The Fascinating Psoas

The psoas muscles (major and minor) are the only muscles to join the upper body with the lower. The left and right psoas join the lumbar spine to the femur, thus joining the upper body with the lower body. This is quite a special function: think spiritually for a moment and the concept of linking the higher self with the earthy presence.

The psoas is at the core of our functioning  bodies, creating flexibility but also providing a deep stabilizer, “supporting the human body much like an arch does in building structures”. [1]

The psoas supports many of our internal organs or viscera. Think of it as a shelf for the intestines, kidneys, liver, spleen, pancreas and bladder. Any contraction of the psoas muscle will massage these organs, and due to the close proximity to them can “play a role as a reactor to these stimuli, thus affecting what is commonly termed as ‘gut feelings’.” [1]

The psoas meeting point is at the diaphragm at T12 or L1 (it can vary) and this junction in the body is known as the solar plexus. This area, a nerve network, is related to those ‘butterfly’ feelings we can get when we are nervous or excited. It is remarkable that the psoas muscle is also linked to the diaphragm and thus our breath, and those feelings which can effect the frequency of our breath such as nervousness, anxiety, excitement.

The psoas is one of the main muscles affecting the lower back, so with any lower back pain its condition warrants attention. Because of its deep central position, its closeness to our ‘gut feelings’ and our internal viscera, emotional tension can manifest in the psoas creating debilitating back pain and stiffness. If you suffer with lower back pain, ask yourself: do I feel supported in life? Am I worried/anxious/frightened? Is there a change forthcoming? Working through emotions is a key factor in dealing with back pain caused by the deep psoas, as well as finding the right balance of quality of motion and flow without restriction.

It is interesting to map the psoas muscles on the foot from a reflexology viewpoint. You can see that the psoas covers the medial arch of the foot, which is hugely important in supporting and maintaining posture and gait. It covers a very large area of the foot which only highlights (in my opinion) of its huge importance in our lives, providing support in a physical, mental and spiritual perspective. If you suffer with lower back pain, why not try reflexology or self-treat by massaging the area in red shown on the foot map?

I have been on a personal journey with this muscle. Emotional tension building up this year put me in a debilitating situation with such terrible back pain and restricted motion. It was only when discovering the psoas muscle and its functions and representations did I manage to heal myself and come through the dark and into the light.

Liz Koch says “the psoas is no ordinary muscle but a profound segue into the rich, inner and outer world of awareness and consciousness.”

[1] The Vital Psoas Muscle: Connecting Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Wellbeing by Jo-Ann Staugaard-Jones

Jackie Marsden MAR is a qualified reflexologist, promoter of healthy living and independent consultant (Team Leader) for Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic. Jackie leads and mentors a growing team of consultants (many of whom are therapists integrating organic products into their existing businesses) via the NYRO social selling channel, holding regular team meetings, one-to-one coaching via phone and facetime, and a closed facebook group. All views are my own.

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[Yoga Series #3] Engage the Pelvic Floor for Spinal Health

When we talk about pelvic floor muscles it is usually relating to urinary and sexual health, pregnancy or post-partum issues and problems. But actually the pelvic floor is also fundamental to our spinal health.

ID-100197696The deepest muscles of the pelvic diaphragm run from front to back (pubic joint to coccyx). The more superficial layers are those including the anal and urethral sphincters. During yoga the focus should be on engaging the deeper fibres which encourage an upward motion of energy, permitting the diaphragm to lift the base of the rib cage forward.

I have a tendency to over extend my lumbar spine and stick out my bottom: this isn’t good for spinal health, and my yoga journey is now showing me this.

To be able to flex the lumbar spine, the psoas, abs and pelvic floor must concentrically contract. So my natural tendency to over-extend, in combination with attempting postures of deep lumbar-flexion (for example a standing or seated forward bend) without engaging the core muscles properly will lead to pain. Combine this with other personal issues such as emotional stress and poor posture during work (treatments, sitting at desk, driving) has led to much discomfort.

