Heart and Breath of stillness

“The heart has no limit in regards to the body’s shape….If you want to know the shape of the human heart, simply take a look at your fellow human and behold the human heart before you”….. Gil Hedley

Our heart like the rest of our body is steeped in movement. It is movement.

Yes, it squeezes and releases, it physically moves blood throughout the body. But what other adjectives could you use to describe the human heart? I bet most of the words you thought of are descriptions of movement… the heart Pushes, Expels, Draws in, Squeezes, Contracts, Relaxes, Pulsates, Beats, Circulates, Pumps. Take a moment and sit perfectly still, feet resting on the floor and the body relaxed. Now put your hand over your heart and feel the heart, feel the beat and notice that you aren’t really completely still. So while on the outside you seem to be completely still, there is still movement in your body, and you are aware of that movement because you can feel it with your hand and consciously you know the heart beats.

But on an energetic level, the movement of the heart is much more subtle. The heart is filled with spirit and life, it continuously dances with the body and its favorite partner in the breath.

Gill Hedley, a wonderful anatomy teacher, talks about the dance of the heart and he even has an amazing, quirky video about it and I love it! But for me, I tend to think about hows things move together, how things move physically and energetically together. So when I think of a dance or the dance of the heart I think more about how it dances with the rest of the body.

In particular the heart and breath dance together, they could and can dance alone, but never for long, for without the breath, the heart couldn’t beat for very long and without the heart, the breath couldn’t move oxygen along the river of energy to reach out to all the body.

When healthy body moves, take walking as an example, all of its parts move together. The legs propel us forward, the arms swing by your side, there is an up and down motion as well, as the feet come away from the ground and then set back down. You may even have a slight sway side to side. Your head may bob. And your feet, oh the movement in your feet alone as you walk, well that’s a whole post by itself. Your heart beats faster, your respiration increases, your blood flows with more force, your body temperature increases and you sweat.

Walking is never just about the legs.

And a movement is never about only the body. Or only the body parts we see. When you peel away the layers you find movement everywhere. In the muscles, the joints, even the bones have movement to them. Blood flow through veins and arteries and the Breath brings draws in oxygen. The cells inside us move through out our body and within the cells themselves there is movement. The body dances with itself all the time.

All movement is a dance that is constantly happening not just physically but mentally and spiritually.

And it begins with the breath and the heart. Together they take to the dance floor and in that dance, you find a rhythm. The heart and lungs share space in our body and as we breathe, they dance creating a sense of rhythm and making room for each other. They change shape to allow each the other to function, each breath and each beat of the heart they are inseparable.

My friend Amber and I went to Nashville to listen to Gil Hedley lecture (it was amazing, He is amazing…Got a little FanGirl thing going on I admit) and after the lecture, we grabbed a bit to eat and chatted vigorously and enthusiastically about what was in the lecture and well as in our  own practices. You see Amber is a skilled body work expert and Neuromuscular Therapist, she is skilled in many different aspects of massage therapy and me I am a skilled Yoga therapist and teacher. And this is how I summed up the work we do…

Bodyworkers facilitate movement for those who can’t…. And Yoga Therapists, facilitate stillness with movement and facilitate movement within the stillness.

Stillness in movement?? Movement in the stillness?? What does that even mean?

I mean that when we dance with the heart we create stillness in the mind and when we become still we can dance with Spirit.

You need to learn to tune in deeply to the body and begin to listen to the stillness within the movement and then notice the stillness that resides in the movement. This, for me, is meditation. I have never been one to sit quietly in meditation, I try… Oh, how I try to be still, physically still… not a muscle moving, like all the great Gurus of the world … it’s torture and I die a little inside every time…Every damn time. But over the years as I would try yet again to sit in meditation I would say to myself ‘be still’ … ‘stop fidgeting’  but over time I began to notice that if I would just wiggle my toes or watch the movement of breath and listen to my heart that I was moving, that even in the stillness I was still moving. And then I began to incorporate the movement of the body with the movement of breath and I could slip away into the place of stillness in the mind even though the body was moving.

