Those of you that practice with me regularly will know we spend a lot of time working on the hips, most practices will find some sort of deep hip opener hidden or very obviously placed to bring the focus 'down there'.
There's a myriad of different reason but the main one is to allow the body to fully work out the stress response and arrive in a deep state of relaxation. So how does this work?
When we get hit with a stressful trigger our body gets placed into the sympathetic nervous system, or Fight & Flight mode. Remember a stressful trigger can be anything that makes us feel unsafe, vulnerable, worried, insecure, anxious, angry, fearful, nervous or stressed. Any emotion that we feel that is linked with the above feelings is a stressful trigger.
When we hit a stressful trigger, and our body moves into fight and flight our brain floods our body with hormones that signal the response that we need to get ready to go. These hormones are things like adrenaline, and many others and one thing these hormones do is charge the muscles ready to take flight or have a fight, and the muscles they charge mostly are the ones that are needed to do this, the power muscles of the thighs, glutes, and arms.
Ok but the stress has gone away?
In todays world most stressors are not lions in bushes ready to pounce, most are emails from the boss or an awkward client, children tantrumming, a text message that feels odd, a driver driving carelessly, or a million other things. Once the stressor has gone the problem is our muscles are still charged ready to go, because we haven't gone, we haven't discharged this energy that's been sent to these muscles and so they are tightly coiled like a spring ready to shoot into action, yet we haven't acted!
Over time this muscles gather this tightness, stressful situation after stressful situation, becoming tighter and more coiled.
The only way to get that coiled spring to unravel is to either GO, which is why some find running deeply healing, or to stretch, to move those tightly coiled muscles until they are a little more relaxed, and over time the stress stored in the body dissipates and we feel safe again, our body can finally relax.
Why can't I just let the tightness build?
You can, but the body and brain work as a constant messenger service, the body sending signals to the brain and the brain sending messages back down in response to the body. When our muscles are tightly coiled they are sending the message to the brain that we are ready to flee, the brain picks this message up and reads it as the body must be in danger, more hormones are released and the cycle continues. As with all cycles someone needs to break them, and so just thinking you are relaxed isn't enough.
We have to get our body to tell our brain that we actually are relaxed, that we are no longer ready to run. Stretching the muscles whilst exhaling slowly and deeply is the perfect way to tell the brain we are safe, we can let the guard down and relax.