“When you are tense, your shoulders are tense. Your heart rate increases. You hold your breath for a while or your breathing becomes shallow. You may be clenching your hands,” says Yukari Makino, PhD, SEP, a practitioner of Somatic Experiencing (a body-oriented model of therapy that focuses on calming the nervous system). “While actually experiencing the mind-body experience, many people are conscious of the stress of the mind and not of the body.”
Going even deeper, specific parts of our bodies are often associated with specific traumas. For women in particular, trauma frequently sticks in the hips. “A lot of women hold energy in the hips, and a lot of it has to do with being of service and the kind of the healing qualities that women bring to their families—this nurturing quality that we have,” says Elana Clark-Faler, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in trauma and is trained in Somatic Experiencing. “Also, when you’re not moving forward in your life—when you’re really struggling with moving forward—there can be problems within the hips.”
Trauma held in the hips can feel like soreness, tightness, tenderness, or pulling. Everybody’s traumas and experiences are unique, so seeking the guidance of a trauma therapist who can customize your treatment is a good idea. If therapy is not available to you, though, there are other options.
Here are 4 simple ways to help you release trauma held in your hips
1. Bring awareness to another area of your body
“If my client is starting to feel a lot of tension in their hips while I’m doing work with them, then I may ask them to bring attention to a non-activated part in their body—and that can begin to loosen the hips,” says Clark-Faler. “It might be having them stand and do types of different pelvic movements. It might actually be having them press energy into the wall. It might be wringing a towel: three times one way, three times the other way.”
2. Swing your hands
Particularly if you’re having a hard time setting boundaries (perhaps in the form of taking on too much or caring for others before yourself), Clark-Faler suggests naturally swinging your hands north and south, and then doing the same thing east and west. “Then I say, ‘Okay, you feel that swing, just that natural swing back and forth with your hands? That right there is a boundary.’ So it’s just helping them become more conscious of this energetic boundary around their body.”
“What’s preventing you from being active—from expressing yourself in the way that your body wants to express?” asks Clark-Faler. One way to figure this out is to engage in simple dance movements. Close the blinds (or not) in your living room, put on a feel-good song, and let your body move softly and freely, without audience or judgment.
4. Ask questions
At the core of Clark-Faler’s practice is a curiosity that leads to introspection. Try asking yourself these questions and see if that alone can cause a tension release: What are you holding too much of? What do you need to let go? What’s taking up too much space? Be honest with yourself, but also be forgiving.
“Tension wants to discharge,” says Clark-Faler. “It wants to leave the body.” Sometimes we just need to help it along.
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