Here on the blog, we’ve previously talked about the importance of integrating somatic practices into our journey towards wellness. Understanding the mind-body connection can be incredibly helpful for individuals who experience physical symptoms of emotional distress– an all too common experience for those who have experienced trauma. This blog is the final in a series where we will go over some specific exercises that can be used to release tension or pain and increase awareness of how the body is connected to certain thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs. To this point, we’ve covered the ocular (eyes/face/scalp) and oral (mouth/jaw), the neck, throat and chest, and the diaphragm and abdominal segments of the body. We’ve also written in more detail about how traumas and negative beliefs manifest as physical tension, pain, and numbness.

Today, we are focusing on exercises for opening the pelvis. Note that this is an especially potent area of the body that often holds profoundly deep wounding, especially for those with a history of sexual trauma. We recommend building a strong somatic practice prior to attempting to open the pelvis. Our goal is to gently nurture the body, allowing it to open and relax in its own time.

Always keep in mind that the following practices can be deeply supportive when engaging in any somatic practice:

  • Mindful breathing: Find a comfortable seated or lying position, and simply take deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. As you inhale, imagine the breath expanding the chest and filling the lungs. As you exhale, imagine the tension leaving your body.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: This technique involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body. Start with the feet and work your way up the body, tensing each muscle group for a few seconds before releasing the tension. This can help release tension throughout the body.
  • Gentle movement: Try gentle stretches, yoga, or even just shaking out your limbs to release physical tension.
  • Journaling: Journaling can be a helpful way to explore and process emotions that may be contributing to tension. Try to write down your thoughts and feelings without judgment, and to explore any emotions that may be coming up.

The Pelvic Segment

All the segments of the body are directly associated with psychological and emotional patterns, but none compares in intensity to those stored in the pelvis: sexuality, eroticism, desire, trust, vitality, empowerment and freedom. The holding in the pelvic region is intricately entwined with all the other segments and subject to our moment-to-moment emotional body-mind state. No amount of physical or emotional prodding, begging, or force can sustain the openness of the pelvis. If any of the other segments of the body are shut down, the risk of the pelvis closing is inevitable. Yet, the body can be made malleable again given the proper conditions. Like with the other segments, pelvic holding has a reason. Opening the pelvis is not difficult. But, keeping it that way is, unless you also deal with the cause of the holding.

There are an infinite number of causes for why our bodies become inhibited as we grow up, and most people have some sort of holding in their pelvis. While pelvic blocks can be caused by severe traumas such as sexual abuse, they are often the result of smaller mind-body traumas. For example, toilet training before the sphincter control is attained at about eighteen months of age, requires the contraction of contiguous muscles of the thighs, buttocks, a pulling up of the pelvic floor as well as respiratory inhibition. This can create a continued holding pattern. Pelvic holds could also be the result of punishment for sexual curiosity or masturbation as a child. This often results in the child trying to suppress sexual desire in some way, manifesting as a pelvic block. For women specifically, a primary site for holding emotional tension is in the uterus. In addition to pelvic holding, this can diminish sexual desire. For all genders, pelvic blocks can also be caused by a fear of pregnancy or a previous abortion, an inability to set boundaries (sexual or otherwise) with a partner, and a history of relational trauma. Blocks successfully diminish natural emotional and erotic sensations in the pelvis. Yet, we most surely did not come into the world holding back our aliveness or our sexuality. Nor do we have to stay that way.

In a way, we’ve been discussing and preparing for pelvic release from the beginning of this series. We’ve been discussing the foundations of breath and movement, and discovering ways to use them to develop a sense of well-being and mutuality. These provide a foundation for sustaining pelvic opening and aliveness.

Here are some exercises designed to focus on pelvic release. These poses help to release pelvic tension by stretching and gently massaging the muscles around the pelvis, hips, and lower back. It also stimulates the internal organs, including the digestive system, which can help with overall pelvic and abdominal health. Remember to listen to your body and adjust the poses as needed. If you experience any pain or discomfort, please discontinue the pose and consult with a qualified yoga instructor and/or healthcare professional.

