It’s all in the hips. The more we learn about the hips, the truer this old adage becomes. The hips play far too major a part not only in the physical body, but the emotional as well, to be ignored.
If you experience lower back pain, have trouble kicking, jumping, or sprinting, experience pain or muscle spasms in the legs or groin area, or have hunched shoulders and otherwise poor posture, it’s likely tight hips are to blame. And tight hips can cause a whole host of problems that only get worse if left untreated.
What’s In The Hips?
Let’s start with the basics and look at the muscles and bones that make up the hips. There are more than 20 muscles that cross the hip. These include inner thigh muscles called adductors, outer thigh muscles called abductors, hip flexors (of which the psoas major is the biggest and strongest player), deep lateral rotators, and more. There are between 17 and 25 muscles in the hips, depending on how they’re classified.
Beneath these muscles, there is the largest ball and socket joint of the body, which is a major weight-bearing joint. The joint is formed where the thigh bone meets the pelvis with a ball-shaped knob that fits into the socket formed in the hipbone. Smooth, slippery cartilage allows the bones to move against one another easily, without pain.
About The Psoas Muscles
The psoas muscles are the primary connectors between your torso and legs. They are also the deepest muscles in the body’s core, attaching from the vertebrae, through the pelvis crossing over–without attaching to–the ball and socket hip joint, and then wrapping around the body to the front and attaching at the femurs. They’re the only muscles that connect the upper body to the lower body. They sit behind the large abdominal muscles, digestive, and reproductive organs, as well as arteries and veins at the skeletal core, and provide a muscular shelf upon which the kidneys and adrenals sit. In short, they’re kind of a big deal.
Your psoas muscles work like hydraulic pumps, moving blood and lymph throughout the cells of the body. They’re also closely connected to the breath: key ligaments connect the diaphragm to the psoas. The two muscles are also connected by fascia that attaches to other hip muscles. As you probably well know, the diaphragm is the major muscle that controls your breathing.
The psoas muscle is also key in determining good or bad posture, and spinal stability. Its length determines whether or not the pelvis is free to move. As such, this muscle plays an important role in each and every yoga asana (not just “hip opening” ones). In backbends, it helps the front thighs lengthen and the leg to move independently of the pelvis. In standing and forward bends, a flexible psoas allows the thighs to rotate outwards. Basically, a released psoas will help you ease into any yoga pose.
Fight or Flight
Many people don’t realise how closely the psoas muscle is connected to our fight or flight response. It was the psoas that propelled our ancestors into a full-on run, or helped them curl into a little ball, when they were being chased by tigers. Though we don’t really need to run from tigers anymore, that evolutionary trait has been passed down to us today. As such, when we are startled or stressed, the psoas contracts.
The problem with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles is that our psoas muscles are constantly contracted. We eat meals in a seated position, most of us work in a seated position, we drive in a seated position, we watch TV in a seated position, and many of us sleep in the fetal position. A chronically tightened psoas signals to the body and mind that you’re in danger, and exhausts the adrenal glands and depletes the immune system.
Think of how the psoas muscles connect to the legs. Because they connect the spine in the back of the body to the legs at the front of the body, if they are tight, it only makes sense that the lower back would be pulled forward, and out of alignment. This is why tight hips increase the load on the spine and crank it into overdrive. When the hips are open, with more range of motion, this allows for better circulation and more support for the muscles of the back and the spine. In other words, lengthen the psoas muscles to help alleviate back pain.
It is the hips that give you your physical power in most movements. Think of just about any sports movement–from swinging a golf club to a tennis racket to running, to swimming, to jumping. As we said at the start of the article, and as any sports coach will tell you, it’s all in the hips. However, what many athletes forget is that it’s not just the strength of the hip muscles that are key, but also their flexibility. Spend equal amounts of time strengthening the hips as you do lengthening them.
Stuck Emotions and Creativity
The hips are a storage shed for negative feelings and pent-up emotions–particularly those related to control. Energetically, the hip area is associated with the sacral chakra, which is the body’s creative center. This makes sense: the hips hold and support the reproductive organs, which are the organs of creation. As such, opening up this part of the body helps not only release control, negative feelings, and pent-up emotions but also helps unlock and support our creative centers. This is why hip openers are known to create energetic shifts and releases within the body, and to help free the mind.
Hip Opening at Orion
While all yoga classes are excellent for hip opening, we are happy to offer a special Alignment/Hip Opening classes at Orion, which we invite you to try and experience the benefits! Check out our weekly schedule here for time and location.