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As much as I love dancing in my kitchen (livingroom/office/car, etc.), I teach because it feels better to dance together. Way better.

Something happens when we move together. Something shifts when we are sharing the space, the music, and the experience. It happens over and over, I walk into the studio feeling stuck or tired or low, and walk out feeling…well.

Years ago, Integral Yoga founder Swami Satchidananda was asked at a health conference what the difference was between illness and wellness. In answer, he wordlessly walked to a blackboard, wrote the two words and circled the “I” and the “We.”

When we isolate and separate ourselves, when we put our attention on the “I,” the result is a kind of illness. The recipe for wellness, on the other hand, is when we connect and recognize ourselves as part of the larger community, the integrated whole.

It’s my limbic or lizard brain that cramps my focus and convinces me that I am separate and alone. When I say (or more often, think), “No one is as injured / sad / crazy / lonley / (fill in the blank) as I am,” it’s my limbic brain is driving the train. This separation creates a tightness, a narrow tension that is itself a kind of illness.

No matter what I am experiencing, I am connected to the wider community of life. No matter what is happening, there are millions and millions of others experiencing the same thing. No matter how difficult my circumstances, I am never alone. Expanding and softening into this truth is a step toward wellness.

In the body, one of the most important places of connection is the psoas muscle. These two deep-set muscles start on either side of the lumbar spine at the low back and connect to the inside of the femurs, the thigh bones. Since it is the only muscle to connect the core and the legs, a healthy functioning psoas allows fluid, easeful, pain-free movement and allows stability while moving, bending, and sitting.

More than the postural and kinetic importance of this deepest core muscle, the psoas also connects through the fascia to the diaphragm. This means that a healthy psoas muscle directly impacts your breath and your sense of calm or stress. (Dr. Christiane Northrup has a great article about this here. )

All of which means that a tight or weak psoas is often the source of low back or hip pain, as well as digestive trouble and a hyper-alert nervous system. (Remember our focus a couple of weeks ago about looking around the pain to find what needs healing?) Tending to psoas health, then, is integral to overall health. But instead of thinking of the psoas as a tight, weak place that needs stretching like a brittle rope or a dried-out bungee cord, imagine healing the psoas as a chance to hydrate, soften, and juice this deep connection. Liz Koch’s Core Awareness work uses the approach of “unraveling” the tissue of the psoas. I strongly recommend her teaching and you can learn more here.

Clinical Psychiatry professor, Daniel J. Siegel defines health as integration. In any system – whether it’s a weather system or a human body, a company or a relationship – when the parts are integrated and connected, there is flow and health. When they are disconnected, there is “disintegration.”

Wellness is “we.” Integration is health. In the studio, in the body, and in the world, let’s unravel the tight focus on “I” and instead open to the soft, juicy wellness of connection.

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a simple, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

Hips are powerful things. But when we use them in a limited way, we cut off a lot of that power. Most of us don’t allow our hips to move in the full range that they are designed for. This might happen due excessive sitting (think chair, car, couch), movement in limited directions (think sit, stand, walk, maybe run and bike), and even societal pressures (think zip up those hips, don’t wiggle when you walk).

If we look at the hip’s design – a ball and socket joint – we can see that they are meant to move in all directions. Knees and elbows are hinge joints designed to move in one plane and one direction only, and often we use the hips as if they were a hinge joint!

Below some sketchy characters and I offer 10 ways to juice up your hips. Play around with these movements and stretches gently and see what feels good both during and after. EveryBody is different so not all movements and stretches work for all. Experiment with curiosity and kindness. Your hips deserve it.

Movement – Your hips are designed to move, not to just stabilize!

1. Turn toes in and out (avoid twisting on your foot, pick up and place it instead)

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2. Release the low back and wag your tail

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3. Move the thigh across your body with knee sweeps

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4. Build power with kicks in all directions (flex your foot to protect your knee)

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5. Sink and rise up and down out of any stance

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Stretch – The hips are wrapped in muscle and connective tissue. Give them time to release and open with gentle stretching.

6. Open the outside of the hip with tailor sit (aka sitting cross-legged), figure 4 stretch (pull your thigh gently toward you and keep your bent knee from collapsing in) or pigeon pose (front thigh should be parallel to your spine, for more intensity, move the front knee closer to 90 degrees and always keep the front foot strongly flexed to protect the knee)

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7. Open the inner thigh and hip by stretching with one leg out to the side, or straddle stretch

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8. Open the front of the hip (rarely done in every day life) with lay back stretch (you can rest on your hands behind, on the elbows or all the way back but keep the knee on the floor), or bridge pose (feet parallel and not overly squeezing the butt).

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Passive Stretch – One of my favorite ways to release the hips is with these two passive stretches using a bolster or firm pillow for 5-10 minutes.

9. Release hips with bolster under hip bones, tummy down (alternate ear down)

10. Release the deep and essential core muscle called the psoas (connects the upper and lower body from low back to hip) with bolster under knees. Let go, let go, let go.

BONUS –

A great way to gently and naturally open the hips is to do the 5 Stages of Self-Healing: 5 simple movements that take the body through the evolution from infancy to walking. You can watch the sequence here – then do it yourself!

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