  • Garland or Squat Pose. Here are step-by-step instructions for both the Garland Pose (Malasana) and Squat Pose (Malasana variation) to help release pelvic tension and holding:
    • Garland Pose (Malasana):
      • Start by standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointing slightly outward.
      • As you exhale, slowly lower your body into a squatting position. Keep your heels on the ground if possible. If your heels lift off the ground, you can place a folded blanket or yoga block under them for support.
      • Bring your palms together at your chest, pressing your elbows against the inside of your knees. Use your elbows to gently open your knees wider apart, feeling a stretch in your inner thighs and groin area.
      • Lengthen your spine and keep your chest lifted. Imagine your tailbone sinking down towards the floor.
      • Take deep breaths, allowing your pelvic area to relax and release any tension or holding.
      • Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or as long as feels comfortable for you.
        To come out of the pose, press through your feet and slowly straighten your legs, returning to a standing position.
    •  Squat Pose (Malasana Variation):
      • Begin by standing with your feet wider than hip-width apart, toes pointing slightly outward.
      • Bend your knees and lower your body into a squat, keeping your heels on the ground. If your heels lift off the ground, use a folded blanket or yoga block for support.
      • Bring your palms together at your chest, and use your elbows to gently press against the inside of your knees, encouraging them to open wider.
      • As you exhale, lean your upper body forward, bringing your chest toward your thighs. Allow your head to relax, keeping your neck in a neutral position.
      • You can choose to stay in this position or, for a deeper stretch, reach your arms forward and place your hands on the ground in front of you. Keep your elbows inside your knees to help maintain the openness in your pelvic area.
      • Take slow, deep breaths, allowing your pelvis to release any tension or holding.
      • Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or as long as feels comfortable for you.
      • To come out of the pose, place your hands on the ground for support, and slowly straighten your legs, returning to a standing position.3.
    • Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana):
      • Start by lying flat on your back on a yoga mat or a comfortable surface.
      • Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together, allowing your knees to fall open to the sides.
      • Slide your feet as close to your pelvis as feels comfortable, while maintaining a relaxed and gentle stretch in the inner thighs.
      • Optional: If you feel any discomfort in your hips or knees, you can place folded blankets or yoga blocks under your knees for support.
      • Allow your arms to rest alongside your body, with your palms facing up. Alternatively, you can place your hands on your belly or gently rest them on your thighs.
      • Close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths, allowing your body to relax and release tension with each exhale.
      • You can choose to stay in this pose as long as you like, typically aiming for 5 to 10 minutes to experience the benefits of a deeper relaxation.
      • When you’re ready to come out of the pose, gently bring your knees together and roll onto one side, using your arm as a pillow for your head.
      • Take a few breaths in this fetal position before slowly pressing yourself up to a seated position.
    • Happy Baby Pose:
      • Start by lying flat on your back on a yoga mat or a comfortable surface.
      • Bend your knees and bring them towards your chest.
      • Separate your knees wider than your torso, allowing them to come toward your armpits. Your ankles should be stacked directly above your knees.
      • Reach your arms through the inside of your legs and hold onto the outsides of your feet or grab hold of your big toes with your fingers.
      • Flex your feet, so the soles of your feet face upward. If you have difficulty reaching your feet, you can use a yoga strap or a towel looped around the arches of your feet to assist you.
      • Gently press your lower back into the mat and feel the lengthening in your spine.
      • Keep your tailbone grounded as you begin to gently pull down on your feet, creating a mild resistance with your arms. This action will encourage your knees to move closer to the floor.
      • You can choose to stay still in this position, or if you prefer, you can gently rock side to side, massaging your lower back and sacrum against the mat.
      • As you hold the pose, take slow, deep breaths, allowing your body to relax and release any tension.
      • Remain in Happy Baby Pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or as long as feels comfortable for you.
      • To release the pose, let go of your feet and bring your knees back towards your chest. Give yourself a gentle hug before extending your legs out long on the mat.
    • Reclining Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana):
      • Start by lying flat on your back on a yoga mat or a comfortable surface.
      • Extend your arms out to the sides in a T-shape, palms facing down.
      • Bend your knees and bring them towards your chest.
      • Slowly lower your knees to the right side of your body, aiming to bring them as close to the ground as feels comfortable. Your knees can rest on a bolster or a folded blanket for support if needed.
      • Keep your upper back and shoulders grounded on the mat. You may choose to turn your gaze towards the opposite side or keep it directed towards the ceiling.
      • Take a deep breath in and, as you exhale, allow your body to relax and sink deeper into the twist.
      • Feel the gentle stretch and release in your lower back, hips, and pelvic area. This twist helps to release tension and tightness in the muscles surrounding the pelvis.
      • Hold the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or as long as feels comfortable for you, breathing deeply and allowing your body to soften with each breath.
      • To come out of the twist, engage your core muscles and use your abdominal strength to bring your knees back to the center.
      • Repeat the twist on the opposite side by lowering your knees to the left and following the same steps.
      • After completing both sides, you can extend your legs out long on the mat and take a few breaths in a neutral position before moving on.

