Anxiety Relief, Body & Soul, Breathe, Exercise, Mind, Mind, Body & Soul, Mindfulness, Resilience, Self-Care, Stress Relief, Wellbeing

Anxiety and Your Psoas Muscle

The psoas is a very important yet often unknown muscle that plays a vital role in your physical health and mental wellbeing. The cumulative effect of neglecting this muscle is physical and mental stress and tension, which manifests itself mentally as anxiety and depression and physically issues such as stretched ligaments, tendonitis, sciatica, dislocations, compressed disc, lower backache, knee, ankle and hip problems may all be traced to imbalances in an exhausted or overused/misused psoas.

Your psoas creates a muscular shelf that your kidneys and adrenals rest on. When you breathe properly your diaphragm moves and your psoas muscles gently massage these organs and stimulate blood circulation. But when the psoas muscles become tense and imbalanced, so do your kidneys and adrenal glands causing physical and emotional exhaustion, digestive distress, respiratory problems and chronic pain.  A chronically tightened psoas continually sends signals to your body that you’re in danger, and this eventually exhausts the adrenal glands.  The psoas even becomes a factor in sexual arousal which is another reason to maintain its health.

Physically ~ Embedded within the deepest layer of connective tissue, the psoas connects the spine to the legs. It is a very significant core postural muscle and since it is located near the body’s centre of gravity it influences balance, nerves, circulation, respiration and energy flow. It measures 16 inches long– beginning at T12 in your spine, attaching all the way along to your lumbar vertebrae and connecting into the femur.  Its main job is to convey messages about subtle changes in structural, neurological, chemical and energetic dynamics.

Emotionally ~ The deep location and connection of the psoas affects the central and peripheral nervous system; your nervous system is communicating with your psoas constantly, and the psoas is sending information back to the nervous system. Since the psoas is closely linked to our “fight, flight, freeze” mechanism, fear can be over-represented in those with a constricted psoas.  Therefore the memory of traumatic stress can be held in the psoas for many years causing tightness and pain and hypervigilance. 

Since our body and mind are intricately linked, how we experience stress, anxiety and trauma is both physiological and psychological.  People can hold embedded memories of traumatic events in the body as well as the brain and since the psoas is an organ of perception its release can begin a healing process.  When muscles are relaxed they begin to affect the rest of the body and the mind, so learning how to release your psoas may help to relieve emotional tension, and even trauma held deep in the core of the body.

As part of the fear response, the psoas prepares us for survival, therefore unresolved fear, trauma and shock causes havoc to the pelvic basin via the psoas.  Humans have an instinctive survival mechanism that produces chemicals to reinforce our ability to fight, flee or freeze.  This protective response is designed to serve us for a short time and then we return to a relaxed state, but constant and long-term stress causes the psoas muscles to become stuck in “fight, flight, freeze” mode and this constricts them.  Any unresolved trauma becomes lodged in our psyche and body – the emotional pain we carry within us, isn’t just in our head it is also etched into our muscles.  To gain a better understanding of this, think of the instinctive foetal position our body assumes when we are startled.  The response of muscles exposed to stress is to contract and this creates what is known as flexor withdrawal.  This position of bringing our extremities together causes us to feel safer by protecting our vulnerable soft parts – our vital organs, genitals, our head and face.

Two of the primary flexor muscles that contract are the psoas muscles.  Any time you feel unsafe or threatened (a verbal jab, a close call driving in traffic, a long-standing argument with your partner or family, day to day anxieties, etc.) the psoas muscles automatically contract and pull the body forward.  At the same time the erector spinae muscles pull the body backwards in an attempt to keep it upright.  These two opposing tensions pull on the lower back and if the tension is continued it will eventually cause shoulder and neck pain as well.  Contracted psoas muscles that aren’t released can develop into patterns of chronic tension in the body, and they become particularly vulnerable to continued stimulation whenever we feel stressed or anxious, causing us to react to even minor stress. 

