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5 Somatic Exercises For Hips – Do They Actually Work?

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t think too much about your hips (unless they’re in pain). Many of us are so busy rushing through our days that we rarely take time out to feel our bodies.

And that’s probably a mistake on our part, because our bodies have a lot to tell us.

That is especially true of our hips. Not only are the hips the core of the body, giving us flexibility and a wide range of motion, but they’re also storage centers for trauma. 

Hip pain and tightness can be caused by multiple factors (including a sedentary lifestyle), but one potential cause could be trauma.

Fortunately, if your hips are hurting regularly, you can take action to make them feel better. Somatic exercises for hips can help release tension and stored trauma, helping you feel your best all day long. 

Do Our Hips Store Trauma?

The short answer is yes; our hips store trauma. At first, this may seem counterintuitive, but when you look at both the biology and neuroscience behind it, it makes a lot of sense. There’s even a book called The Body Keeps the Score, which looks at the connection between the mind and body and how they’re interconnected. 

First, let’s break down the biology of stored trauma. The pelvis contains the psoas muscle, which connects the upper and lower body. This muscle also helps stabilize your spine and posture, so it’s pretty important. Next to this muscle are the kidneys, which contain the adrenal glands. Adrenal glands are what trigger your body’s fight or flight response, which often results in a tightening of the psoas muscle. 

Typically, adrenal responses are temporary and don’t lead to lasting pain, discomfort, or tightening. However, if the trigger is strong enough (i.e., intense trauma), the effects may linger long after the incident. Some examples of traumatic events can include assault, abuse, or a life-threatening situation (i.e., a car accident or natural disaster). 

So, going purely off the biology of trauma and tension, it makes sense for the hips to be the main storage center. They’re the closest option, and they work with one of the body’s most crucial muscles.

But there’s also some neuroscience to help explain this phenomenon.

First, the amygdala in the brain is responsible for storing memories and emotional triggers. So, if something triggers a traumatic memory, the amygdala may send a fight or flight notification to the kidneys, causing the psoas muscle to tighten. In this case, the trauma itself is not stored in the hips, but an emotional trigger may affect the hips and pelvis since they’re next to the kidneys. 

Another element of neuroscience that backs up the idea of stored trauma is research from 1985. A neuroscientist named Candace Pert discovered neuropeptides, protein structures that activate electrical responses that trigger emotions. These proteins can wind up getting distributed throughout the body and wind up in areas like the hips, stomach, or other body parts. 

In this case, stored trauma is both physical and psychological. Theoretically, if there are enough neuropeptides in the hips or psoas muscle, they can cause discomfort when triggered by an emotional response. 

If you’re really interested in this topic, here’s a video from a podcast that dives deep into the subject matter, which includes scrutinizing the claims and doing a deep dive on what we do and do not know:

Somatic Therapy and Trauma

Somatic therapy is a relatively new practice that focuses on a combination of mind and body techniques to help release trauma stored within the body. This therapy is similar to other practices, such as mindfulness meditation or mindfulness and self-compassion. 

That said, because this field is still new, there aren’t many standards for how practitioners can help find and release trauma that’s “trapped” inside the body.

Typically, sessions involve a combination of psychoanalysis (stimulating the mind) with physical therapy (stimulating the body). The goal is to identify emotional triggers and see how they affect the body. From there, practitioners can utilize treatments that address both emotional and physical pain and discomfort.  

Some of the core practices of somatic therapy include: 

  • Bodily Awareness – Patients learn to recognize and identify spots within their body that are holding pain or tension. 
  • Pendulation – The practice of going from a relaxed state to triggering an emotional response to going back to a relaxed state. 
  • Titration – Guiding the patient through a traumatic memory and identifying any physical pain associated with their emotions. 
  • Resourcing – Helping patients find serenity and peace by identifying calm and peaceful places or people in their lives. 
A woman in a black leotard lays on a mat doing a somatic exercise for hips with arms back stretching away from the body
somatic exercises for hips

Can Stretching Truly Release Trauma?

Does stretching and somatic therapy help release pent-up trauma and allow patients to heal? So far, there aren’t any broad studies confirming whether this is the case.

However, anecdotal evidence suggests that it is possible. That said, it’s imperative to understand what is and isn’t possible with somatic stretching and exercises. 

Firstly, trauma isn’t something that can just be “fixed.”

It’s not like you can flip a switch and not be traumatized by a past event. Instead, the goal is to learn how to manage the emotional and physical pain that stems from trauma. In that regard, stretching and exercising pain points like the hips can provide short and long-term relief. 

For example, if you feel pain or tightness in the hips when thinking about a traumatic event, performing stretches can help alleviate that discomfort almost immediately. Better yet, because you feel better physically, you may start to feel better emotionally. By taking control of the pain, you’re also taking control of the emotional response. 

Another benefit of somatic exercises is that they can help relieve tension and provide better flexibility and strength to the hip region. Over time, as your psoas muscle (among others) gets stronger and more pliable, emotional triggers may not have as much of an impact.