You see even in the stillness of the body I was moving and within the movement of breath and beats of the heart, I found stillness.

Om Shanti

Cheryl

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Oh those pesky Edges ….

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In yoga the phrases “find your edge” or “play with your edges” have been prominent for many years. But I haven’t ever really liked that way of teaching, at least not to my tribe. Finding one’s edge or playing with your edges always feels a little bit like playing with fire… closer (warm)…Closer (warmer)… CLOSer (getting hot)… CLOSER annnnnd you get burned!

Most people don’t know what the hell the edge means, let alone how to find it or play with it. And so they topple over that edge everyone else seems to know about. And they get hurt or frustrated. Playing the edge seems hard or harsh and it’s quite the balancing act if you think about it. And again us average Joes and Janes aren’t very good at walking a tight rope.

And I do know what teachers mean when they say those things, they want their students to grow in their practice, by pushing their personal limits. I get it… I want my students to grow and to expand too, but how about we talk about it in a different way. Think of that growth in a different way.

Let’s start by looking at other words we can use to convey the same message… these are words I use all the time to encourage growth while maintaining the concept of Sukha…. Effortless work.

Explore

I really want you to explore what you’re doing. Be Magellan, go somewhere you’ve never been. The mat is the perfect and safe place launch a personal expedition. From the security of your mat you can explore your body, look for ways to strengthen yourself, seek out new ways to release tension from the body and sift through the negative things your mind tells you about your body  to find ways to accept it for the amazing vessel it truly is.

Erode

From your mat your body can flow with your breath like a river, gently, slowly eroding away the borders of your personal riverbanks. As the erosion takes place the old is washed away revealing new life underneath. And your tension and stiffness are gently released revealing fresh new energy.

Expand

From the safety of your mat you can expand your horizons. You can approach a pose in a new way. You can spiral outward slowly expanding the territory of your own awareness, the awareness of your body but also the awareness of yourself. From your center you can reach outward through the action of expansion to create new boundaries.

Boundaries (my favorite)

Instead of edges think of boundaries, because a boundary can change, edges seem to be stationary, they are always there. But a boundary can shift and change as you change, as your practice changes. Over time you slowly build up strength to hold a pose longer and gently over time you increase your physical flexibility. But it’s within the boundaries of our minds that we can find the most change. As we ‘explore’ our boundaries our minds discover patience, as we ‘erode’ away the old energy we may find those old negative thoughts have less of a hold on us. As we ‘expand’ our practice we expand our heart and minds to see things in a new way.

Yoga is the perfect compass, and from the mat it can take us so many new and wonderful places.

Go explore your mat and let me know what you find there, tell me where it takes you.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

Cheryl

More off the mat chat

I’ve been talking about the concept of taking Yoga off the mat. I want to delve a bit deeper into that concept. Yoga has the reputation, certainly in the West, of being ‘only’ a fitness regime, a physical health program. And that’s part of it for sure, but at some point you realize that yoga is something else. Your practice then becomes so much more. And that’s when the real struggle begins, because you start to question things in your life. And that can make the people in your life uncomfortable. It can make you uncomfortable.

Odds are when you first come to yoga, whether through a studio or a gym class or even online it was through the lens of the physical practice, the asana practice, and so for many that’s all yoga is, only a bunch of postural exercises.

But after a while yoga begins to take on a different meaning, you start to recognize something in your practice that you can’t quite put into words.

I tell my students all the time that yoga will slowly worm it’s way into your life, it will start to move you in ways you hadn’t expected. Slowly and over time your yoga practice becomes your own…. Not your teachers practice, not your friends but your practice. Even if it looks similar on the outside, on the inside it’s unique. It’s intimate and subtle and you find yourself looking at the rest of your life through that now intimate and subtle lens.

