Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Yoga of the psoas muscle on horseback

At Desert Horse Yoga, and Desert Horse Equestrian Services, we spend a great deal of time exploring psoas function on multiple levels. As a yoga teacher, I've been working with ways to gently release the psoas on the mat so that when we tone the bone and muscle, we begin from a place of release rather than tension.

This week has been gentle psoas release work in all of the yoga classes that I teach. This work is the best work I can think of to help people to relieve the trauma of our community due to the shooting resulting in death and injury at a Tucson shopping center.

Psoas release work applies the pancamaya model of yoga healing, which views the being from the physical, energetic, mental, personality, and emotional perspectives. I apply this yoga model for healing with focus on the psoas muscle.

The psoas muscle is your primary muscle of your deepest core, emerging from the transition of the thoracic spine to the lumbar spine to engage with the iliacus muscle of the pelvis, to reach to the lesser trochanter of the femur bones, thus directly connecting the torso to the legs centered by the pelvis. It is also intimate with the diaphragm and the pericardial sac, so is a muscle with a lot of influence.

This intriguing muscle is your filet mignon, literally, and has multiple talents. At the grossest level, the psoas is considered as a hip flexor. However, viewing it as simply a hip flexor loses the nuance of this all important muscle in the fright/flight/freeze response when exposed to trauma or potential trauma. See the work of David Bercelli for information on the function of the psoas muscle in trauma release work. And, the work of Liz Koch goes deep into the subtle actions of the psoas.

The same nuance that makes this tender muscle so influential in the releasing of trauma is also what helps us to our sthira sukha asana (stable, comfortable posture) whether that posture be standing, seated in a chair, in movement, on horseback, on the bike, on the rock wall, or at rest.

As a horse-assisted yoga teacher, it's natural to take the step of putting the person on the horse and practice the same release strategies on horseback. It's easier to feel the release on horseback, because the horse gives you more feedback than the floor.

Your legs can actually drape around the barrel of the horse, and your pelvis is supported by the horse. The connection with the horse helps set up a kind of feedback loop so that the horse can also release their own psoas. This is what happened today with Gary, after our horse yoga class. I got on board (bareback) and realized that my right psoas felt a little crunchy. I exhaled release and then Gary's right shoulder and leg began to shake a little, and continued for a few more breaths. I could feel him release under me, and we went off to practice his least favorite activity - backing. More on that another time.


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