The body has an ability to hold emotional tension in various areas, however the hips receive special attention as an area associated with emotional burden. Often referred to as the ‘junk drawer’ or ‘attic’ of the body, our hips are considered a site of storage for emotions which we do not wish to confront and so tuck away into the deepest confines of our being. Physiologically, how can emotional burden be stored in the hips?
On a symbolic and physical level, we can consider how central the space of our hips is to the form of the body. Most often a place for a woman’s centre of gravity, this can infer a deeper connection to this area and the emotions it can hold, but for men also the pelvis is the seat of directive movement in the human body, imperative to proper alignment, balance and posture. Our peripheral nervous system, involved in the stimulation of emotional response in addition to other functions, establishes connections in the hip area to promote survival in times of emotional stress. From birth, the sympathetic nervous system response can stimulate a strong contraction of the flexors of the body, drawing ribs around the visceral organs and the knees up to the torso to offer protection should the infant suffer a fall. In this the hip muscles, particularly those of the iliopsoas complex, are activated which will later be used to run, kick or stand ground as the body grows more sophisticated in its ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. The psoas major is unique in that it is the only muscle which connects the spine and leg bones and, hinging on the central nervous system that attaches through the spine into the brain, can be regarded as an extension of the survival-focused reptilian brain in classic brain theory. Fascia (fibrous tissue) also connect the psoas to the diaphragm, causing an interdependency of breath with the tightness and movement of this muscle.
The link between the hips and instinctual reflexes associated with fear and stress looks to offer an explanation for the storage of suppressed emotion in this area. Whether to dodge or flee an attack, much rests on the hip muscles being able to perform their function with power and speed. The site of some of the strongest muscles in the body, in an instant the hips are charged up with excess energy to maximise the body’s kinetic potential. However, it is rarely the case when subject to the mundane stresses of work and domestic life that we use this energy as nature intended. In turn, the calming influence of the parasympathetic nervous system works to neutralise and suppress the effect of the sympathetic contraction response, governing the ‘rest and digest, feed and breed’ gland and organ functions of the body to create the state of balance necessary for optimal health and function. Prolonged periods of stress or trauma can inhibit the ability of autonomic nervous system to maintain harmony when overstimulation becomes the benchmark for homeostasis, resulting in adaptation that resets the standard for normal. Under these conditions, constant stress can seem a fact of life or in more acute cases, dysfunction can manifest as a prevalent sense of anxiety or fear, heart palpitations, insomnia or adrenal fatigue. Tightness in the hips and other muscles of the body often feature due to insufficient relaxation of the muscles subject to the contraction of repetitive mechanical or psychological stress. The tightness itself further inhibits relaxation for when the psoas is tight, deep abdominal breathing is constricted. Guru T. K. V. Desikachar states, ‘The quality of our breath expresses our inner feelings.’ A tight psoas interferes with the movement of the diaphragm which in turn affects the ability to activate the parasympathetic response. This is achieved via signals from neuro-receptors on the wall of the main abdominal artery when, in deep inhalation, abdominal pressure is high.
How Can Sports and Remedial Massage Therapy Help?
A skilled Sports and Remedial Massage Therapist will be able to assess the hip joints for tightness as well as assessing the pelvis for psoas (hip flexor) tightness. Methods such as psoas release and MET (Muscle Energy Techniques) stretching can aid in releasing of psoas tightness which in turn can also aid with positive postural changes. A good therapist will also know how to treat the hip joint to make it more mobile through hip mobilisation techniques which you will instantly feel when walking away after your session leaving you feeling looser, more mobile and more upright with your posture.