You may change behaviors in your life, like drinking less or eating differently. You may stop smoking or maybe you start going to the gym or the park to exercise. You may stop participating in conversations with friends that marginalize other groups outside your own. Your prayer or devotion time might now start with an asana practice. You start to find the subtleties of yoga in the way you wash the dishes, in the way you actually listen to someone when they talk. You may also look at yourself differently. You may see your beauty, where before you saw only flaws. You may start realizing your strength is in the very same places that others had only seen weakness.

Yoga off the mat is an ambiguous phrase but the truth is yoga will change you and you will reflect that change in your life. As your practice grows so will you, you will blossom and flower into a new, better version of yourself.

For me Yoga is the basis of my life, it is the foundation of who I am and every single day yoga reminds me of where I come from and how I can continue to move forward. If I never get on the mat again, if for some reason I never do the movement practice again, yoga will still be an integral part of my life. It is how I breathe, it is how I move, it is how I face the challenges of life, and it is the foundation for my relationships, my relationship with my students, with my friends, my family and with God. Yoga isn’t about perfection it’s about reaching deeply into myself so that I can then reach higher and find the better parts of me.

Yoga is my spiritual practice.

Yoga doesn’t take away the responsibility of our daily existence, yoga doesn’t teach us to run away but instead to be grounded and rooted in the experience of life so that we can see the beauty in our daily lives.

Om shanti

Cheryl

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Yoga is everywhere

pic-effectsYoga is more than the movement of your body; yoga is a journey that takes its path through your entire life if you let it…

What does it means to take your yoga off the mat and into your life? That your body is physically stronger and more flexible? Well, yes you certainly will be but that isn’t what we really mean. Taking Yoga into the rest of your life means being strong enough to face life’s up’s and down’s, to be flexible enough to face the choices we need to make.

Yoga teaches us to be flexible and resilient to smoothly bounce back from the chaos of life.
It teaches us to inhale fresh life, and exhale the things that hold us back; breathing in love, and breathing out anger,
It teaches us to face the fear of failing in life, much like the first time we tried headstand on our own,

A few months ago my hubby and his two daughters and I went backpacking along a section of the Appalachian trail, it was a tough trail, hubby thinks it was just fine, but me and Ashley beg to differ…. It was Hard! 

All up…every step was UP the first day. We climbed 1800 feet in 5 miles that first afternoon and 1300 feet in 7 miles the second day. The 3rd day wasn’t as bad…I mean we had to come down, right. But my legs we  were pretty toasted by then. What most people don’t know about me is that I have a neuromuscular condition known as Mcardles disease that cause extreme muscular fatigue and failure. It affects the body’s ability to process sugars for energy. It wont kill me but it makes some things, from walking up a flight of stairs to backpacking for 3 days, challenging.

What does all this have to do with yoga well if hadn’t been for my yoga practice, my long suffering hubby probably would have left me out there….still whining! As I walked along I remembered all that I learned from my teachers…. from yoga. The  basic tenets of yoga help us to make choices throughout our lives and in this case to get through what was both a wonderful, fun time with my family and a grueling, physically challenging event, that at times I wasn’t sure I could finish.

Yoga isn’t something that we do only when we roll out our mats, it weaves it’s way throughout our lives, in our minds and actions. Knowing how to practice Ahimsa, to do no harm, was a big help over that weekend. I had to know when I needed to rest, but I needed to balance that with getting to our camp site set up before dark. In Yoga there is a strong emphasis on having a ‘single point of focus’ a ‘Drishti‘. A drishti doesn’t move so you stay focused on a still place while moving  or being in a challenging pose.  For me during that those long climbs when I thought my legs weren’t going to make it, my breath became my drishti. Just being aware of my breath helped me to put one foot in front of another when my legs were telling me I needed to stop. Using the technique of a dristi can get you through many of life’s tough challenges. Having that stillness within you, no matter what is going on around you, gives you the focus to get through the Chitta vritti. Chitta vritti means chaos of the mind, literally means mental vortex or whirlpool. It’s calming  to know that when the mind is all over the place you have a place to go ‘be still’ and organize your thoughts.

