Fight or Flight – how is your Psoas? – July 2022

We’ve been working on releasing our psoas muscles this week in yoga class. And the whole body nature of yoga goes beyond the stretch – releasing your psoas muscles often means to let go of old fears and traumas and life patterns that can keep you stuck in a perpetual state of flight or flight.

So what are the psoas muscles and why are they interesting? Well your psoas connects your lumbar spine to your inner thighs by running through your hip joint. This connection between your back and your legs enables you to run and kick, the two primary functions that we need in fight or flight mode. When your nervous system senses that you are in danger it alerts your psoas and you become ready to run away from that predator or to fight it off. And the neural connection between your brain and your muscles are a two way street: as the brain tells the psoas to fire up, the flexed psoas sends neural messages to the brain asking for support and your nervous system fires out cortisol and adrenalin. You experience an increased heart rate, slowed digestion and a burst of energy. Pretty useful in caveman days when hunting for food was a life threatening adventure, daily.

The real drama with the psoas muscle is that your caveman body regards much of modern life stressors as threatening as the predators of old. So the horrible boss, the road rage maniac, the negative media channels pumping out visuals of horrors way beyond our control, trigger the same response in our bodies as did that tiger chasing us. Hence for many people, their psoas muscles are in a constant state of flexion (activation) and their bodies are in a constant state of fight or flight. The long term effect of an activated psoas can result in hip pain and back pain. A tight psoas can also affect your breathing. The diaphragm and the psoas connect along the same vertebrae in the lower spine- so when the psoas is tight we are unable to fully extend our diaphragm and take a full breath. Short, shallow breaths (as opposed to long, slow breaths) also keep your body in a constant state of fight or flight.

This is where modalities like yoga and long held introverted stretches can really help. Not just stretching the psoas, but breathing into the psoas muscles and letting go, either consciously or unconsciously, the long held stress you might be holding in this muscle. Opening the body equates to opening the mind. As you learn to release the psoas and unpack all the dramas around that those tight muscles, so too will it become easier to cultivate the qualities of patience, trust, and compassion for your body and your life.

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