The Psoas Muscle

The Psoas muscle is often referred to as the deepest core muscle in the abdominal canal. The muscle affects pelvic and hip stability, structural balance and flexibility. It is the bridge linking the trunk of the body to the legs, which is important in keeping us upright and moving. 

Dr. Ida P. Rolf described the role of the psoas in walking:

Let us be clear about this: the legs do not originate movement in the walk of a balanced body; the legs support and follow. Movement is initiated in the trunk and transmitted to the legs through the medium of the psoas. (Rolf, 1977: Rolfing, the Integration of Human Structures, pg. 118).

In fact, the psoas muscle affects every facet of our life, from a physical well-being, to who you believe yourself to be and how you relate to the world.  

Whether you suffer from low back pain or anxiety, knee strain or exhaustion, likely the psoas muscle is a contributing factor to the issues.  Awareness of this muscle may not be as easy to feel, unlike the biceps or hamstring muscles; but improving awareness to the psoas muscle can greatly enhance your physical and emotional health. 

Developing an increased awareness of this critical muscle may unlock deep rooted fears in the body that were stored unconsciously in physical tension. Intimately involved in the stress response - fight/flight/freeze response- the psoas can curl you into a protective fetal ball or prepare you to run.

Over time, a chronically tight psoas muscle will cause the body to continually feel the signals of danger, thereby exhausting adrenal glands and decreasing the immune system.  These are two other systems involved in the stress response. 

As you learn to approach the world with less chronic stress, less fear, the psoas awareness can open the door to a more sensitive attunement to your body's inner signals about safety and danger and enhance a greater sense of inner peace. 

Attachment of the psoas muscle originates from the 12th thoracic vertebrae and each five lumber vertebra, moving through the pelvis with iliacus, inserting as a common tendon to the trochanter of the femur. It guides the transfer of weight from the trunk to the legs for movement and helps to stabilize the spine. In addition, the psoas muscle provides a diagonal support through the trunk, acting like a "hammock" for the vital organs. When walking, a healthy psoas moves freely with a relaxed diaphragm, massaging organs, increasing circulation and flow of fluids.  

The amount of time you spend sitting in a day, incorrect postures during exercise, poor diet, abdominal tensions and incorrect sleep positions, all contribute to the shortening of a psoas muscle.  

Therefore it is important to learn to manage fearful stress responses appropriately. You must relax and breathe into the lower abdominal area, so as to stretch the psoas in movement, which will help to build muscle memory and strength, allowing for spine stability.

Liz Koch's, The Psoas Book is an excellent resource to understanding this crucial muscle function and how best to manage the function of the psoas muscle.  

Preparations for a Wonderful Day

How do we begin our day once the alarm goes off at 6am, or for those lucky enough to sleep until 7am. How do we prepare ourselves to have a calm, productive, pleasant day? 

Apparently research is saying we gain 30% productivity by not checking our emails in the first 60 minutes at the beginning of our day. Emails create reactivity and diminish our strategic proactive intentions for our day. It is important to activate the body and mind with calmer intentions. 

Create Rituals

- Consider doing some gentle stretches in bed, or throw in a little healthy sex

- Incorporate some deep breathing techniques to awaken circulation to the body before jumping out of bed. Grounding ourselves in breath will give us a connection to the earth and can prevent muscle spasms upon rushing out of bed too quickly.  

- Meditation - I have found the morning to my best time for meditation, as it creates calm within and my day always seems to go smoothly. Research says 15 minutes a day is sufficient.  At least that is a beginning but if you can progress to 30 -40 minutes the benefits are even better.

- Write 3 things you appreciate in your life in a journal.  Ensure each day is different.  Your appreciation journal can be on any topic for eg: family, health, time, work, friends, environment, global issues, even YOU.  You may not feel the affects of positive energy in the beginning.  It will be like stopping a drug or vitamin for pain and then seeing what happens. 

- Some people find a vigorous morning exercise regime prepares them for their day. This will be more beneficial if it was done outside, ultimately increasing your vitamin D intake and waking up the pituitary gland in the brain for energy. Yet, if your morning starts too early- say 5am- you might be doing more harm than good. You would need to move your bedtime up earlier to ensure your adrenal's have time to rest and rejuvenate after a very long day.  Even a good morning walk in nature has beneficial effects on the body and mind.

I have found over the years many people are burned out. The adrenal's no longer have energy to supply the body with the correct amount of neurochemicals needed to function. With the function of adrenal's waning, acute and chronic illnesses are becoming more apparent. 

It is therefore very important to focus on getting enough sleep. Research points out that most people start to feel tired around 8-9 pm, which means BEDTIME. But how many of us can crash that early with so much to do in the evenings- like taking care of the kids, tending to tasks you didn't complete during the day or managing the home?  

And than there is the television. Many people view TV as relaxing "down time" before bed. If the program is humorous like "The Big Bang Theory" all sorts of happy neurochemicals are being emitted into the body, prepping it for a good nights sleep. However, many of us often choose programs that over-stimulate us, like news or dramas, setting us up for a" lousy" sleep.

Keep in mind- the brain needs to be calm before bed!

So if you are hoping for a Wonderful Day, begin it with some pleasant morning rituals and end your day calmly.   

A wonderful time to spring clean

The beginning of spring is a time to think about cleaning, whether that be your home, your work desk, closet, dressers or most importantly, your body. Usually at this time I do a detox to support my liver. Since we've hibernated over the winter months, eating foods that sustained my internal heat, our organs (especially the liver) have had to work on overdrive. 

