It was the briefest of exchanges, but I had practically bitten my husband's head off with the look I had just given him and the tone of voice I had used. The rage had suddenly welled up inside me and we both saw it. Smartly, and with our young child on his hip, he walked away.
I already had plans to do some stretching, so off I went to a quiet room to fume and to work on my hips which had been bothering me for a few days. They'd felt stiff and tight and I had made a note earlier in the day to run through a series of "figure four" stretches knowing that would free them up. I commenced.
After merely three or four minutes, what I had previously defined as rage seemed practically innocuous. Now I was seeing red, flooded with bitterness and self-righteousness. I hated the world.
I kept stretching.
And suddenly, like a teakettle starting its whistle, I rolled out of the low boil of rage and into the cries of grief.
Six months ago, my mother passed away from brain cancer. It was a short illness, just long enough to enable a modest amount of acclimation to the idea that she was heading for another shore, but not long enough to get very far into the grief process. Which is to say, there is still much to feel, to integrate, to let go of.
I realized shortly after my teakettle experience that, while I have been doing a lot of hip openers, I do them mindlessly, primarily while I am lying on the ground reading to my son or sitting in a chair at a restaurant or someone's house. In hindsight, I see that I am almost always aggravated in ways I can't pin down after such stretching. Carving out the time to open my hips privately and quietly and in the midst of an already emotionally charged moment allowed me to sink below aggravation and anger and into grief and sadness. It enabled me to get to the heart.
The entire physical body is a map of our emotional experiences, our emotional reality. The way we sit, the way we stand, the tensions we hold. As David Berceli says in The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process,
"The emotional pain we carry within us isn't just in our head. It's also etched into our muscles."
To help you begin to uncover and release the emotions ingrained in your body, I offer you this seated figure four stretch which gets specifically into the piriformis. The key to this stretch is to maintain a neutral pelvis (ASIS in a vertical plan over your pubic symphysis; watch this to see how to do so while sitting or read this for more detail). If you'd prefer to do this stretch on the ground, I recommend reading this post to help you maintain your alignment markers and get the most out of the stretch.
Figure Four Stretch
1. Sit on the edge of a hard chair with your pelvis in neutral and your lower legs vertical below you.
2. Cross one ankle over your knee. Check your pelvis and untuck if needed, rolling forward onto your ischial tuberosity (sitz bones).
3. Hold for one minute or more.
4. Repeat on opposite side.
I suggest you play around with this and see what comes up for you, without attachment to having any particular experience. If difficult emotions come up, it may be helpful to have some heavy blankets to place on your body (especially if you do this on the ground) and always remember to go slowly and gently and to never hold yourself prisoner to anything, even when it is "good for you."
It's been over two weeks since my body invited me into my emotional reality and I've felt more free than I have in quite some time. In many ways, this means I've been feeling more emotional pain. I've been anxious and sad. But I haven't been so angry or checked out and I have also been in touch with a richer sense of joy and true gratitude.
My hips showed me the way.