Unwinding the Hips
Merriam-Webster Definition of Unwind/Unwinding:
:to free from or as if from a binding or wrapping
:to become uncoiled or disentangled :unfold
:to release from tension :to relax and stop thinking about work, problems, etc.
The process of yoga is meant to be one of unwinding; of releasing the habitual ways that we hold, bind, or get caught up in stressful patterns of thinking, breathing and moving. The yogis called these samskaras- literally "same agitation" and in Patanjali's yoga sutras yoga is defined as yogas citta vrtti nirodha (1.2) cessation or stilling of the fluctuations in the mind. He states that then we rest in our true nature which is open awareness, relaxed and attentive, completely present: tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam(1.3). However, when the mind is distracted or wound up, we identify with the windings, the turnings of the mind: vrtti sarupyam itaratra (1.4). So the question arises: what is binding you? What is causing you to wind up or become entangled? As biological beings we are wired to hold some tension or vigilance as an aspect of our survival response. We are on the look out for danger, and perhaps something in us knows that ultimately we are not in control. In the modern world this tendency is still present and often amplified by the incredible amount of stimulus we receive daily. This tension gets trapped in our tissues and becomes an sub surface persistent anxiety. Whether psychically or somatically our yoga practice can first be a process of unwinding; moving slowly and with enough awareness to surrender our holding patterns. Yoga asana is a stepping stone on the path to meditation. An initial or foundational meditative practice is called shamatha which translates as peaceful abiding, quieting, or resting. This implies a profound release at the level of the nerve endings, eyes, ears, throat, jaw, hands, skin, and breath. The practice is to sit with sensations in the body and breath, letting go of thoughts as they arise. Thus, shamatha is a practice of unwinding or unbinding from our habitual thinking patterns and opening to what is happening in the moment. Practitioners of yoga can become caught up in perfecting our asanas and engineering our breath and experience so we continue to wind up or overlay our concepts about what we think should be happening. Sometimes we use the practice as a distraction, to move away from or escape what is actually happening in the present moment. We continue moving and doing.
Our hips and pelvis are our center of gravity and all movement arises from the pelvic floor and sacrum. Mobility of sacrum is essential for spinal dynamics and the health of the brain. The pelvis is encased in very strong muscles that are involved in the fight or flight stress response (gluteal muscles, psoas and hip flexors, hamstrings, etc.). Thus, it is not unusual for habitual movement or holding patterns to be buried in the hips. It is therefore essential to unwind the hips prior to more dynamic movements and to release the habit of stress.I suggest we begin by lying down on the earth and noticing what is present. Then engaging in small, slow, soft movements with a pause between actions to notice how things are changing, the residue of our actions. From there we move into asanas with the goal of loosening tension around the sacrum and outer hips and mobilizing the small muscles and ligaments of the pelvis. With that, the breath will loosen and expand, fostering calm in the nervous system and allow us to rest in shamatha; a state of relaxation filled with awareness.