Injury & Health: It's all connected

When I am dealing with a recent or chronic injury, I am constantly reminded of the interconnectedness of all things, most especially our bodies, and how they are micro/macrocosms – ultimate metaphors – for universes within & without.

I’ve had multiple injuries involving my psoas, a deep  muscle traversing the thoracic cavity, pelvis and upper legs. As a result, I am very aware of the ways I use the muscle and careful when I explore new ways of moving, responsive at the first sign of strain.

My last injury was almost two years ago now and I’m no longer in daily pain, more aware of the structural limatations which make my right psoas a place prone to take the brundt of injury and the emotional issues I tend to store around it.

I’ve focused for almost a year on asana which stretch and strengthen it and invite conscious connection to it. It’s not a muscle that I think most people actually “feel” because it’s so deep in the body and one we take for granted. So it took me some time and attention to create that connection.

Who knew that the bottom of the ball of your big toe connection could have such a radical impact on how your psoas functions? It’s both a sign and a lever. When I don’t engage my psoas, which is my unconscious pattern because of years of pain, I tend to rely on other muscles of the hip & thigh to lift my leg. They’ll do the job, but they also cause me to walk on the outside of my foot, a pattern  referred to as supination. This leads to tightness in the outside of the leg and back buttocks – IT band, piriformis, glutes, etc.

By simply shortening my stride and paying attention to the bottom of my foot, I can relieve pain, strengthen my psoas and harmonize the two sides of my body. When I get home, yoga helps me investigate, relax, stretch and further strengthen the psoas and all the pelvic structures coming into play when the psoas is in motion (which is any time you are extending or lifting your leg, sportsfans).

I’ve also noted that it helps me relax my shoulders, open and broaden my chest and breathe more deeply. Gives personal meaning to “it’s all one” and “it’s all connected”.

So the Psoas…

I write a lot about the psoas because it’s been such an important structure for me to pay attention to in my own practice. I’ve struggled with hip pain for more than 20 years and trace it back to structural abnormalities (I was born bow-legged and pigeon toed and had surgery, casts and braces to correct it 40 years ago) as well as poor training as a young runner and weight lifter (teen age girls probably shouldn’t put 400 pounds on barbells for a lift, nor is it wise to run middle distance and marathon in the off season, just in case  you wondered about such things 🙂

Yoga has revolutionized my embodiment in so many ways, and one is to allow me to study how I use my illiopsoas. The psoas gets stretched in any backward bending, some more than others, and it gets worked whenever we bring knees toward chest. Tightness or injury in this muscle can mimic lots of other injuries and even create bizarre symptoms. True injury is debilitating for a time… I’ve learned you even use this muscle to get out of bed!

One of the most subtle stretches for the psoas is Warrior I – Virabhadrasana I. From mountain, step one foot back 2 to 3 feet. Your hips remain forward, so it helps to inner spiral the femurs and push into the feet to bring the hip of the back leg forward, and the hip of the front leg back. The femur of the back leg is naturally drawing the pelvis under and forward; resist this by engaging the abdominals to move the rib cage back in space and over the pelvis. Tuck your tailbone. 

Breathing in, raise the arms overhead by the ears or in “I give up” if your shoulders are tight.

Breathing out, bend your forward knee. Check in with the hips: if you had headlights on the front of each pelvic crest, would they both be pointing forward? Press into the feet, engage the inner & outer hip muscles, engage mula bandha and your core to find alignment, then relax, smile and shine!

Because of the psoas’ pull on the pelvis and low back, this is an outstanding preventative and sometimes help for low back pain. Try a backbend (bow, bridge or cobra perhaps?) before and one after and see if you can tell the difference in your openness and ability to radiate.  And radiate love, truth and beauty!