In yoga there are three main diaphragms (pelvic, respiratory and vocal) which come together in movements that are coordinated with inhaling and exhaling. These coordinated actions of the diaphragms (in yoga these are known as “bandhas”) create more stability in the body, protecting it from injury by redistributing mechanical stress.

For example, when performing a forward bend, if the thoracic, abdominal and pelvic cavities are not supported with the breath, then there is no single centre of gravity. This puts extreme pressure on the posterior spinal muscles with a pivotal point in the lumbo-sacral junction, which is vulnerable to damage (exactly where my back pain has been!)

Have you ever reached or bent over to do something and automatically held your breath? The body does this to try and protect our spinal structures.

Actively employing the breath which engages all three diaphragms including the all important pelvic floor muscles, offers the spinal column complete support during a forward bend, by centering gravity in the pelvis, legs and feet, and allowing the spine to relax and allow in space. Remember – build the foundation! This is explained beautifully in [1].

In understanding this during the yoga practice, as well as daily activities, I have managed to reduce my lower back pain considerably. As always, stepping onto the yoga mat takes us on a journey inside the body.

For some fabulous diagrams of the pelvic floor muscles see [2].

[1] Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff, Amy Matthews

[2] http://www.dailybandha.com/2015/05/the-pelvic-floor.html

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jackie Marsden MAR is a qualified reflexologist, promoter of healthy living and independent consultant (Team Leader) for Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic. Jackie leads and mentors a growing team of consultants (many of whom are therapists integrating organic products into their existing businesses) via the NYRO social selling channel, holding regular team meetings, one-to-one coaching via phone and facetime, and a closed facebook group. All views are my own.

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Are you getting enough Vitamin O?

What am I talking about? Oxygen.

I’m no expert on yoga/breathing/meditation, however what I learn and find useful for myself, I always share where needed, particularly with my clients.

Many people come to me with stress-related issues, anxiety, sleep problems. Our minds wander and we worry, we ask:

  • Why me?
  • Why (insert loved ones name here)?
  • Why did it happen?
  • I wished it hadn’t happened
  • I’m worried it will happen
  • … the list could go on but you get the idea.

While we’re wasting our time doing this, our bodies are responding with the “fight or flight” response. Heart rate quickens, blood pressure increases, our immune and digestive systems start slowing. Our breath becomes shallow.

We need something to get away from the mind’s futile worrying. What could be easier and more opportune than our breath? Take some deep, slow breaths. Allow the oxygen to fill up our chests, our tummies, our whole bodies. Sweep in through the nose, and if you can, out through the nose, if not slowly and gently through the mouth. Try counting 1,2,3,4 as you inhale, 1,2,3,4 as you exhale. Add in some pauses. Count 1,3,3,4 after every inhale and exhale.

These simple techniques should help you tune out your mind’s babble and focus on the present moment. What is actually bothering you right now at this present moment? Nothing.

Posture during these breathing exercises is important too. If you’re doing them in bed in the middle of the night then you should be horizontal and comfortable. Make sure you’re warm and you can relax your muscles. If you’re sitting then it might be useful to use a small cushion to “prop up” your seat bones (those bony bits in your bottom cheeks). Tilting the pelvis forward like this will shift the spine straighter and open up the chest area, allowing more space.

During my reflexology treatments, my sequence always starts with the diaphragm line, followed by lung reflex, to help calm the breath and aid relaxation.

When we breathe we are literally giving our whole bodies oxygen: what could be more holistic?

The breath is so obvious that it often gets overlooked, but this is one of the greatest tools we have to help ourselves.

Are you getting enough Vitamin O?

Jackie Marsden MAR is a qualified reflexologist and independent consultant (Team Leader) for Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic. Jackie leads and mentors a growing team of consultants (many of whom are therapists integrating organic products into their existing businesses) via the NYRO social selling channel, holding regular team meetings, one-to-one coaching via phone and facetime, and a closed facebook group. All views are my own.

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Image courtesy of hinnamsaisuy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net