The Psoas and playfulness
During the last few years of my Yoga sharing’s, I came across an interesting observation. It seemed apparent that people who had very open hips and lower back tended to be naturally more playful, creatively free, and some what calmer/more trusting about life. So I wondered what muscle is mostly involved in the spine to hip connection. The main culprit would be our Psoas muscle. This is the deepest muscle of the human body. On beginning my research I already new that the psoas affects; mobility, structure, flexibility, strength, and even our organs. What I didn’t know was the emotional hold it can also have over us.
The Psoas initiates at both sides of the spine, and spans from the 12th thoracic vertebrae down to both of the 5th lumbar vertebrae. From there it travels through the abdominal core, to the pelvis, where it attaches to the top of the thighbone.
It is the only muscle to connect the spine to the legs. Without it we would not walk or stand upright. A healthy psoas creates stable ground to hold our vital organs located in the abdominal core. When the Psoas is tight or constricted the freedom and ease of movement in our spine to hip connection is seriously prohibited. A tight unhealthy Psoas is the breeding ground for low back pain, sciatica, hip problems, knee pain, disc problems, menstruation pain, infertility, and even digestive problems like IBS to name a few.
A free mobile healthy Psoas seems to not only give the benefits of mobility and physical comfort but it also supports a free, more playful and calmer way of being. I got to wonder, well, why is that?
I discovered that the psoas also connects to the diaphragm through connective tissue or fascia which affects our breath and our capacity to feel fear. Both the psoas and the facia can hold tensions that effect not only the muscle and its movements, but also our emotional balance and calmness. Our psoas is the connector between the pelvis and the brain it guides that connection and supports it. You could see the spoas as ‘a bridge’ between your rational and instinctual capacities.
Most importantly I found out that the psoas is connected to what we call your abdominal brain. Your abdominal brain is also known as your Enteric Nervous System, named by John Newport Langley. It can be simply described as the emotional centre of your body. It is in control of Digestion and emotions arise from this place. It is made up of a huge network of nerves; It has the same density of nerves as the spinal cord and the same amount of neuro transmitters as the brain. And it works independently of the top brain. It can actually survive if the head brain dies. Where as if your abdominal brain dies then the brain in your head will also die as the essential functions of the body cannot be carried out.
It’s nice to imagine that you have your head brain at the top of the spinal column and your gut brain at the bottom. Which is exactly what yoga works with in the chakra system which top and tails the shusumna nadi/central spinal column.
What this also means is that emotions are connected in with the psoas through the fascia and nerves. When you feel fear or guilt in your abdominal brain that e-motion. Energy-in-motion travels through the nerves in the psoas to the spinal column and then to the brain. Your psoas in this exchange is acting like a courier from the abdominal brain to the central nerves system sending the emotional-information to your brain. Now if your spoas is healthy and free and the nadis are open and spacious and full of prana/vitality, then, the information transmitted to your brain will be accurate and have clarity. If however your psoas is unhealthy, tight and cramped then the information will be unclear and you will most likely feel emotional discomfort in the process of couriering this information from down to up.
So when you have very open hips and lower back (psoas) you are more easily playful, creatively free, and even somewhat calmer or more trusting about life. Because the emotions that appear in your abdominal brain due to everyday living are transmitted freely with clarity and ease through your oh so healthy psoas to your brain. Without incurring pain or discomfort and subsequently more fear. Fear is the emotion that stops us from playing with the unkown, from being creatively free. Fear is the feeling that prohibits a calm life. And stops us from learning new things. Most young children have very little fear, and you know if you have ever spent time watching a young child play that she/he has something to really teach you about joy and fascination with the world in and out.
I believe the common diagnosis of IBS could be better understood as; ‘trapped or pushed down emotional energy held within the psoas and abdominal brain.’ If we had the courage and patience to breath down into this tight area, then to let the emotions flow up as we exhale so as to experience them. We could release them into wisdom and part of our integrated being. Our psoas would be more relaxed and out emotional clarity would be increased. Luckily for us yoga works both ways. So dealing with the emotional stuff on a feeling level is too much to begin with we could also practice a range of, back-to-hip opening asana for gentle release of this physical tension.
I feel when stretching the psoas in asana more than ever Soma is needed. Soma is defined as “the body experienced from within.” When we practice asana in this internally attentive way it is a powerful and effective process that admits the natural intelligence of the body to facilitate healing and transformation. Liz Knoch puts it well “to work with the psoas is not to try to control the muscle, but to cultivate the awareness necessary for sensing its messages. This involves making a conscious choice to become somatically aware. L. Koch”
Often all our ailments want is – Our Attention, so they can heal. Attention is like the sunlight on a plant encouraging it to grow into its fullest form. For me yoga is 99.9% ATTENTION. Attention is where the medicine lives. So go practice now and attend to your psoas, tend to yourself.
Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015