Yoga can be everywhere and in every action. So when you are off the mat how does Yoga show up in your life. Where, in your life, can you start applying what you have learned from your practice? Give it some thought. And here are a few tips for taking your yoga off the mat and into your life.

  • Attend to your Breath: Just like in yoga class, breathe when uncomfortable situations come up, bringing with them emotions like anger, sadness and fear. Breathing helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system prompting the relaxation response. So just like on the mat breathing with purpose and awareness can help us to relax and therefore change a stressful situation. 
  • Be aware of what you feel: Notice your feelings, emotional stress can come up in the body as muscle tension, or headaches or an upset digestive system. But our feelings are not the problem. It’s when we try to control them or we refuse to face them that is the real problem.  So when faced with a stressful situation sit with it and allow the feelings the come up to move through you, without you trying to clutch at them. Use your breath to control that knee jerk reaction.
  • Witness yourself: Witness consciousness is the capacity to notice what’s happening without judgment, the ability to observe with deep compassion and understanding. When we can step outside ourselves for a moment and witness whats going on we can gain new understanding of the subtleties in life. Just like on the mat when we step away from a pose and look at the subtleties of movement and alignment we gain a better understanding of the pose .
  • Allow things to unfold naturally: If we can allow painful sensations to arise and pass on the mat then we can do the same in life. We can’t control other people, situations, or things, but we can learn to let things pass, to ‘let things go’ without always trying to fix or change them.  We can relax and experience  what’s happening instead of trying to force it.     

 

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson                          

Om Shanti

Cheryl

 

 
 

Seva

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“Seva”(pronounced Say-va) is a Sanskrit word meaning “selfless service, work done without any thoughts of getting anything in return. Seva, in many spiritual traditions is believed to help someone’s spiritual growth and to also support your community or your tribe.

We all have the capacity for selfless service, to give without expecting to get, to help without thanks, to serve without reward. Ram Dass famously stated that “Helping out is not some special skill. It is not the domain of rare individuals. It is not confined to a single part of our lives. We simply heed the call of that natural impulse within and follow it where it leads us.

You don’t have to be a great sage, monk, priest or nun to practice seva, we can all practice seva in many ways throughout our daily lives. We can all spare a few minutes to pick up trash we see as we are walking through our neighborhoods or in the woods. If you have more time you can volunteer at a soup kitchen or help start a group that reads to children in hospitals. You can walk dogs at your local shelter or you can buy coffee for the guy standing behind you at Starbucks.

It’s important to note that true service doesn’t try to convert or save a soul; it simply serves for no reason other than lifting someone up.

That’s intention and I think seva is more about intention then it is about the act itself. If seva is to be a righteous action then the intention behind that action must come from the heart.

The intention of seva isn’t about getting something in return,

It’s about you taking action that benefits someone else.

 

Think for a minute what the world would be like if we all thought that way.

It’s important to know that since yoga is about balance, there needs to be balance in our actions, in our seva. We don’t want to donate so much money that we can’t feed our family and we don’t want to give so much of our time that we become exhausted. One of my teachers Ma Jaya taught that we need to fill our cup up first, and let it over flow. The overflow is what we have to give, to share. It’s not a new concept, they didn’t make it up, the idea that you need to care for yourself first has been taught for countless generations. But somehow we’ve managed to get it in our heads, women especially, that we need to take care of everyone else first and we come last. But when you live that way you are depleting yourself and then you won’t have anything to give others. How does that serve anyone?

But if we can learn to live our lives with purpose……. on purpose…… if we move through our days deliberately and we are caring for ourselves, then we have the resources to serve wherever we want and to serve those that need us.

So with no strings attached, try to do random acts of kindness that come from your heart.

