Condition the Psoas, Strengthen your Core

Body Awakening takes a Core-centric approach to the body. This means we focus on the core as a way to facilitate overall health. If you can release tension in the core, you can release tension everywhere. One of the best ways to do this is by focusing on your deepest, and most important core muscle; the psoas.

In order to understand why this muscle is so important, it is helpful to know its location and function. The psoas is a cylindrical muscle which begins at the anterior (front) surface of all five lumbar vertebrae. It then travels through the hip complex, lays over the pubis, and attaches to the lesser trochanter (upper, inner aspect) of the femur. It is the body’s primary hip flexor, creates (in part) the lordotic curve of the lumbar vertebrae, and flanks the Hara (Sacral Chakra & center of gravity). It is our philosophy that it is the source of all movement. With this information one is able to see the importance of this muscle.

While you are not in massage, practicing several exercises will help strengthen, stretch, and condition your psoas. We’ve made a series of videos which demonstrate some of these activities.

Our first exercise gently strengthens the abdominal muscles and hip flexors, encourages natural belly breathing, and softens the lumbar region of the spine. This exercise is called ‘Bellows’. Lay on your back, and rest your knees in your palms. Inhale and feel your abdomen open, expanding your whole body, causing your knees to press into your palms. Exhale, and compress the abdomen. This will draw your legs into the chest. Continue to rest your palms on you knees, but let your breath do the work.

Our next recommendation for healthy hip flexors is a strengthening exercise. Continue to lay on your back. Place your feet flat on the floor, about hip distance apart. This eliminates any curvature, or angle, in the lumber spine, and is called zero-position. From here, bring one knee toward your chest. Stop when you’ve reached a 90 degree angle with you hip and knee. Lower your foot to the floor and raise the other leg. As a progression, extend both legs and alternate raising them to as close to 90 degrees at the hip as possible. This exercise is great for hip alignment, as well. Continue to alternate leg raises as many times as you wish. We suggest 10-30 repetitions.

Just as important as strengthening, is stretching. Stretching helps muscles achieve their ideal length and condition, so that you can recruit their fullest potential. We recommend a kneeling lunge to stretch the psoas. From a kneeling position, bring one leg forward with the foot flat on the floor and the knee at a slightly obtuse angle, about 100 degrees. Shift the knee that is on the floor back a little. With the back knee rooted into the floor, gently tug your body forward with the forward heel while rolling your sacrum forward. You should feel a stretch in the psoas of the kneeling leg. Hold this position or take the stretch further with an oppositional rotation; twisting away from the planted knee and raising the arm of the same side. As a general guideline, hold stretches for a minimum of 20 seconds, and breath deeply into the abdomen.

The following exercise comes from Yoga. This pose is called Ardha Hanumanasana (Half Hanuman Pose). It is similar to the kneeling lunge. However, instead of having the forward foot on the floor, the front leg is extended so that the leg is straight and the heel is anchored to the floor. The back leg is also taken a further back. The knee is still the anchor for the back leg. Draw the to anchor points toward each other energetically and your hips will rotate slightly, approaching proper alignment. From this position, focus your breath into the base of the abdomen and stabilize your hips. You will feel a stretch in your forward hamstrings as well as the psoas on the opposite side. This posture is fantastic for simultaneously stretching and strengthening the psoas, as well as other core-related muscles. It is also a precursor to a full splits position.

In the next exercise, we stretch and strengthen the psoas again with another Yoga pose, Dhanurasana (Bow Pose). Laying prostrate on the floor, bend your knees, bringing your feet toward your head. Grab your legs at the ankle or blade of the foot. Inhale and let the breath expand your body as you press your feet away from your head. This will raise your torso and legs off the floor. Keep your arms straight as tension cables, allowing your legs to draw the body further off the floor with each breath. Your weight will being to teeter on your hip bones. This position opens the anterior aspect of the body, especially the psoas. Due to the oppositional force created by this position, you’ll also strengthen your hip flexors (and arms) as you hold this pose.

