But while I know trauma can be held in the body, surely getting over something deep requires more than a little…dancing?
Turns out, this is actually a thing. As you may know, our mental health and physical health are closely connected. While we see this in many parts of the body—stomach cramps and sweaty palms when you’re anxious, for example—our hips bear the brunt.
According to Elana Clark-Faler, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in trauma and is trained in Somatic Experiencing, we see this most with women. “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 healing qualities that women bring to their families—this nurturing quality that we have,” she previously told Well+Good.
“Even small stressors that are never released become trapped for years,” adds Leslie Gonzalez, a licensed professional counselor with Thriveworks in Bastrop, Texas, who specializes in trauma, depression, anxiety, and life transitions. “This, in turn, makes us hold most of the tension primarily in the center of our body, which is our hip region.”
Gonzalez says that just as we can release stress through talking, we can release it by moving our bodies, too. “Think of how you feel after venting with your best friend or therapist. Feels like you can breathe again, right?” she says. “Well, the same thing occurs when we release the tightness in our hips: We unpack our accumulated trauma.” (If you’ve ever cried in yoga class, this could partially be why.)
We can release our hips in a variety of ways, and yes, that includes twerking! But Gonzalez likes using yoga in particular to release trauma because it's not just about the movement—as a spiritual practice, it also incorporates mindfulness.
Five yoga poses for healing from trauma
When you’re practicing hip-stretching poses, remember to breathe deeply. And only go into your comfort level, without judgment. Self-compassion is key!
1. Bound angle pose
According to Robyn Gaillard, a yoga teacher and founder of My Way Om, this posture prepares the hips for sitting in meditation. It also opens the hip joints, and counteracts long hours of sitting. “Practicing bound angle pose opens the energy channels along the spine,” Gaillard explains. This directs energy upward and leads to an emotional release.
- While seated, bring the soles of your feet together in a “butterfly” shape and hold your ankles.
- If you’d like to deepen the stretch, you can press your elbows into your thighs.
- Lengthen your spine while you hinge forward from your hips. Keep your back flat.
- Once you feel the posture deeply and can stay there, round your head, neck, and shoulders.
- Breathe deeply for 10 breaths or longer.
2. Pigeon pose
“As someone who has ridden some very emotional waves in pigeon, I think [the emotional release] stems from the blend of intense sensation and relief (often bordering on the edge of comfort), coupled with the safety of a low-to-the-ground, prone position,” says Kelly Clifton Turner, yoga instructor and director of education for YogaSix. “It feels somehow safer to let go without feeling ‘exposed’ to others around me.”
- Starting in downward dog (where your hands and feet are pressed on the floor and your body is in an upside-down “V” shape), swing your right foot back into the air, then bring it forward toward your chest and lay it down on the floor by your left wrist.
- Slide your left leg back behind you and let it rest, then relax your upper body down toward your right shin.
- Keep your hips level, and breathe for several counts.
- Repeat on the other side.
3. Seated twist
Targeting the back muscles, outer hips, abdominal muscles, rib cage, glutes, and shoulders, this position strengthens your muscles and tissues around the spine. It also twists massive digestive organs and stimulates lymph flow. “The emotions and energy dislodge, flow out through proper waste channels, and clear from the body,” Gaillard says.
- From a seated position, bend your right knee over your left leg.
- Then, place your right arm behind you to help you stay stable and lengthen your spine. Tent your fingers.
- Reach your left arm up and cross your left elbow to the outside of the bent, right knee.
- With your palm open, look over your right shoulder and spin your heart to the right.
- Breathe here for about 10 breaths, while flexing the foot of the extended leg, pressing your head towards the ceiling, and softening your shoulders.
- Repeat these steps on the other side.
4. Camel pose
According to Turner, this pose, which opens up your hip flexors, can bring people to tears. “I think it draws from the deep vulnerability and bravery asked of bearing your heart and throat, and not knowing what’s behind you,” she explains.
- Kneel on your shins.
- Arch your back backwards and hold on to your ankles (if you can reach that far—if not, it’s okay!).
5. Lizard pose
Gaillard says to try this posture to stretch your hamstrings, hip flexors, and quadriceps. “When the hip flexors open, tight hips and back muscles (as well as unconscious traumas) release,” she explains. “With dedication and repetition, the breath activates the shifting of emotions.”
- Get into a tabletop position (AKA “all-fours”), then sweep your right foot forward and place it just outside of your right hand. Stack your knee above your ankle to make a 90-degree angle. You can prop your hands on yoga blocks if you’d like more space.
- Stay there, or heel-toe your right foot out to the right to widen the stance, turning to your toes slightly to the right.
- You can then rest on your forearms and/or tuck your back toes and press into a lunge to deepen, if you want.
- Hold for many deep breaths.
- Repeat on the other side.
Don’t rely on yoga alone
While yoga can be helpful to heal from trauma, it’s only one strategy. You’ll likely want more options in your toolbox. Gonzalez says talk therapy, checking in with your primary care physician, trying things like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and aerobic exercise can help.
Ultimately, Gonzalez suggests, give yourself some love. “It is crucial that we listen to the needs of our mind and body in the healing process, be patient, and take gentle care of ourselves.”
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