Om Shanti

Cheryl

 

Sacrifice

The Many S’s of Yoga

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Sacrifice

Sometimes to pursue a dream or just to move forward with our lives we have to make sacrifices. Just the act of growing up is a sacrifice; we have to sacrifice the freedom that childhood offers to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. Yoga is like. You practice and you change. You breathe and you change. You meditate and change. Yoga produces changes in our lives, in our bodies and in our minds. It transforms us and helps us lift the veil around our spirit. These changes, this transformation requires some sacrifice, you may sacrifice time spent with family so you can go to class. You may lose friends who don’t understand what you’re doing or why. But you do sacrifice something to transform from where you are to where you want to be, to live your best life.

Yoga transformations are amazing but sometimes require difficult sacrifices.

 

Om Shanti

Cheryl

To Prop or not to Prop

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Hi so watch the really short video, by a damn good teacher and then read my take on it and then leave me a comment……

https://www.facebook.com/taylorhuntayc/videos

Ok, so for the most part I like this guy. He’s an awesome yoga teacher, in that he actually teaches not just shouts out poses and expects the student to do them……But…. then he does this video and now I’m disappointed……

Jeezzee….I thought we were past this….the yoga shaming……the ‘oh, do you have to use a prop? Well it’s too bad you can’t do real yoga, bless your heart’  crap……(So I added the “bless your heart” but I live in the south) .

I get where he’s coming from and for the most part I agree, the postures are not the practice, they are one part and only one part of a rich, complex spiritual practice. But no single style of practice (western practice anyway) has done more to exclude most people than Ashtanga. Maybe not deliberately, but by only showing only the fancy postures (thank you Instagram & every yoga magazine…ever…) like crane and forearm balances…the jump back, pike into a handstand and float through to titibasana stuff, you know the yoga fluff. That kind of power practice has disenfranchised a lot of people. You rarely see an Ashtanga yogi in Instagram, just doing pranayama……

And the average person sees that and of course they think they can’t do it. And so they never….ever… get on a mat. They don’t try because they aren’t shown the years of work someone did to get ‘there’. (wherever the hell ‘there’ is )

Please know and understand I started my practice many years ago with Ashtanga and I deeply respect Pattabhi Jois and all he did to bring yoga out of the shadows. But as I grew as a teacher and as a student I knew that some (most) students, myself included, needed a different practice and so I was drawn to Iyengar yoga by its precision, by its application and use of props thereby allowing all to practice…..everyone. Iyengar didn’t use props because he wanted perfection in the pose; he used props to give everyone a means by which to practice. Without blocks, blankets, chair and other props most people would never be able to practice yoga….to live yoga.

And I do understand what he’s saying, that maybe using props can take away your learning something from the pose, from taking the pose deeper, that it takes away from you exploring the practice of yoga asana. And I personally don’t use a lot of props but I also don’t do 3rd series, hell I don’t do most of 2nd series anymore. But when I do I use props they don’t limit my practice…If my practice is limited (and it does get that way sometimes) then it’s ME that is the problem not the blocks, blankets or wall. My practice is eclectic, very eclectic. Somedays it’s Iyengar, and I work on specific poses and the alignment and other days it’s very Ashtanga, lots of Sun Salutations and movement. Most days, if I’m being honest it’s a mix, a blend of both. I think, those styles play very well together. And why shouldn’t they, they have the same ancestry. Krishnamacharya. Both Jois and Iyengar studied under the great yoga master Krishnamacharya.

Most people come to Ashtanga in their 20’s or 30’s and their bodies can adapt to the changes quickly, more quickly than say someone who begins practicing yoga in their 50’s. So what’s a middle aged person with no upper body strength or no core understanding let alone strength, supposed to do? Suffer? Push through the pain of the practice and hope they don’t get hurt in the process? Come on!?

He’s also saying that if you do use props that your practice isn’t meditative. Tell that to everyone whose yoga practice includes restorative yoga, a practice that heavily relies on props, and is deeply meditative. And if the practice is just meditative then why do the postures at all. You could just sit in sukhasana and breath. That’s yoga, that’s meditation.

