A few weeks ago during my Core Integration Immersion, my students did a partner exercise where they had to consciously release their hip flexors and inner thighs while a partner supported their legs. One woman, Anna (not her real name), was unable to “let go.” Her inner thighs grabbed each time they were supposed to release. She was quite confounded by the bizarre tension that seemed to have a mind of its own in her inner thighs and hips.
That afternoon in the shower, when the hot water hit her backside, she was struck by a memory of prolonged labor that was a nightmare for her and her doctors. She remembered suffering from back contractions for a full 18 hours, on her hands and knees for that time. Her memories came flooding through in tears and weeping, able to release the trauma that had been stored in her clamped hip flexors, inner thighs, memory and more.
The next day in class, her whole body had shifted, and she was able to let go in the exercise without the mental tension that had apparently been holding on since the time of her daughter’s birth five years ago, a physical release echoing an emotional release.
Tune into your body with yoga
Our bodies are a wealth of information, loaded with pleasure, pain and memories. Our minds sometimes stuff memories into our tissues that were painful or traumatic. A practice of yoga can come across those memories within the body’s tissues like trip wires that result in opening up the flood gates of unprocessed emotion. This is one of the benefits of conscious movement yoga. I invite you to welcome the stories you have stored and listen to how your body talks.
Bodies do not always communicate in simple language terms. Sometimes our bodies conjure concrete images. At other times, ghost-like apparitions pass in and out of our conscious mind. And still others are strong words that nearly punch you in the face.
Be patient and compassionate
The key with any of this mind-body communication is to stay present, be open to receiving the messages, but at the same time, EXPECT NOTHING. Your body will not speak if it is being watched like a hawk or forced to produce a result. Be patient, remain compassionate and seek support if necessary. You are worthy of being listened to at every level of your being.
I wish you all the best as you tune into the depths of yourself with yoga therapy! If you’re interested in learning more about therapeutic mobility techniques and holistic healing, check out my Roll Model Method® correspondence course.
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I couldn’t agree more with your words Jill. We all carry energy caused by events which create tension in our bodies. The key to unlocking this is to become aware of it and find release through sensitivity to all the sheaths of our subtle body. Focused Asana, pranayama and Yoga Nidra meditation can all participate to shift the energy block causing the tension.
Thank-you for this article Jill! The body’s ability to process and store it’s life experiences is truly amazing! When I first learnt of catharsis reactions the body can have from body work, I was puzzled, curious, sceptical and intrigued all at the same time. Being aware (or starting to consider) that not only do our postural habits affect our body’s tissue, so do our traumas, hurts and emotions. This opens a new mindset to our body tissues emotional intelligence & “whole body” connection. YTU and Roll Model Methods can facilitate healing of caged emotions in our bodies. This will be a great article to refer my clients to for their own contemplation. =:0)
I’ve just recently been reading about releasing the trauma held by our bodies and the exercises a person can engage in to gently release the trauma. As I explore this I feel that I am on the right path with YTU.
Thank you for this post. It is often said that we store our emotions in the hips — I suppose the iliopsoas has a lot to do with it, being the primary fight-or-flight muscle that helps us curl up into the “safe” fetal position in danger or distress. I have been working with a teen girl recently who really dislikes sitting cross-legged or any other poses in which the legs are apart and knees opening out — baddha konasana out of question! Even in savasana she internally rotates her knees as if to protect her groin area. She’s developing knock knees as a result — she always sits on the floor with her knees turned in, feet splayed out at the sides. Not pretty or healthy. I’ve spoken to her about it and how it would affect her long-term, and she has slowly begun to change her leg position and finds sitting cross-legged “less painful” (don’t really know if saying it was painful is just an excuse, though). We have a long way to go, though. This is not a one-to-one scenario but a class one so I cannot take her aside, but I would love to ask a few questions about what’s happened to her — her body language almost suggests it was a sort of abuse. I am hoping that yoga will work as therapy and eventually reach her head and heart, too.
I came to yoga as many people come to yoga, as a form of exercise, having really no idea about the mind-body connection and how it would come into play in my practice. I have fallen apart more times on my mat than anywhere else in the world, and have had similar experiences as you described with Anna, of not being sure why I felt a certain way in a pose until hours or days later when all the pieces come together with the flooding of a memory or realization that the pose brought me to a place that I could go physically, but maybe not emotionally just yet. It’s all learning, and healing, and learning, and healing, with compassion as you said.
Thank you for this beautiful post. I have heard from various teachers that our hips are a common area for storing trauma and pain. I love the phrase “unprocessed emotions” that you used in the post above and I am wondering how one can tap into that further. I know you said that we should “expect nothing” but I am hungry to move deeper in my practice and fear that some of the trauma that has built up in my body is impeding me from moving in this direction.
‘I wish you all the best as you tune into the depths of yourself!’ closing such a personal post with such a welcoming line that helps you feel supported. A gift in and of itself. Would love to attend one of Jill Millers classes one day!