According to Ashera DeRosa, a licensed family and marriage therapist who specializes in Trauma Release Exercises, “[the exercises] can be useful at all ages, from children navigating their parent’s divorce to adults who have experienced war, car crashes, or natural disasters.

5 Somatic Exercises for Hips

Knowing the science behind somatic therapy is one thing, but now let’s put the theories to practice. Here are five somatic exercises for hips that are great for beginners to start identifying and relieving stored trauma. 

1. Side Bend

How to Do It

With this exercise, you’ll lay on one side, with your knees straight out and your head resting on your arm. The primary movement is lifting your head up along with the foot on the same side. You must keep your knees together as you lift the foot for the exercise to work. You must also inhale as you lift up and exhale as you do the stretch. 

Repeat the movement four times on each side to help relieve hip tension and stretch the muscles around your hips. This exercise is designed to aid with chronic hip pain

Why It Works

This exercise really helps stretch the muscles around your hips, loosening them and allowing them to be more flexible. At first, you may not be able to stretch very far, but over time, you can relieve tension and mitigate chronic pain. 

2. Somatic Hip Opener

How to Do It

If you’re already a fan of yoga, you can try this somewhat advanced technique. It involves sitting and positioning your legs so your right foot is touching your left knee while your left foot is behind you. During the exercise, you’ll lift both knees while applying slight pressure with your hands. If you’re new to somatic exercises, you may want to wait on this one until you’re more comfortable with hip stretches. 

Why It Works

This range of movement really opens the hips and stretches the surrounding muscles. Applying slight pressure helps stimulate the muscle, so it gets more flexible over time. Again, you may not be able to move much at first, but your range of motion will only improve as you practice this exercise. 

3. Gentle Hip Opener

How to Do It

This exercise is much more beginner-friendly, particularly because it involves lying on your back. The main movement is to sway your hips from side to side, trying to touch your knees to the floor as closely as possible. Then, you’ll touch your feet and try to touch one knee to the floor while the other knee stays straight up. 

This is a more time-consuming set of exercises, but they’re easy to follow and should help open the hips and stretch the muscles. 

Why It Works

Hip flexibility is a problem for many people, so stretching the hips gently allows the muscles to loosen. Beginners will likely have a stiff range of motion at first, but this exercise can really expand the muscles and tendons to relieve that tension

4. Trauma Releasing Hip Opener

@theworkoutwitch trauma releasing exercise ✌🏼 free your hips, free your trauma (30 day course) 🔗 on profile #therapeutictiktok #somatichealing #storedtrauma #releasestoredtrauma #hipmobilityexercise #hipmobility #hipopener #hiprelease #traumarelease #YellowstoneTV ♬ Sad Emotional Piano (main version) – DSproductions

How to Do It

  • This is a very simple exercise that you can do in a few minutes. Start by laying on your back with your knees and ankles together and your arms spread out. 
  • Next, slowly spread your hips until you can’t move them apart anymore, all while keeping your ankles together. 
  • Once you’ve reached the apex, put the soles of your feet together. Next, move your knees up a couple of inches and hold for about 30 seconds.
  • Finally, close your legs and bring your knees together. You can repeat this exercise up to five times in a row. Leg shaking is normal. 

Why It Works

Hip openers like this can help release emotional trauma, thanks to the fight or flight response. If you’re tense or holding onto tension, this exercise triggers your mind to feel calmer, thus releasing any emotions that are buried inside. If you’re not holding onto any tension, you may not notice anything at first. 

Overall, this exercise is best for when you feel tense or panicked, even if you’re unsure why. 

5. The Swimming Frog

How to Do It

This exercise is also relatively simple, and it involves stretching your hips, one leg at a time. You start on your back and then bring your foot to your inner thigh (as far as it will go). Next, you move your foot to the outside of your body (again, as far as it will go), and then back to starting. 

After doing both sides, you bring both feet up to your pelvis several times, then put both feet on either side of your body. Overall, this exercise should only take a few minutes. 

Why It Works

As with other somatic exercises for hips, this technique is designed to give your hips a full range of motion. Even if you can’t bring your feet very far up at first, they’ll move as you stretch the muscles and loosen them over time. The more flexible your hips, the less trauma and stress that can be stored inside them. 

Should You Try Somatic Exercises for Hips?

Sure! As long as your doctor thinks you’re physically capable of these exercises, you can definitely try them to see if there is a noticeable benefit to your emotional and physical health.

Just be mindful of managing your expectations.

This is not a miracle cure for deep-rooted trauma. It is but one tool in a large tool box to helps people process and heal.

Remember that patience and persistence are key. With time and practice, it is possible to alleviate tension, enhance flexibility, and, ultimately, find relief from the effects of stored trauma.

You don’t have to figure this out on your own.

Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp. If you have tried (and failed) to find a qualified therapist who gets you, try BetterHelp. Get 10% off your first month when you click the link below.

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