A tight psoas affects posture, placement, walking, energy and emotions and because of its deep location within the body and its sensitivity to other structures, it is vital that natural bodywork takes place regularly to release and relax the psoas.  Releasing and freeing the psoas muscle allows it to begin a healing process and operate effectively. 

We are living in a time where we are experiencing chronic stress in various forms due to Covid-19, the increase in terrorism, political crises, climate changes, etc.  Therefore it is not surprising that our psoas muscles are tight and contracted in response to these situations that cause fear.  Our modern lifestyle also constricts and places stress on the psoas muscles – from car seats to hobbies, how much sitting or bending forward we do, to our postural habits, to constrictive clothing and shoes – these all contribute to distorting our posture and limiting our natural movements.

In addition to structural health, the psoas is vital to our psychological wellbeing and awareness of this is the first step towards ensuring that we give this muscle the attention it deserves.  The psoas is an emotional muscles and it conveys whether we are centred or vulnerable therefore it is accessed through emotional awareness.

Reconnecting with your psoas regularly can achieve resolution of the fear response and trauma.  Constructive Rest Position is an excellent way to do this as it teaches you how to release one of the most chronically tense muscles in everyone.

Constructive Rest Position is the simplest way to release psoas muscle contraction, as it allows the skeleton and gravity to do the work of neutral alignment in a restful state.  This unravels tension patterns that are held deep in the core and allows us to let go of old emotional conditioning.  Resting in this position helps you to recognise and work with pelvic instability and unresolved emotional holding patterns.  In this pose, you don’t need to anything but relax. Gravity will do the work.

How to do Constructive Rest Position

Find a quiet and comfortable place to rest where you will be undisturbed. 

Lie on a blanket or yoga mat and have a towel in case you need to create a small pillow to place underneath your head.

Lie on your back with your head parallel to the floor.  Your head should rest at the same level as the spine and pelvis, so if you use a towel to support the head (no thicker than 1-2 inches), place the towel under the upper half of your skull, not under the neck and as you settle more deeply into the position you may need to lower or remove it completely.

Feet flat on the floor, knees hip width apart and bent at a 45 degree angle. Place a soft ball fully inflated or a yoga bolster or large cushion (the width of your hip sockets) between your legs as this helps to maintain the correct skeletal alignment of the legs and feet.

OR use a chair to support the legs by placing your lower legs and feet on the seat of a flat chair, parallel to the floor.  Your knees will be bent at a right angle. Rest your hands anywhere that is comfortable.

In Constructive Rest Position maintain a centred and neutral pelvis – neither flattening nor exaggerating the curves in your lower back or neck. This neutral position is the starting point for unravelling all of the tension in your body. 

Imagine you are “smiling” with the back of your abdominals.  Let it all go by sensing the weight of your bones sinking down into the mat. If you notice any part of your skeleton that feels as though it is suspended, simply let it go. 

Feel for any place where a muscular contraction prevents the bones from surrendering to the pull of gravity and let it relax completely.  As your psoas releases, the distribution of weight against the mat will start to feel more even throughout your body.

Take your time to rest here and simply notice what takes place.  Constructive Rest Position is a non-doing position.  It is a being position. It is gravity that releases the energetic nerve tension out of the psoas and that’s what makes this position so constructive.

Begin with daily sessions lasting 5-10 minutes and gradually increase over time to 20 minutes.  If you experience tingling along the sacrum, move out of the position by rolling onto your side.  Tingling or numbness indicates that you have been in the position too long, or that your skeletal alignment limits the length of time you can stay in Constructive Rest Position.

When you are ready to come out of the position, let your knees lead as you roll over onto one side and allow your whole body to follow.  Rest there for a moment and then move onto all fours and use your hands and feet to push up off the floor to stand.

