In my post titled 5 Tips for Better Sleep, I introduced a yoga posture called Legs up the Chair. In this post I explain a bit of the physiology as to why this posture works. Hint: It's all about the psoas (pronounced “so-as”).
The psoas is a muscle that connects the legs to the spine and is in the area of your hip flexor. The psoas has a connection with the nervous system and is activated when the nervous system’s threat response is on high alert.
Reflect and notice: What happens when you feel afraid or fearful? What urges arise in your body?
Some of the ways the psoas is activated through the nervous system includes:
· In fight: the urge to kick or punch
· In flight: the urge to run
· In freeze: the urge to curl up into fetal position
In all of these actions, there is a contraction in the area of the hip flexor that happens naturally. This is the psoas contracting.
The psoas also supports some of our daily functions like helping to maintain posture or initiating movement (like walking). The psoas was crucial for our early ancestors’ survival in order to create safety from danger in a timely manner.
While our living circumstances are likely quite different from our ancestors, our psoas continues to contract in response to fear or threat. Animals are often better than humans at releasing stored tension in our body.
It is now understood that when we do not process stress or trauma, it can be stored in the body, as Bessel Van Der Kolk says, “The Body Keeps the Score.”
Yoga is an entry way to work with the body.
Whether it is tension, emotions or memories (known or unknown), yoga can support you to explore what is living in the body and can provide gentle practices to release it. In yoga, these practices are engaged in mindfully and without force.
In last week’s blog, I introduced a posture, Legs up the Chair. This posture supports the psoas to soften and let go. In order to stretch or create an opening in the psoas, it is important to let it soften first.
In this week’s Yoga for Mind Body Wellness groups, you will be guided through yoga practices to release stored tension in the hips and psoas, while increasing awareness of sensations present. Register here!
Dana Saad, LCSW, RYT 200
Key Therapy Counseling