Releasing the stress stored in your body. Here’s How.

The Wellness Report: In our digital issue, themed 'PURIFY' (download your free access it here), we look at the complexity of our gut health and its impact on our brain, addressing our movement habits and

The Wellness Report: In our digital issue, themed ‘PURIFY’ (download your free access it here), we look at the complexity of our gut health and its impact on our brain, addressing our movement habits and the effect on our mind-body stress system under the theme of what purifying habits can help us in our overall wellbeing. We invited Sanna Kokkonen of Radiantly Alive,to share more on the psoas muscle and the importance of releasing, purifying both inside and out. 

Is a big portion of your day and life spent sitting in front of a computer, commuting in a car, or perhaps sitting in an aeroplane? You might experience tension in your hips or perhaps lower back pain. Our modern hectic life style can create lifelong stress and many people suffer from chronic physical pain. However tension in the hips is not only caused by mental stress or physical fitness – life style, genetics, age, physical accidents and traumas play equally a role.

Can our body store stress? Stretching the stress out, does it work?
Many of us have the first hand experience of mental stress showing up in different parts of the body like head, neck and shoulders. The deeper part of the body stores stress as well. Especially in the world of yoga, it is often stated: “the hips are the storage house of our emotions”.

Hips are like the grand central station where many muscles and forces come together and are distributed through the rest of the body. In this region we have iliopsoas muscle group which is fundamental to the function of the hip joint and has a profound influence on the alignment of the pelvis – therefore it has a great affect on the posture.

The psoas is the main muscle of the “Fight or Flight” response of the body.

What and where is iliopsoas muscle?
Iliopsoas is the only muscle which connects the legs to the trunk. The iliopsoas is a combination of three muscles, often referred as the ‘psoas’ muscle. Psoas major and psoas minor muscles are attached to the thoracic spine (T12-L5) and they stretch down through the pelvis connecting to the pubic bone and the femur, inner top part of the thigh bone. The third part of the iliopsoas is the iliacus muscle which is a strong broad muscle lining the inner wall of the pelvis, the iliac bone. It narrows distally, forming a tendon that blends with the psoas tendon to form the strong iliopsoas tendon, which is a powerful hip flexor. These muscles offer core stability, we use them all the time for walking, running, dancing or just simply getting out of the bed.

Where is the majority of the stress stored?
Familiar with the “gut feeling” or “butterflies in your tummy”? The psoas is the main muscle of the “Fight or Flight” response of the body. When you are startled, like suddenly you see an animal crossing the road while driving or you are watching a horror movie and feel fear/anxiety, your psoas contracts. When you have mental or emotional stress the psoas will respond by tightening. The psoas helps you to spring into action or curl you up into a protective ball. In some traditions like yoga we hear the psoas referred from time to time as “The Muscle of the Soul”. The Taoist say the psoas being as the seat or muscle of the soul which is in the lower “dan tien” a major energy centre of the body.

Liz Koch, the author of The Psoas Book, claims that the psoas is the messenger. Our job is to understand it’s language.

What are the psycho/emotional connections?
The psoas and the diaphragm and the reptilian brain connection. Your iliopsoas is vital not only to your structural well­being, but also to your psychological well­being because of it’s connection to your breath. The Diaphragm (dome-shaped sheet of muscle, primary muscle used in inhalation) and the psoas are connected through deep connective tissue (fascia). This literally is the connection of your ability to walk and breathe, and also how you respond to fear and excitement. That’s because, when you are startled or under stress, your psoas contracts.

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Breathing is modulated at the diaphragm, and it is also the location where many physical symptoms associated with fear and anxiety manifest. Liz Koch, believes that this is due to the direct link between the psoas and the most ancient part of our brain stem and spinal cord, called the reptilian brain.

According to Koch, “Long before the spoken word or the organizing capacity of the cortex developed, the reptilian brain, known for its survival instincts, maintained our essential core functioning. The way we live today, constantly rushing, competing and achieving, has the psoas in a constant “fight or flight” state.”

“The psoas is so intimately involved in such basic physical and emotional reactions, that a chronically tightened psoas continually signals your body that you’re in danger, eventually exhausting the adrenal glands and depleting the immune system.” – Liz Koch

How to know our body hold on to stress? What are the dangers?
During prolonged periods of stress, your psoas is constantly contracted. The same contraction occurs when you sit for long periods of time, engage in excessive running or walking, sleep in fetal position or over do a lot of sit-ups (if you thought it’s only your abdominals which do the work, here’s the news: the psoas takes a big load of those crunches). Too much of anything is just simply too much.

A tight or exhausted psoas will act as a messenger and starts to send signals. Some of the symptoms can be deep abdominal pain, lower back pain (I had myself these both) and the pain can manifest to the hip and all the way down to the knee and ankle. A word of warning here: it goes without saying, always with deep abdominal or lower back pain the other possible causes have to be ruled out by a professional!

As psoas enables the hip flexion, it becomes evident that a stiffened iliopsoas muscle can compromise the movements of the hips and thighs, can hinder walking and running, can have an impact on the coordination of the core muscles. A tight psoas is very fatiguing and not only that it creates structural problems, there’s much more. A tight psoas can constrict the organs, can put pressure on nerves, can interfere with the movement of fluids, can impair diaphragmatic breathing, can affect the digestive system and cause constipation, it is even claimed that a tight psoas can cause infertility.

How to release the tension?
My personal experience with psoas theory is that there seems to be an over emphasis on the stretching side. The psoas can be simply exhausted or already over stretched and then stretching for sure is not the best solution. Liz Koch believes the first step in cultivating a healthy psoas is to release unnecessary tension. Koch adds: “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”.

WORKSHOP: The Vital Psoas Muscle, 23 April 2017
Together with Sonna Kokkonen, you will be exploring gentle and simple, yet powerful somatic movements to get us better connected with our psoas and start to get some release in the deepest muscle group of the human body. Thanks to the team at Outta Hatha, Sanna Kokkonen, full-time yoga instructor at Radiantly Alive, Ubud, Bali – for an afternoon of learning and practice at Yoga In Sync (21A Bukit Pasoh Road) on Sunday 23rd April 2017, with two fascinating workshops. Register your spot today!

Photo Credit: Radiantly Alive

Sanna Kokkonen (Finland native) is a full time yoga- and movement teacher and teacher trainer at Radiantly Alive, Ubud, Bali. Sanna’s path in the world of fitness & movement started in the late 80’s. She has practiced & taught yoga now for almost three decades.

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