Other yoga poses that can help create release in the diaphragm, abdomen and/or pelvis include…

  • Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana): Lie on your belly, place your hands under your shoulders, and slowly lift your chest off the ground, keeping your pelvis grounded. This pose stretches the abdomen and opens the front of the body, including the diaphragm.
  • Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana): Lie on your back, bend your knees, and place your feet hip-width apart. Press your feet into the mat, lift your hips, and roll your shoulders underneath you, interlacing your fingers. This pose stretches the front of the body, including the abdomen and pelvis.
  • Camel Pose (Ustrasana): Kneel on the mat with your knees hip-width apart. Place your hands on your lower back, lift your chest, and gently arch your back, reaching your hands toward your feet. This pose opens the chest, stretches the abdomen, and helps release tension in the pelvis.
  • Upward-Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana): Start lying on your belly, place your hands next to your shoulders, and press your palms into the mat. Straighten your arms, lift your chest and thighs off the mat, and roll your shoulders back. This pose stretches the abdomen, opens the chest, and engages the diaphragm.
  • Wide-Legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana): Stand with your feet wide apart, toes pointing forward. Interlace your fingers behind your back, and as you exhale, fold forward, bringing your hands over your head. This pose stretches the hamstrings, releases tension in the pelvis, and provides a gentle opening for the abdomen.

Please visit this article for places to find free or subscription based yoga classes – you’ll find it towards the end.

By exploring these techniques and exercises, you can begin to connect with your body and emotions in a deeper and more meaningful way. When completing any new self-release technique, always remember to start softly and maintain attention to the breath. Explore new techniques with a sense of curiosity and mindfulness. Our goal is never to force the body to open, but rather to more deeply observe the holding patterns that are present. In deeply witnessing the tension and pain, we make space for it to transform. Simply by committing to bringing attention to the body through regular practice, we are making space for somatic healing to unfold.

If these exercises are difficult or emotional, it may be useful to work with a somatic therapist that can hold additional space while navigating the healing journey. Exploring the impact of abandonment, inundation, or codependency on the psyche may also support growth.

Author: Lindsay Rosser, LMFT #87065 – Lindsay is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the owner of WellBeings Therapy. She is a Certified EMDR and Integrative Body Psychotherapist who primarily works with adults who experienced complex trauma as a child. For more on Lindsay you can read her bio.

Author: Mckenna Coffey, Associate Therapist – Mckenna is an associate therapist who joined WellBeings during her graduate studies at the University of Southern California. She is an integrative therapist with a trauma-focused, identity affirming, and sex positive practice. For more on Mckenna you can read her bio.

References and Book Recommendations

Jack Lee Rosenberg, Ph.D., Beverly Kitaen-Morse, Ph.D (1996). The Intimate Couple: Reaching New Levels of Sexual Excitement through Body Awakening and Relationship Renewal.

Hanna, T. (1988). Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health. This book explores the concept of somatics and offers various somatic exercises to release chronic muscle tension.

Selvam, R. (2022). The Somatic Therapy Workbook: Self-Guided Exercises for Trauma, PTSD, and Dissociation. While focusing on trauma and dissociation, this workbook provides somatic exercises and techniques to help release tension in the body.

Cooley, B. (2005). The Genius of Flexibility: The Smart Way to Stretch and Strengthen Your Body. Although not exclusively focused on somatics, this book presents innovative techniques for improving flexibility and range of motion through a combination of stretching and movement.