The Nature of Flight - The Illiopsoas in Action
No, the illiopsoas is not a rare bird. Nor is it a single-engine plane. The illiopsoas is in fact an oddly named muscle. Located between the lumbar spine and the femur bone, and simply known as the ‘psoas’.
Now, what does the psoas have to do with flight? When speaking of flight, I am referring to the response of the sympathetic nervous system, the ‘SNS’. The SNS is responsible for keeping your person safe. When you encounter danger, the SNS floods the bloodstream with cortisol and adrenaline, restricts blood flow to the organs, dilates the pupils, raises the heart rate and pushes all resources to the muscles. Why the muscles? So they can react – and help to either fight for our safety or flee from danger by curling into the fetal position.
Imagine the body split through the middle. Using the pelvis as the midpoint, you would observe the psoas muscle as the only muscle connecting the upper portion of the body to the lower. Without the psoas muscle, there would be no forward flexion. Our fetal position would require us to lie on our sides and manually pull our thighs towards our bellies.
Let’s give the psoas a round of applause! It not only initiates that life saving action, but protects all our vital organs from threat. Thank-you psoas, you’re alright!
Okay, it’s time to get a little weird with this new information. Ever heard of muscle memory?
Well, it’s not a real thing. Muscles don’t hold memories, nerves however, do. Nerves connected from the brain and spinal cord are constantly receiving and reacting to information coming in to and going out of the body. The nervous system creates maps of roadways between the brain and body. The more travelled the roads are, the more likely they will be flooded with neural information. If the nerves that communicate between the brain and the psoas are constantly being told to ‘flee!’ ‘protect!’ ‘contract!’ said nerves will remain toned and ready – leading the psoas to stay in a contracted position.
Ultimately, if the blood is being redirected to the muscles– where does that leave our organs? When do we digest, slow the heart rate, rest the adrenals? Great question – one that leads to chronic stress, tension and pain.
Well, what does one do? Using the road analogy – imagine yourself on an overcrowded road. Traffic is backed up for miles and you are surrounded by danger signs. Do you continue, or do you look for new ways to arrive at your destination? What I’m alluding to is a re-toning of the nervous system.
What a re-toning of the nervous system equates to, is stimulation of the tenth cranial nerve. The vagus nerve. The one nerve that connects all the organs and glands to the brain. Some therapies that stimulate a re-toning the nervous system include: somatic movement, yoga, kripalu, massage therapy, EDMR, and breathwork to name a few. As the vagus nerve is stimulated, the body learns that yes, it is in fact safe to rest and digest. It is here that new neural pathways are given the opportunity to form. To learn more about the psoas muscle, the SNS, the vagus nerve and how to re-tone, talk to your local massage therapist, ND, GP, or yoga therapist.
Next time you curl up on your side, ready for bed, give a little thanks to your psoas muscle for keeping you in (literally) one piece.