Finally, we draw upon another Yoga position to stretch the psoas. This pose is called Ustrasana (Camel Pose). From a kneeling position, activate your glutes to stabilize and protect the lumbar spine. Inhale and arch your back as you raise your arms overhead (this helps mobilize the spine). Exhale and fan your arms down and rest your palms on your achilles tendons or heels. If this is too much, rest your palms at the top of your hips, just above the glutes. Breath deeply, opening the anterior abdominal wall and hip flexors. Hold this pose as long as you’re comfortable.

Practicing these exercises will help you maintain a healthy psoas, and therefore, healthy core.

 

Extraordinary Energy in You

Understanding our unseen selves is a pursuit long practiced by Eastern cultures.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the twelve primary meridians are well known and commonly taught. More than these twelve meridians exist and flow through us.  Yuichi Kawada’s “Essential Shiatsu: The Eight Extraordinary Meridians”, identifies and explains these pathways summarily. The author elaborates a comprehensive flow of yin and yang energy through the body directed by the extraordinary meridians.

As a practitioner of Shiatsu, this information broadened my perspective on the energetic flow occurring in the human body and helped me to understand the unending cycle of transforming energy circulating through us. When working with clients, I  use this knowledge to deepen the insight gained during a session and increase my awareness of the rhythms of my clients. An expanded knowledge of energetic movement throughout the human body improves the overall efficiency of its flow.

From a TCM perspective, the flow of chi revolves around the body starting from its most Yin zone in the front right foot. It accumulates Yang energy as it zig-zags to the left and upward from the right foot to left, up to the right shoulder and over to the left. It then travels to the back to become our most Yang aspect in the upper left region of the back. The Yang energy zig-zags downward gaining Yin as it flows to the back of the right foot.

Understanding this continuous movement of Qi in our bodies helps stay in tune with ourselves. When our lives are out of balance, this knowledge helps us identify where energy may be stagnate or blocked. We can direct our energy more ably as a result.

Below are diagrams of the extraordinary meridians. All images are courtesy of “Essential Shiatsu: The Eight Extraordinary Meridians”.

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We Give Green Transport Benefits!

IMG_0994When you walk, bike or take muni to your Body Awakening appointment, we knock $4.50 off the price of your session to offset roundtrip Muni fare or just reward your green transit choice. Protecting our environment is a collective responsibility so offering green transport benefits are our way of saying “thank you for doing your part to keep our air clean.”

Not only is greening your transportation good for the Earth – it’s also good for your MIND and BODY. Walking, biking and public transporting over to your therapeutic session at Body Awakening is conducive to your overall health. Here are 5 health reasons to encourage everyone to choose alternatives to driving solo:

  1. Getting to point A from point B without a car has the added benefit of exercise. According to the American Heart Association, it takes as little as 30 minutes of walking to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, breast & colon cancer, type II diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease AND improve blood pressure levels, blood sugar levels, blood lipid profile and mental wellbeing.
  2. Driving requires concentration and creates mental stress. It’s also the activity that has given rise to the phenomenon of “Road Rage.”
  3. Sitting behind the wheel for a prolonged period decreases the lumbar curve in the spine which places extra strain on the vertebrae and discs and results in lower back pain.
  4. On road vehicles produce over a third of the carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere. Breathing in these pollutants have serious consequence for human health – Nitrogen oxides cause lung irritation and weaken the body’s defense against respiratory infections and carbon monoxide blocks oxygen from the brain, heart and other vital organs. Fetuses,newborn children and people with chronic illness are especial susceptible.
  5. If your finances are stressing you out, switching to a car-free life can save you the costs associated with car ownership i.e. payments, insurance, maintenance, repairs, fuel, tolls and parking. Car-centric development in the US has led to Americans thinking of a car as a necessity. However, in San Francisco and other cities planning for multi-modal transport and Transit Oriented Development (TOD), we have alternatives to move around.