Remember that fear is an emotion that can “lock” itself into the body resulting in both physical and emotional tension. By regularly restoring balance to your psoas muscles you are likely to release this pent up tension, which can have a profound effect on both your physical and mental wellbeing. You will feel a greater sense of inner peace, along with fewer muscle aches and strains.  When the body can properly support itself, movement is less restricted and requires less effort thus leaving you more energetic.  Lengthening and releasing the psoas muscles restores comfort and balance to the entire body. With consistent practice, you can learn how to isolate this muscle which can be immensely useful and healing in the long run.

Bibliography:

Staugaard-Jones, Jo Ann. The Vital Psoas Muscle.  Lotus Publishing, Chichester, PO, 2012 and North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 2012.

Koch, Liz, Core Awareness. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 2012.

Berceli, David. The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process. Namaste Publishing, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6J 1Z1.

Anxiety Relief, Breathe, Meditation, Mind, Mind, Body & Soul, Mindfulness, Positive Thinking, Self-Care, Stress Relief

Anxiety Management Techniques

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When suffering with anxiety symptoms it is important to find effective ways to change your physiology through the use of relaxation techniques, developing your self-awareness and learning productive coping strategies. Here are a few anxiety management techniques that you may find useful.  Choose the one’s that you find most beneficial and enjoyable as they are not one size fits all techniques.

Relaxation is the return of your system to equilibrium. When you are functioning at your best there is homeostasis (a state of equilibrium) between your bodily functions.  So when your body is under stress it will try to find balance by producing feel good hormones called endorphins, these are opioid peptides that help to deal with pain and anxiety by relieving it and producing a sense of wellbeing.

BREATHE TO RELAX ~ deep breathing is the fastest way to activate your ‘rest and restore’ parasympathetic nervous system. Experiencing a deep breath into the abdomen is not only relaxing; it’s been scientifically proven to positively affect the heart, brain, digestive and immune system. Deep breathing alters your state of mind and helps your body to relax. Regularly engaging in 1-2 minutes of this deep breathing technique throughout the day will keep you calm.

Try these deep breathing techniques:

  • Breathe deeply and slowly so that your inhalation and exhalation are the same duration.
  • Count 1-2-3-4 in your mind while inhaling and 1-2-3-4 while exhaling. Gradually increasing the numbers as you deepen your breathing.
  • Alternate nostril breathing can also help to slow and deepen your breathing. Using your thumb and ring fingers to gently open and close the nostrils, breath in 1 nostril and out the other. Repeat for 5 cycles and then change nostrils.

 

HOW TO AVOID PANIC ATTACKS ~ People who suffer panic attacks are usually very aware of their physical sensations and any changes that may occur such as hyperventilating, fluttering in the stomach, heart palpitations, sweating, etc. This awareness of any physical changes then heightens their anxiety, as they begin to worry about having a panic attack – what IF this happens or what IF that happens? The fear of having a panic attack as well as the fear of other people seeing them or judging them all serve to heighten their anxiety and this then triggers a panic attack which is frightening.

Mindfulness is being fully present in the moment you are living in and it is the antithesis of anxiety which is worrying about what was or what will be. One aspect of mindfulness is shifting awareness – choosing what to pay attention to by learning to direct your focus and attention to what is happening around you. By focusing your attention on what is happening around you, to your outer world instead of your inner world, you stop focusing attention on the physical sensations of panicking and you gain some sense of control over how you are experiencing life.

To practice mindfulness with shifting awareness you can:

  • Close your eyes and follow your breath into your body as you inhale – noticing the coolness of the air, the pressure of airflow, how the movement feels through your nose, throat and down into your lungs and notice the pattern in reverse as you breathe out exhaling through the nose or mouth.
  • Direct your awareness to all the sounds around you in your environment, paying attention to the location and intensity of each sound. Or shift your awareness to the smells in the environment around you, or to a sense of movement if you are in a place with other people nearby.

It is a good idea to practice the above so that you have a plan to ward off a panic attack when you feel one coming on. Mastering this technique will help you to stop fearing physical sensations that may then trigger a panic attack. You are also using the brain to control the brain which is crucial in anxiety management.

SPEAK or SING ~ One way to interrupt anxious cognitions is to choose to replace negative thoughts and this works very well when you plan to have something in advance, rather than feeling stuck when you are in the middle of ruminating. Compete with your negative thoughts by speaking out loud – reciting song lyrics, saying an affirmation or a poem can be very helpful. Singing is also very effective as it uses more parts of your brain and singing out loud uses even more and adds the dimension of hearing to your positive thought. Plan your songs or the recitation you want to use ahead of time based on what works best for your style and personality. Feel free to share what works well for you in the comments box below, in doing so you may find suggestions from others and create a selection that you can use.

Suggestions:

  • Affirmation: Stay Positive. Be positive. Think positive.                                                      
  • Poem: I am not what happened to me. I am who I choose to become. ~ Carl Jung
  • Song: Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself by Jess Glynne

 

PRACTICE MINDFULNESS ~ We spend a lot of time and energy fighting with our internal states. The expectation is that we should feel good most of the time, so we try to change our anger, get rid of our sadness and escape from our anxiety. Our way of dealing with unpleasant emotions is to get rid of them, change them, suppress them or ignore them. That is what we are taught to do and that is what most of us do most of the time and because of this we become afraid of feelings and try to avoid them. Carl Jung said that “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” When we try to control our feelings they get stronger and multiply. The best way to learn how to cope with difficult feelings is to practice allowing them to be there. Practice exploring them and being okay with them. You gradually build your ability to observe, notice and sit curiously with what is – without getting caught up in the stories that your mind is telling you. You are stepping out of the story and into the experience. You are experiencing the feeling as it is – a physical sensation. You are allowing your body the space and time to process stress. You are also building your ability to be with difficulty, challenges and discomfort and in this way you are able to break the cycle of pain.

 

BREATHE INTO YOUR BELLY ~ Mindfulness meditation has 2 aspects and the first is stopping and calming. Belly breathing is a simple and effective method for taking care of our strong emotions like fear or anger. These strong emotions can be like standing in the middle of a storm that feels dangerous and overwhelms us. We can ground ourselves by bringing our attention down to the abdomen and breathing mindfully. Focus on your navel, breathe in and breathe out and become aware of the rise and fall of your abdomen. Don’t think of anything; just breathe this way for 5-15 minutes and the storm will pass. The more you practice doing this, the more peace of mind you will experience, so that the next time a strong emotion arises, it becomes easier to belly breathe and you already know that you can survive it.

 

TAKE A BREAK ~ Take regular breaks from high-stimulation environments. Noisy school classrooms, working in an open plan office, commuting on busy streets, fluorescent lighting, shopping malls, etc. all impact on your levels of stress. Plan regular short breaks in the day to calm your mind and body and make time in-between activities to give your nervous system a chance to rejuvenate itself.

  • Go outside even if it’s only for a few minutes to look at trees, gardens, the sky, etc.
  • Have a picture of your favourite people/places/things handy and spend a few moments looking at it with love and appreciation
  • Move away from your work station – walk up and down the stairs, go to the bathroom even if you don’t need it, have a drink of water
  • Take a mental vacation – close your eyes and imagine your favourite place using all 5 of your senses to experience it fully
  • Sit in a quiet space for a few minutes and breathe mindfully, read or meditate
  • Listen to music that soothes you

 

SEEK SILENCE ~ Close your eyes and tune into your environment right now. What’s plugged in, switched on and making a noise? When you stop and listen to your life, you’ll notice that you are surrounded by noise all the time. Your body absorbs and processes sound which takes energy, so the absence of peace and quiet means that you are constantly processing sound, leaving you feeling tired and drained. Your body, brain and wellbeing need a rest from this on-going noise and activity. With peace and quiet, your thinking will slow down and your body, particularly your nervous system, shifts to a more balanced state that allows your fight-or-flight system to rest and relax. If you consciously turn down the noise and integrate some time for peace and quiet throughout the day, you will enjoy mental and emotional calm to reduce anxiety, free up your mind to enable you to make better decisions and choices and practice mindfulness.