Here are a few options you can use to support your liver. One that I like a lot, is the dandelion plant. It's great to use in salads.  Milk thistle is also a great liver supporter- it's a strong herb, and only a few drops per day for two weeks is enough. Observe how your body reacts. Another great thing for the liver is to give your body a day off  by doing a liquid cleanse. For example: soups, green tea, water, smoothies, herbal teas, a cup of coffee, and coconut water to help balance electrolytes. I usually opt for a lazy Sunday to do my liquid cleanse, when I have less demands from work and life. I'll then introduce solid foods on the Monday- be sure to eliminate sugars, simple carbohydrates and heavy meats. 

There is an old Italian saying "At the table one never grows old".  Italians tend to have a lot of food and laughter around the table.  They tend to savour their food in delight.  When we are happy, our bodies tend to respond in the same joy.  I believe when we love what we eat, we will digest well.  Loretta LaRoche, an Italian Comedian from NYC says when "we squeeze a lot, whine a lot, we are sphincterizing", this will definitely affect digestion and elimination.

Food is succulent. so enjoy it with passion - RL  

De-cluttering, getting rid of "stuff" that no longer serves you or fits you, is just another way to feel lighter for the sunnier months. I get a lot of pleasure going through my closet and dresser drawers, giving away clothes I have not worn in the year to an organization that would benefit from my past joys.  It allows room for the "new".  Fresh ideas, new looks, a cleaner and more organized closet makes me feel renewed - giving rise to more energy in my daily life.  

When we feel clean, just like after a shower, or visually see how beautifully organized our closets + house are, our bodies will respond to our food in a different way.  We will feel happier, lighter, calmer and more in control of our lives.  Eating will then become a more pleasant enjoyment. 

So get going, start your spring cleaning so you can later play in the sun!  

The importance of yoga

This past week was the yoga show in Toronto.  Why practice Yoga?  Yoga has been scientifically proven to reduce the physical and emotional effects of stress on the body.  By encouraging relaxation, yoga helps to lower the levels of cortisol, our stress hormone.  In turn heart rate and blood pressure will lower, digestion will improve, and the immune system will strengthen.  Emotional symptoms like anxiety, depression, fatigue, frustrations as well will be eased. 

Yoga helps to improve circulation and as a result of various poses, more efficiently moves oxygenated blood to the body's cells, naturally allowing for better flow of energy in the circulatory, endocrine, reproductive, digestive and all major systems in the body.  

With the cortisol lower yoga can also assist in weight management and burn calories even with a less vigorous style of yoga.  It will encourage proper eating habits through improved mind-body awareness which will enhance ones self esteem 

Yoga is a four fold awareness:  "Awareness of body, awareness of emotions, awareness of mind and awareness of awareness.  One should start with the awareness of just how unaware one is" Swami Gitananada

Studies have shown and demonstrated that practising yoga asanas (postures), meditation or a combination of the two, reduced pain for people with conditions like auto-immune diseases, arthritis, hypertension, back and neck pain from various injuries, even cancer can be reduced.  Dr Kabat Zinn who has opened the medical realm to mindfulness based meditation has proven that yoga and meditation together can assist in pain management. 

Yoga teaches people to take slower, deeper breaths.  This helps to improve lung function, relax tissues, increase oxygen to the body and brain.  Deep breaths also calm the mind which will calm the emotions.  

Besides all of the above the basic benefits are increased flexibility and joint mobility.  With regular practise over time the ligaments, tendons and muscles lengthen, increasing elasticity, making deeper postures possible.  Though the depth of the posture is not as important as the technique and postural awareness. 

Yoga can also help with focus, being more present in the moment, opening the way to improved concentration, co-ordination, memory and reaction time. 

Originally yoga was developed to help the student to reach higher states of consciousness and spiritual growth, thereby freeing the person from the monkey mind.  In today's society yoga is so much more important because of the urban fast pace and demands on a person and little time for rest and pleasure .  

So if any of the above appeals to you from any aspect of health either it be mind, emotion or physical, it might be worth your time to get a flavour for the type of yoga that resonates with you and your body.


Thoughts on Mental Illness

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Anxiety, depression, and bouts of explosive anger can be indicators of an early medical problem and not just psychological.  The main information processing systems of the body – the endocrine, central nervous and immune systems are in constant communication with one another to inform the body about the internal and external environments.

Most recently in the 2015 edition of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, a group of Italian researchers explored whether depression, anxiety and other psychiatric mood disorders might be early signs of a physical problem. Such physical problems may be Cushing’s Syndrome, hypothyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, pancreatic and lung cancer, myocardial infarction, Wilsons disease and aids- to name a few possible causes.

All too often it seems physicians struggle to recognize the connections between the physical and mental, referring a person to a psychotherapist or psychiatrist for treatment.  However, it is important to remember our minds and bodies are intimately connected.  Physical problems can influence the brain/ mental state and the mental states can affect the bodily functions.

When we are sick, our bodies try to fight the disease, the infection, and or the injury.  It takes a lot of energy and we can end up very fatigued.  In time, our emotional and mental states can be affected through fear and anxiety or depression- often to avoid the reality of a serious illness, or problem and hence, a condition can be misdiagnosed as mental, rather than physical.

The DSM5 (the most current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association) provides examples of medical conditions that may be associated with mood and anxiety disturbances; but not a list of medical disorders characterized by early physical symptoms. 

This is all to say that it may not be just in your HEAD.  Hence, at times antidepressant drugs may not be effective for anxiety/depression. It is then very important to ask your doctor(s) to conduct a physical exam as part of a treatment plan, in order to potentially rule out any other medical issues that may be causing a mental symptom.