Trauma and the Psoas Muscle

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The Mysterious Psoas Muscle

There’s quite a lot of mystery around the amazing psoas muscle. For good reason as the psoas (so-as) is the primary muscle that connects the body with the legs, which is a pretty big deal. The health of the psoas muscle affects our health, mobility, sense of inner freedom and bodily comfort. It moves through the body, from the spine to the front of the hips, yep right through that very vulnerable part of our body, the pelvis. Thus the psoas muscle is also known as our fight, flight and freeze muscle. So let’s explore this amazing part of our body in relation to healing from trauma and experiencing inner freedom. I am writing this blog as a Trauma Informed Yoga Therapist and TRE practitioner

Psoas Muscle Anatomy 

The psoas is a deep-rooted muscle that connects the 12th thoracic vertebrae and discs in the (mid-back) and 5th lumbar vertebrae and discs (lower back) either side of your back, through your pelvis to attach to the inner side of the femur or the large thigh bone at the hip. There are 3 aspects to the psoas group, the iliac muscles, the psoas major and psoas minor. The psoas is often loosely called the hip flexor muscles or better, the iliopsoas. One of the most important muscles in the human body, the psoas makes walking possible by connecting the spine to the legs. 

So basically the Iliopsoas is the combination of the iliac and the psoas major muscles. They cross the hip joint  and as such are very powerful hip flexors. The strongest in our body. And they externally rotate the femur. Lying beside the sacrum it is holding our center of gravity. And it holds the key to all our BIG movements in the lower half of our body. If tight it will accentuate lordosis or our lumbar curve so often is related to back pain. Yoga Therapy and TRE both work beautifully together on releasing and toning our psoas muscles.

The following movements made possible by the psoas muscle.

# Flexing the hip joint-bending one knee toward the chest or trunk. Eg climbing stairs, riding a bike

# Flexing the torso- forward bending as when we pick something up off the ground

# Stabilising the spine- sitting in good posture, standing upright. Balanced either side of spine.

# Stabilising the whole core…as the psoas are also part of our deepest core muscles. 

# Breathing, as the psoas attach to the diaphragm ( a powerful muscle under our lungs) via connective tissue. 

The psoas holds keys to many common physical maladies such as lower back pain, stiffness in knees, difficulty walking, twisted pelvis, breathing issues, sciatica, sexual and pelvic maladies. And emotional responses such as that sinking feeling in the stomach, difficulty breathing when anxious, lower back pain and so on.

The Psoas In Utero

In utero, the psoas is the very first muscle structure to develop. Wow that says something! And it does so at the very same time as our reptilian brain. Both are connected to our most primitive, survival instincts – fight, flight, freeze. The psoas  passes right past the kidneys and adrenal glands which secrete adrenalin associated with our stress response. Under stress or shock the psoas instantly contracts preparing for movement or freeze response. If we are constantly under stress and our psoas is locked in contraction we experience ongoing inner discomfort.

The psoas is an important stabiliser for our pelvic girdle and center of gravity. And we develop in our mothers uterus very close to her psoas muscle. We’re intimately connected energetically and physiologically to our mother for nine months, from conception to birth. What do we inherit from our mothers muscular and nervous system? Food for thought….

Muscle Memory and Intelligence?

Muscle memory is a powerful thing. Muscles possess wisdom and intelligence beyond just retaining memory for specific movements. There are many healing modalities that understand and use this muscle memory such a kinesiology, anatomy, physiology. We cannot fail to see how truly intelligent and miraculous this body is. 

As we develop a deeper connection with our muscles through yoga and yoga therapy, we may find our body has a lot to say. And in the business of life we often ignore all the messages our body is trying to share with us. In fact I see this body as the barometer of our soul. A go between that is much more reliable than our monkey mind. Listening and sensing and acknowledging our bodies wisdom is an important path to healing.

Psoas; Our Fight, Flight and Freeze Muscle

The psoas or iliopsoas muscles are sometimes referred to as the fight, flight and freeze muscles. But how are they related to emotional and physical trauma? 

