In yoga, the hips are said to be the body’s storage space for negative emotions, physical trauma and stress. If you’ve ever done a hip-opening pose such as Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pigeon) or Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge) and found yourself going through strange emotions, you will have experienced this first-hand.
The science of it
Before you think we’re going full-blown-‘woo’, Dr Candace Pert, a renowned neuroscientist and pharmacologist, determined through her research that ‘a feeling sparked in our mind or body will translate as a peptide being released somewhere. [Organs, tissue, muscle and endocrine glands], they all have peptide receptors on them and can access and store emotional information’.
There has been research indicating the brain can store emotions and trauma, and potentially the heart muscle; there’s a lot that we still don’t understand about the body or that can’t be explained by Western medicine. Is it so far-fetched to believe the hips could do the same?
Where are we talking about?
Many people tend to think about the hips as the bones at the front of the pelvis. In yoga when we talk about the hips, it includes the sides and back of the hip area as well – the whole band around the pelvic girdle.
Physically, this is an important area to stretch as we get particularly tight in the hips when we spend a lot of time sitting down. This can go hand-in-hand with tightness or pain in the lower back, as well as the hamstrings/back of the legs.
What’s an emotional release?
If our muscles are tight in a specific area – such as the hips – performing poses or practices to release this tightness in theory helps to release these stored emotions. This may manifest in a surge of unexpected emotions and may even lead to tears, and is sometimes referred to as a ‘breakthrough’. You’re probably going, ‘now why would you ever want to do that?’
In a society where so many people constantly push their feelings down, put on a brave face, or just continue on with life because they are too busy to process emotions, we are experiencing an increase in mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The theory is that to be free of these undesired emotions, we need to ‘release’ them, observe and acknowledge their existence and origins without dwelling in them.
These may not necessarily be experiences from our adult life, but may be things we have experienced in childhood.
What should I do if I experience an emotional release?
For most individuals, you may link the feelings to specific thoughts or an event in your life. More often, there may not be any obvious link; and there doesn’t necessarily need to be.
Grace, Grit & Gratitude founder Ange Noy, has experienced first-hand an emotional release on several occasions. ‘Once early on in my teachers’ training, I was in a Yin class holding a hip-opening pose for a sustained period of time – maybe around five to ten minutes. As I had tight hips, it was borderline very uncomfortable, but I tried to relax and soften into the pose. After a while I began to feel odd, then upset, then the tears began to flow and I couldn’t stop. It didn’t feel great, but it didn’t feel terrible, and I couldn’t tell you why it was happening but all I could think about was my Grandma who had passed many years ago.’
Ange says, ‘This stopped once we came out of the pose. By the end of the class I felt absolutely exhausted even though it was a slow-paced practice. I still don’t know exactly what caused it, but what I do know is that I felt like a weight had been lifted off my chest. It wasn’t until months later that I realised my crippling fear of death – which would often cause me to have panic attacks – was gone. Of course this may be linked or it may not, but what I do know is that I had held onto that fear from my childhood right through to my mid-30’s and all of a sudden it was gone’.
For those who have experienced severe trauma in the past, an emotional release may trigger highly unwanted feelings or memories to return. This can come up in meditation as well. It’s important that in these cases, practices such as hip-opening yoga classes or full Yoga Nidra meditation should be pursued with caution and under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher.
It’s important to understand that the release itself is just the beginning, we then need to process the thoughts that have come to the surface. If someone is unable to do that on their own because they are unable to or because the experience was highly traumatic, they should seek support and assistance from a professional psychotherapist.
- Wei, M. (2015). 5 Ways Stress Hurts Your Body and What To Do About It. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/urban-survival/201505/5-ways-stress-hurts-your-body-and-what-do-about-it.
- Pert, C. (1999). Molecules of Emotion – The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine.