One scorching hot day in a yoga shala in India, our yoga teacher-training master gave us an ominous and somewhat sadistic warning. It went something like this: “I know you’re exhausted, and I know most of you are going though a lot of inner turmoil. I know you’re angry, I can see it on your faces. And I just wanted to let you know it’s about to get worse”.
His smile was met by 33 silent, tired, pissed off glares. Since we weren’t allowed to talk for hours on end each day, the only ways in which we could deal with what we were going through were journal writing, self reflection, silent tears, and facial expressions.
We were so physically depleted we could barely brush our own teeth, let alone even hold a butter knife. We’d been surviving on bananas, decaffeinated tea and pineapples for much longer than any government-sponsored food guide (on any continent) would deem appropriate.
One didn’t need 20/20 vision to see the unspoken question on the tired faces looking back at him: HOW could it possibly get WORSE? We were hot, exhausted, and weren’t even allowed to slouch for 13 hours a day. Weren’t we already suffering enough? (If you want to read more about yoga jail and get a better idea of the context in which this was all happening, click here: http://yogabender.ca/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-yoga-inmate/).
How could it possibly get worse? The short answer??? Hip openers.
He warned us that we were about to start a two-hour hip opening class, and that we were going to “feel things” afterwards. He told us that strange, intense emotions would creep up a few hours after the class, and could last up to a few days. He also advised us to leave each other alone, for our own protection.
I thought he was full of shit, and just trying to scare us. Again.
Oh, how wrong I was… I began figuring this three hours later, while I was sitting in a philosophy lecture (the topic was DEATH), the general mood was (obviously) sombre, and I burst out laughing. Repeatedly. At extremely inopportune moments. For no good reason. And I could NOT stop. Highly inappropriate. Bad yogi.
And for the next few days, I oscillated between crying at random things such as the sound of OMMM, and laughing like an idiot in front of the whole class during a memorable chanting incident. (You can read about it here: http://yogabender.ca/bindi-bandha-bad-student/).
My classmates also started turning loony-tunes during the next 48 hours. Oscillating between laughter, sadness and irritability, we were (from an outsider’s point of view), ripe for the padded white room.
One woman in the course later told me that following the “HIP INCIDENT”, she was finally able to let go and cried for two days straight. After having suffered a serious life trauma, she had been unable to “feel” anything for over four years, and her emotional blockages had affected her on such a deep physical level, they had started to cause her serious health problems.
For her, the fact that she was even able to shed tears was a monumental turning point, and the first steps to her emotional healing.
In her particular case, the hip openers did more good than any shrink had been able to over the previous four years, free of charge.
For me, once my own tornado of emotions and inappropriate laughter fits subsided, I felt an intense emotional lightness, a new spring in my step, and a magnificent sense of “relief”, as if I’d just unloaded a ton of bricks I didn’t even realize I’d been carrying.
Remember how you felt when you were a kid after having a good tantrum? How when it was all over you felt immensely better and whatever had made you reach that state simply wasn’t there anymore? Ya, well. Multiply that by 5000, and that’s what overdosing on hip openers was like.
But WHY is that? Why does opening our hips also bust open our emotional floodgates?
I’ll tell you. Hip opening asanas (once held for a relatively long time, like the duration of at least 15-20 breaths, during which we engage our deep tissues beyond the muscles) can release stored up emotions that we unconsciously hide, bury, or hold onto for years (or even decades), without realizing it. Our hips are one of our emotional “hotspots”, where both physical and emotional tension accumulates and festers over time.
We’re not even aware of this stored-up emotional powerhouse of vulnerability, hurt, trauma or whatever else there is in our hips… UNTIL we feel it coming out. Hip openers did that for me, despite my skeptical disposition.
Imagine popping a huge emotional zit… Just replace tweezers with hip opening exercises, and voilà!
Physically speaking, our hip muscles have a connection with our “fight or flight” response. When we feel we’re threatened or experience a sudden emotional shock, we instinctually close our hips and posture ourselves into a fetal position. We curl inwards, without thinking about it. It just happens.
If you’ve ever woken up from a bad dream, had your heart broken, or gone through a traumatic life event, your first instinct was probably to sit, crouch, lie down, or curl up. All of these reactions involve a “closing” action where curling inwards seems to be the first instinctual physical response, regardless of race, socio-economic background, or age. You CLOSE your hips in self-protection.
Think about it: we spend the dawnings of our lives curled up inside the womb; our physiology gets trained (before our brains even start developing) to equate “safety” with closed physical postures. And then, as we grow older, we subsequently spend the majority of our existence sitting down, closing in, curling up, hunched over our computers, etc…
We live our lives with our hips closed, without even realizing we’re doing it.
Ask most seasoned yoga practitioners about hip openers, and most of them will have their share of stories involving sudden tears, anger outbursts or unexpected emotional reactions to share. This is a good thing.
Most people in the West start practicing yoga for its physical benefits, and find that along the way, they begin to develop their inner strength, emotional well-being, and a sense of connection with themselves and the world around them. Yoga is an ancient practice which is designed to develop both mind and body, while helping us break through inner energy and emotional blockages we may not even know we have.
Growth happens when we work through these blockages, and hip openers play a huge role in this process.
So, if you want to let go of some stored up emotional baggage and are willing to work through some uncomfortable moments, try doing an hour of hip openers and see what happens.
Here are a few hip opening exercises of different intensity levels to help you unblock and let go of stored-up emotions.
Try to hold each pose for a minimum of 15 long breaths. Go through the process with an open mind, and be aware of the emotions or reactions that arise as you work through the various hip openers. You might feel irritated, or determined, or maybe nothing at all. Just notice what arises, and know it’s normal.
Everyone is different; we all have different pasts, bodies, experiences and emotional histories. You might feel strong emotional reactions, or mild ones, starting anywhere from a few hours to a day later. Whatever you DO feel is okay, and will ultimately help you let go of things you’ve been holding in. If you DO try this, I’d love to hear from you how this affected you, so please drop me a line or private message. Good luck!