Stress and Your Body, Breath, and Psoas Muscles
Let’s face it, caring for a newborn is stressful. Raising children can be stressful too. Ok, life in general can just be very stressful. I feel the first two years of caring for a baby is the most stressful time. You may disagree and say it all is, but I feel most moms are in survival mode for those first two years. Then you usually add another baby to the mix and it’s another two years of stress.
Since you can’t control the stressors of what life throws your way, we need to make sure you know how to work with stress in your life. Your body is meant to be able to handle stress. However, it is designed to be able to handle it for SHORT periods! That is the problem with our society today, a lot of people are living in a state of chronic stress.
Your nervous system is meant to help keep you regulated and functioning to handle whatever is happening in your life. Ideally, you are idling at a low level to no level of stress on a daily basis. Then something happens during the day that causes you to stress out for a bit of time. Your nervous system revs up its engine a bit to deal with the stressful event and then in an ideal world, it calms back down and idles at that low level again. For a lot of people, this doesn’t happen though.
Unfortunately, our way of living is causing our nervous system to be in a constant state of stress so its engine is continually running at high speeds. One of the muscles in our body that registers this stress is the psoas muscle. This muscle is meant to help us to be able to flee in a dangerous situation or tense ourselves up to fight whatever is our threat.
Yet in a state of chronic stress, it remains continually activated and tight. The psoas muscle cannot rest and relax. All the nerves that help run our digestion and work the muscles in our pelvis and legs run through the psoas muscle. It’s such an important muscle for overall function in our body that we need to take care of it.
How do you know if your psoas muscle is tight and activated?
One way to assess it is to lay flat on a hard surface. If your lower ribcage is not in contact with the floor or the backs of your thighs don’t touch the ground, then your psoas muscles are tight. You should be able to slide your hand underneath your lower ribs if they are lifted. This is not what we want. Also, when sitting or in standing you can feel your back muscles on either side of your spine just above your hip bones. When those paraspinal muscles are tight, they will feel like ropes, that is a sign your psoas muscles might be activated.
How do you help your psoas muscle?
Whenever we have a tight muscle we think we just need to stretch it. Yet stretching this muscle to get it to relax is not enough. While it is helpful, it won’t change its activated state if we are still living a life of chronic stress. You need to work on your stress levels to help this muscle relax.
When dealing with stress your breathing is the best way to help down-regulate your nervous system. Movement of your diaphragm massages the vagus nerve which helps calm down the fight or flight reaction in your body. Letting go of this promotes relaxation of the psoas muscle. Focusing on your breath can facilitate a reduction in your stress levels. So, if we combine your breathing with a release pose we can have a greater effect on our psoas muscles.
Get a bunch of pillows and blankets and lay down on your back on a hard surface. If your lower ribcage is not touching the floor, place as many pillows and blankets under your head and shoulders so your rib cage is just barely touching the ground. While you lay there work on breathing into your ribcage, expanding it all around especially out to the sides. With every exhale think about your nervous system calming down and your ribcage melting into the floor. If you can lay there and focus on your breathing for 15-20 minutes this will give your body the chance to release and let go and down-regulate your nervous system.
I want to make it clear that stress is not a bad thing. It’s not that we need to avoid stress. We need stress to help protect ourselves. It becomes a problem when we don’t allow our nervous system to calm back down again and chill out. Our nervous system is meant to go up and down and our psoas muscles are there is help us react accordingly.