Camel pose exposes the heart.  Hip openers tap into the vital feelings stored in that area.  Lunges because there's a lot of unchanneled potential and power in the thighs.  Twists and Backbends can also trigger an emotional release. 

However, you cannot demand release and expect a response.  Listen to your body and discover where it needs to untie an emotional knot. If your heart feels heavy, if your stomach is constantly in turmoil, if your inner child needs comforting, you can create yoga practice of asana and pranayama specifically for your condition, the same way you might practice inversions or balancing poses if you want to challenge yourself physically.

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