If we find ourselves in a traumatic situation where we feel threatened, our psoas muscle is an integral part of our survival mechanism. A perceived threat releases stress hormones like adrenaline which increase the heart rate and oxygen to the blood and prime our muscles ready to run. Our psoas muscles are our big leg movers that allow us to run or flee. If our trauma response is activated and we can’t escape our next primal survival mechanism kicks in (dorsal vagal). It contracts the psoas, and we freeze, often curling the body into a ball or foetal position in an automatic action to protect our vital organs and survive. 

Spiritual Mind Body Connection

There is so much more to the psoas muscles and our body-mind-spiritual health than meets the eye. Energetically because it lies in our pelvic bowl and is associated with the energy of the base chakra , mooladhara and second chakra swadhisthana. It has powerful energetic connections to our sexual and reproductive organs, gut feelings, and trauma response mechanism.

“Every single trauma that occurs in one’s life is locked and loaded into the cellular memory, the mental/cognitive memory, and the muscle memory. Too many people have stories to tell of a time that someone tried to exert power over their bodies and walked away guiltless. Almost every single woman I know has a story to tell, and nowadays, a lot of men do as well. This is not OK.” …Emily A. Francis.

Our Bodies Do Not Lie

In an attempt to survive, we often consciously or unconsciously hide our pain and anguish, push it down or deny it. Consciously we may not even remember trauma events from our childhood. We may have unconsciously blanked them out. Or they may become surrounded with secrecy and feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame and blame. Hidden unresolved trauma in our bodies affect the expression of our personality, our actions and reactions in life. Over time trauma and the emotions attached to it may become buried alive, seemingly forgotten. But our muscular memory never forgets. It becomes our pandora’s box. While the story, pain and emotions are pushed deep down into our unconscious minds, it is our bodies that hold the charge of those memories. The muscle memory may live in constant contraction, only to surface in spontaneous reactive behaviours, often when we least expect it. PTSD is an example of this. Or we may experience a dissolving of our confidence, spark and enthusiasm for life. Fear may shrink our once confident sense of self. Or at the opposite end of the scale we may become brash, aggressive and bossy in order to protect ourselves. Most of this is occurring below our conscious awareness as our nervous system work to help us to survive. Please remember our miraculous body-mind wants to heal and is primed to heal. And there are many ways to initiate that healing.

A Time To Heal

There comes a point in our lives where the desire to heal is strong enough to motivate us to seek support, guidance and healing. Sometimes this can occur when our lives hit a big bump in the road; an illness, loss of a loved one or career. This could herald the beginning of an awakening and healing Journey. To free ourselves from a hidden past that no longer serves us in the present moment. Learning to trust our body with self-compassion and kindness. Our hearts are calling us back to a place of grace and love. 

Trauma Informed Yoga Therapy and TRE 

Yoga means Union, bringing all those parts of yourself, body, mind, soul together in a state of balance and freedom. Through gentle body movements and stretches, deepening awareness of and acknowledgement of feelings and bodily sensations we can befriend our body. Together with self-compassion, kindness, mindful presence, breath and a deepening internal exploration, we begin to feel comfortable in our body again. We learn to trust our miraculous body and its’ innate ability to heal. 

TRE or trauma-tension release exercises partner beautifully with yoga activating the bodies natural tremor response thus releasing tension from the muscles. The TRE tremor response works through the nervous system, fascia and muscles to release the long held tension and tightness locked in from old and fresh stress and trauma. Once the body held charge of trauma is released from the muscles there is a greater feeling of lightness, relaxation and freedom. Over time we begin to see positive shifts in the way we interact with world. People feel more relaxed, less reactive and more comfortable in our own skin.

Yoga Therapy and TRE are both somatic or body based forms of healing often called bottom up therapies that empower you to love and trust your body again, promoting deep emotional and spiritual balance.

Soraya is a Trauma Informed Yoga Therapist, Health Coach and TRE practitioner

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