“I wish you all the best as you tune into the depths of yourself!”
As I read these words, I felt this sense of acceptance invade me and resonate deeply. A reminder to approach our mind, body and soul layer by layer and finding the path to preventing more accumulation. Layer by layer, finding an expression of ourselves that is true, kind, happy and creative. Powerful words to share with my students as they explore their depths.
I keep a journal of great tidbits of wisdom I like to share with my participants and clients. This blog just got transcribed into that journal to be able to read it over and over again to be able to share with others. Thanks Jill
This entry makes such great points about the accumulation of stress, tension, emotion, and memory in the muscles, joints, and organs of our bodies. I think Jill’s point about having no expectations as we attempt to resolve these discomforts is critical. Imposing the expectation of “releasing” or “letting go” on the body is not going to work for every person; every individual experiences relief/release differently. For some, the process of simply identifying the tension and its source is sufficient to get the wheels in motion to allow their minds/spirits/bodies to begin to let go. Others may be able to “breathe into” the tension to release it. But others may just find that defaulting to or even slightly increasing the actions that cause discomfort, like gripping or restricting their joints, is just what’s needed to be able to eventually let go. For example, just as we may engage a series of muscles, i.e. flexing our feet/ankles, flexing our kneecaps, extending our arms and legs, etc. just before Savasana in order to experience a deep release during Savasana, some individuals may need to actually increase their discomfort in order to let it go. The practice of “swinging the pendulum”, i.e. experimenting with practicing along the spectrum, from being overly gentle/light or delicate in one’s practice, to being overly strong in one’s practice, may be one mechanism for finding the middle path that’s right for you.
I love this! Sometimes the release is not even conscious- as in remembering some event. Its amazing how the body can store and subsequently release trauma or emotions in the body. Janu sirsasana always leaves me feeling super peaceful – more so than any other pose in yoga. Obviously it must release some stored emotion for me.
It took me a long, long time to figure out what Jill says in one sentence – I am probably never going to have perfectly flat knees in Baddha Konasana or be able to bind shoulders, but I am a heck of a lot closer by just letting go and setting no expectations on a practice. And every now and then, a pose actually can feel completely effortless, which is an amazing thing.
I used to hate frog pose with a passion. My hip flexors were so tight that even 30 seconds of frog would send me into a fit of rage. Slowly as I continued stretching my hip flexors, I went from a wide range of emotions. One day I would experience frustration, the next sadness, the next laughter and eventually I would just cry. I didn’t realize how much I needed to let go of.
That’s why I love Yoga Tune up classes I feel in the practice a deep sense of awareness , where I am participating and observing at the same time and there is no separation and when that happens there is profound healing in all levels.
thank you Jill!
thanks jill. from my experience of working with you, i think incorporating a sankalpa, a deep intention, can be incredibly grounding as we delve into deeper and deeper dialogue with our bodies and tissues. so far during this training week, i have been able to notice a deep pattern of tension in my body that has come about bc of this deep protetctive reaction (as a result of multiple injuries and other issues), but my sankapla (i trust my body) has helped me to stay present as the tension arises and to breathe into it, to watch and allow its arising and passing. this has been huge. thank you!
Today while preparing and exploring twisted triangle I found myself wanting to throw my hand in the air and say ” I can’t do this because of my ……story! I’m scared and I don’t want to risk it” Then I remember the preparation I have just done, yeah I’m warmed up. Then I tell myself to stop making excuses and stop being afraid and guess what? I’m OK, I twist into my Twisted triangle and I breathe.
Yoga truly helps us to realized ourselves… inside and out. Amazing how we all experience emotion everyday of our lives. Some of those emotions we’d rather forget… at least I have a big bunch I’ve tried to forget. But through yoga practice i’m learning that our bodies don’t want us to forget… our bodies want us to heal… internal and external… subtle and gross. Not an easy process… but neither is Bird of Paradise… oh but when you finally get there… it’s beautiful and trully freeing! I used to be afraid of the process, but the more I practice the more i become a peaceful more smiley me! 🙂
I am a true believer of yoga. In another word, I believe yoga can really improve your health physically and emotionally. It did for me! It healed my back and depression. However, at the same token, I have heard stories of how people have hurt themselves from yoga either from my gym buddies or through words of mouth from other people. As a result, I am very attentive when I do yoga and will not push myself when it does not feel comfortable or have pain subsequently. Then, through an anatomy lecture, I learned that we all have different body so some of yoga poses are just not good for you. So, listen to your body when you do yoga!!!
I have experienced this release occasionally in a poses here and there. Recently however I left a class, that the majority of people LOVED and were so relaxed after. I however was extremely anxious, overwhelmed and just trying to keep it together. I went home had a good cry and the next morning I woke up feeling better than I had in weeks. It took me a bit but giving myself permission to both physically and emotionally let go was the best thing i could do when i was just try to keep it all together!
I agree that yoga brings out pent up emotions. I have experienced this multiple times while in savasana.