Tips for intentionally seek out more quiet moments throughout your day:

  • Occasionally enjoy a quiet house – run the dishwasher/washing machine when you go out.
  • Drive or commute in silence without the radio/music.
  • Find a quiet area at work or in your garden/home where you can sit for few quiet moments.
  • Avoid falling asleep to the sound of the TV when you go to bed at night.
  • Try to eat one meal a day alone in silence without any distractions.
  • Manage technology – turn off all devices during certain hours instead of being available 24/7.
  • Shop on-line in the peace and quiet of your home.

 

 

Body & Soul, Breathe, Mind, Mind, Body & Soul, Mindfulness, Resilience, Self-Care, Stress Relief, Wellbeing

Breathing To Calm Your Mind And Body

breathing deeply

We all breathe all the time, but do we know how to breathe properly? Take a normal breath in and then exhale.  How much air are you taking in? Dancers, actors, meditators, swimmers, athletes and yogis all work consciously on their breathing as it is vital in order to perform well.   Every time you breathe, you nourish your body and brain, so it’s very important to understand the health implications of not breathing properly and how this impacts on your emotional, physical and mental wellbeing.

Most people breathe from their chest and this contributes to neck and shoulder tension, because you are constantly using the muscles in the top half of your body that are not intended for breathing.  Breathing from the lower half of your body – known as belly breathing which involves the bottom half of your ribcage moving and your belly expanding – is reminding your body of how it is designed to work.  To effectively combat stress, you need to breathe in this way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (aka your body’s relaxation response).

In addition to its calming physical effects, activating your body’s relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity. With regular practice anyone can reap these benefits.

Why has our breathing become inefficient? 

Why has our breathing become inefficient?  Stress – we’re constantly rushing, multi-tasking, overthinking, overdoing it and feeling overloaded. We do everything fast: we walk faster, eat faster, talk faster and we age faster! Consequently our breathing is constantly in fast mode, it’s shallow and quick.  This has terrible health repercussions because every cell in your body needs oxygen, therefore many illnesses are caused or made worse by a lack or imbalance of oxygen. Breathing from your chest underutilises your diaphragm so that your exhalation becomes very passive and instead of using your exhalation muscles, you simply let the air out.  Even though it may feel normal for you to breathe this way, it becomes dysfunctional because the exchange of oxygen to carbon dioxide is out of balance. You could inhale more fresh air if you exhaled all the stale air out more fully each time.

Sub-optimal breathing contributes to:-

Cognitive problems ~ less oxygen = concentration difficulties and memory problems.

Emotional problems ~ depression and anxiety are worsened by shallow breathing.

Acidity and inflammation ~ increase in and longer duration of pain.

Spinal health ~ using incorrect muscles to breathe causes neck & shoulder tension.

Low energy ~ shallow breathing delivers less oxygen to the cells, leading to cells having to prioritize survival over growth and repair.

Hypertension ~ breathing badly constricts blood vessels which can lead to higher blood pressure which in turn makes the heart work harder.

Digestive difficulties ~ breathing muscles stimulate peristalsis, the wave-like motion of the intestines that promotes digestion and elimination. Without this internal abdominal massage, symptoms such as constipation, bloating, gas, heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome increase.

Poor sleep ~ shallow breathing switches on your sympathetic nervous system (aka ‘fight or flight’ response) which impairs deep sleep.

Teach yourself how to belly breathe

Breathing correctly leads to better oxygenation and also works your core more efficiently leading to stronger muscles.  Teach yourself how to belly breathe using the lower half of your body to expand in a subtle 3-dimensional way on the inhalation – feel the bottom half of your ribcage, your lower abdomen, the sides of your waist and lower back all expanding and learn to contract those muscles a lot more when expelling all the old stale air out when you exhale.  Simply practicing mindful belly breathing little and often throughout the day will remind your how to breathe properly, and by changing your breathing you will be able to improve your wellbeing and learn to control stress – not let it control you.