What he is stating is that he assumes that everyone  using props are doing so because they want to somehow deepen just the physical aspects of the pose. To open hips (to use his example). Nothing could be farther from the truth. Props just help to bring the pose to where you are, in that moment. And if you do want to deepen the pose, so what?

Props help you get into a pose and help you get the pose into the body, so that you can be strong, steady and stress free while practicing. Ahem, Patanjali states in the yoga sutra 2.46 that yoga asana should be sthira sukham asanam – that asana should be Steady and Comfortable.

Yes of course yoga is an internal practice. No one is saying it’s not. But does NOT using props make you more spiritual? More enlightened?…. Yea, I didn’t think so.

Look if using a prop allows you to practice yoga without struggling (Sukha) and gives you a sense of steadiness in the pose (Stirha) then use those tools. A block is a tool, just like the breath, bandhas and dristi are tools.

And come on, all asana practice should be meditative, whether it be Astanga, Iyengar, Kundalini or any other yoga practice, it should be meditative and there should be a strong focus on the breath work as well.  And lets not forget there are 7 other limbs of yoga we should be studying along with Asana.

I have seen how yoga can transform someone’s life and I have lived that transformation as well. Just remember that whatever you practice, it’s your practice. Use props….don’t use props….I do not care. It’s about your choice, but don’t let someone’s idea of yoga, their dogma, take that choice from you. As long as you are on your mat, as long as you are giving all you have to your time on the mat and as long as you are always exploring why you’re on the mat, exploring the breath and the intention, that’s what I care about. Because then you can begin to take yoga off the mat…..and taking yoga off the mat and into your life, well, that’s where the big changes can happen.

Yoga is a practice of exploring who we are, where we are going and how we choose to get there. It is a practice of the breath, the heart, the mind, the body and ultimately the spirit.

Use whatever tools you need to strengthen your body, relax your mind and enrich your spirit so that you can transform your life.

Om Shanti

 

Cheryl

Are Private Clients needy?

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I have a private client that was attending an event downtown recently and she was seated at a table with a local yoga teacher. During their conversation my client mentioned she did yoga but had a private teacher. The person she was talking to said she did not take private clients because private clients were ‘just too needy’……. Hummmm well my knee jerk reaction is “what a jerk!” but that’s not very Yogi like is it. So I thought about it for a minute and I know that each of us has our talents and the gifts we were born with. And I’ guessing that her gift is something other than working with private clients. It does take a specific skill set to be successful at working one on one.

But I think it’s her perception of private clients as being needy that I took the most exception too. It is way off base……They aren’t needy but they are in need. They need the specialized training that a private yoga teacher has. If you had a heart problem you wouldn’t go to a General Practice Doctor you’d go to a Cardiologist. If you need help with your teeth you see a dentist. If you are training for an Iron Man event you don’t go to your local gym and hire just any Trainer you hire someone who specializes in coaching athletes.

And the people who go to a dentist, cardiologist or hire a coach aren’t considered needy. But they do have a need.

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And just as not all yoga teachers are gifted as private teachers, private yoga isn’t for every student. Most of you will never have that ‘need’. But don’t assume that because someone is hiring a private yoga teacher that they are needy and just want a lot of attention. All of my clients have very specific needs, such as pain reduction, mobility issues, illness or injury recovery to getting ready for a marathon or Iron Man (and many others). But whatever your reason it should be looked at as part of your self-care regime. Just like getting a massage, seeing a chiropractor or having your teeth cleaned it’s all part of what you do to keep yourself health and well.

You keep doing what you need to do to be healthy and well!

 

Om Shanti

Cheryl

Sweet Psoas

When I am teaching I often refer to the psoas in my classes and I have written about it many times as well and its a fascinating subject, far more interesting than most muscles. And in class recently someone asked me to explain why its important. But its such a big subject that talking about in class just takes too much time and I wonder if she was just trying to get out of doing the extra core work I had planned…..