I will have to try this more.
It’s amazing to me how our bodies store things. Sometimes I’ll notice I’m more emotional after certain yoga classes and I’ll realize that we did more hip openers, shoulder openers, etc. than usual. It’s fun to try to figure myself out!
Thank you Jill. This is my favorite blog so far. I do believe the body is a store house of stories and every now and again a memory dashes in to remind us of some long-held emotion that has taken hold of a particular body part. I agree that patience and compassion are key to unraveling and remembering the stories. Thank you for this reminder.
Having just had a complete and total meltdown during an entire 2.5 hour class, and then off and on for the rest of the day, sometimes I wonder if the release is worth it. Isn’t it so much easier to tamp all that stuff down? And then something amazing happens, when least expected–like an uddiyana bandha that you’ve been struggling with just “happens” (and how!). So yes, its worth it. And it make you a better teacher.
This is so evident in working with students over the years. Sudden tears, laughter. This holding was brought to life for me with a simple body shake out exercise and my thighs were not shaking like the rest of my body, they seemed to grip harder the more I willed them to relax. I have not gotten to the bottom of this one yet, but the first step is awareness right!
Coming from a psychotherapy and social work background, I believe in the mind- body connection. We have samaskaras, (scars that reside in our cell and our tissues. ) The movements of the body help free up and release these emotional scars. Yoga Tune Up assists in this process.
I can’t seem to figure out why I get so frustrated and angry during hip releasing postures. After the fact I love how I feel but while doing them I am just plain pissed off 🙂 I am not usually controlling by nature, and my hips are my “tight” area, but what repressed emotion translates to hips being tight? Is my second chakra out of whack? Hmmmm…. look what wikipedia had to say “Swadhisthana is positioned at the tailbone, two finger-widths above Muladhara. It has six petals which match the vrittis of affection, pitilessness, feeling of all-destructiveness, delusion, disdain and suspicion. Its corresponding point in the front of the body (i.e. its kshetram) is at the pubic bone.” Interesting – or is Shakira wrong and my hips are just lying to me.
So interesting how our emotions tuck themselves into various places all over the body in an attempt to hibernate. I was truly surprised the first time I experienced some emotions creep up out of their hiding spot. I wasn’t even quite sure what it was. It was a feeling of relief as well as vulnerability, and somewhat awkward. Simply being open to allowing these things to come up is a big step, even if you can’t pinpoint the experience it originates from.
Amazing, though completely unsurprising. Years after a close family died, I took up yoga. One day, I was in savasana and the thought of her entered my mind and tears just started streaming down my face. I was quiet, though, so other people can enjoy their own savasana and whatever the practice may have unleashed for them.
This is one of the reasons I love yoga so much–it’s a full workout for mind, body, and soul. It’s taught me so much about who I am and ways I can be better. It’s just been amazing for me overall.
Great article! Yoga seems to bring the real emotions to the surface regardless of how I try to hide it throughout the day.
The release of emotion often happens without warning. I was in class chanting, “Isvara pranidhanad va” (freedom can be attained by offering your life force to your personal form of a higher power). The instructor was asking us to send out love to various people, people you love, friends, a person that may need help, someone you may not like. When out of no where a flood of emotion came up. it was awesome!
Yoga, more than any other physical practice, can evoke an emotional response because it focuses not just on the physical but on the mind as well. The asanas that bring your different body parts in flexion, extension, circumvention, and every other anatomical direction of movement are used to help quiet and still the mind not just to give you an amazing physique. It’s during those mind-quieting moments that the retention of emotions are most likely to spontaneously release.
This is great advice. I will never forget going to a yoga class immediately after receiving the news that one of my primary physicians was diagnosed with cancer. I was amazed at how little I could do during that yoga class. It was as though I had never done yoga prior to that class. I intentionally told myself to “let go” of my emotions for the next class the following day so I could focus on my physical and emotional being. It was incredible what a difference it made.
Interesting…I can let my hip flexors go, but when it comes to opening up my shoulders, that’s where I start to feel its hard to “let go”
Its so interesting that your physical body mirrors your spirit – we hear this all the time but sometimes its hard to comprehend this issue. This is a concrete example of how yoga can break down all the kinks in your body and cleanse your system – physically and spiritually.
This story apparently rings very true to me because I suffer from arthritis. My body does not respond well to chaterunga in my shoulders. I am so use to working around pain that I realized I was causing more pain to my body by doing the pose incorrectly. I was protracting my shoulders blades (scapulae) instead of keeping a slight retraction. Thx!! This article really helped
I can really relate to this, having experienced a similarly difficult labor and also having turned to yoga during pregnancy and postnatally and really growing into my practice. I’ve also experienced tears in a yoga class – it does bring out emotions for me too.
I love the mantra “Let go.” But it is definitely harder than it sounds. I have to consciously remind myself to let go, not only in yoga, but day to day and have already seen some change in the way I react and in my emotions.
be patient and compassionate. no finer words spoken.