It’s amazing to realise the level in which stress affects not only your emotional, but your physical body. Particularly the amount of tension your muscles hold as a result of that built up stress. I’ve been practicing yoga for the past ten years and couldn’t imagine a life without it. I’d say there’s nothing better matched to a life as a surfer.
I first heard about a strange muscle called the psoas muscle, pronounced [soh-ahys] from my wise yoga teacher many years ago. Much of his practice had a big focus on this particular muscle, that literally holds your torso to your lower legs and controls everything from how you move to how you flex. It affects your strength, mobility and also provides stability for your vital organs contained above its shelf-like structure.
Do you spend much of the day seated?
I view hip opening exercises, and yoga in general, to be absolutely vital if you lead a largely sedentary lifestyle, such as an office job or even driving for long periods of time. The biggest focus for you, should be stretching the psoas muscle given how significant its role is within your body.
I always ask myself, “how is my posture and flexibility going to be when I’m 80 years old?” A lady in my yoga class is well into her 70’s and is more flexible than those a third of her age. Including myself.
I’m also sure to start with small daily habits, knowing that these are the building blocks for long term habits (which I wrote about here). You already know how quickly time can pass by. Don’t you?
Understanding fight or flight
The monkey or reptilian brain is our inbuilt response mechanism, linked to fight or flight, and controls the release of adrenaline and cortisol. It also slows down blood flow to larger muscles when needed.
You may already know about stress related illnesses such as adrenal fatigue, which is an overloading of the sympathetic nervous system. This condition can result from leading a fast-paced life, where you’re continually trying to keep up with holding a full time job, looking after the family, fitting in exercise routines but seemingly never finding enough hours in the day to get everything done.
In stressful situations major muscle groups, including the psoas, are on alert and ready to fight or help you flee out of danger. To be continually placing pressure on the psoas is where the trouble begins.
Lower back pain
Holding onto stress in particular leads to muscle tightening and shortening. When this happens in the psoas, it can lead to many other issues particularly within the lower back.
You may complain of lower back pain and therefore book a massage. The massage may feel great at the time but doesn’t really get to the core of the issue.
Much like a doctor prescribing medication but not examining the root cause.
The shortening of the psoas muscle can cause radiating pain in the surrounding muscles. The psoas will contract if you spend a lot of time seated or engage in high cardio activities such as running.
Of course I’m not ruling out other medical conditions related to lower back pain, but it’s certainly a topic that may arouse your curiosity and make you think twice about signing up for that yoga class!