Ok so what is the psoas? Well its two muscles actually, one on either side of the body emerging from the thoracic spine, T-12 to be exact and running down into the abdominal cavity and pelvis. It also attaches to each of the 5 lumbar vertebrae and it attaches to the lesser trochanter, the thigh bone. It shares the tendon attachment at the thigh with the iliacus muscle and so they work together and usually when we refer to the psoas in yoga we are actually referring to the iliopsoas complex. Take a look at the picture…. You can see where the psoas starts on the thoracic vertebrae just below the last rib…..follow it down, you can see the attachments on each of the lumbar vertebrae and where it flows down into the pelvis and where it finally attaches (along with the iliacus) to the inside of the thigh bone.Iliopsoas

 

Ok now you know where it is, lets talk about what it does. It is most often referred to as a hip flexor, hip flexors are muscles in the front of the hip that act to lift the knee and bring the thigh towards the belly. But the psoas is actually more of a pendulum allowing the leg to swing free during the act of walking. So when the psoas is supple and expressive then there is a freedom in your walking, running and other movements. The psoas muscles are deeply affected by our movement patterns or lack of them. If you sit for long periods of time they shorten, tighten and dry out, losing their suppleness. They can pull the pelvis out of balance, strain the back muscles and result in back pain and sciatica. But a weakened, constricted and unresponsive psoas can also influence your digestion, affect the kidneys and adrenal glands which can then compromise the immune system. When the psoas is short, dry and constricted it can affect many things in the pelvis it can compress nerves and limit space in the pelvis.

The psoas isn’t just a muscle of movement it is also a deeply emotional muscle, it is affected by fear, love, anger, shame and trauma along with many others. It is also the muscle that moves through all three lower chakras, so it is deeply affected by chakra imbalances.

We tend to think of muscles (when we think of them at all) as two dimensional ‘things’. They contract, they expand, we can strengthen them or we can stretch them. That’s pretty much the extent of how we think of muscles. And if we were talking about your biceps I’d probably agree, but some muscles like the iliopsoas behave or act differently oh they contract and expand but they also ‘fire’ or ‘freeze’ and you can’t strengthen a muscle that is constantly firing and you can’t stretch one that’s frozen. That’s why when we talk about the deep muscles of the abdomen we often say to ‘release’ or lengthen them. These muscles need to be resilient and supple, they should be strong too but with a strength that is more of a tensile strength. We get this from rehabilitating our movement patterns and by liberating our breathing patterns. This is why yoga is so beneficial to those suffering from back pain. We aren’t just making your back muscles ‘bigger’ or ‘stronger’ yoga is changing the movement patterns that tightened up, dried out and created constriction in the deep core muscles.

In yoga it is the combination of breathing, that frees up tension and the subtle movements, that release constriction, that help create a supple and resilient psoas.

The easiest pose to do that helps release tension in the iliopsoas is Constructive Rest Pose; if you take my classes you see this a lot, whether in a gentle class, restorative class or a power class. CRS uses gravity to release deep muscle tension.

Lay on your back with the knees bent and have your feet and knees as wide as your hip sockets. Let the back be neutral neither lifting or pressing down the lumbar spine. Use no force. Let your breathing be easy, soft and relaxed. You can also try taking the feet a little wider than the hips and let the knees fall in towards each other. If you are in an active phase of back pain you can elevate the feet that can help keep the pelvis neutral.

Laying in CRP not only relaxes the physical body but also can activate the relaxation response and calm the central nervous system and that alone does a lot to ease back pain.

Try out CRP and let me know how you feel.

One of my favorite authors is a Somatic educator named Liz Koch she has been studying the psoas for more than 30 years her book “The Psoas Book” was groundbreaking in that it took a very complex subject and presented in a way that was easily digestible and it began my exploration of the workings of the iliopsoas more than 20 years ago. It is a wonderful and informative book that I highly recommend. Check it out!

 

Oh Shanti

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