The Vagus Nerve: Becoming Unfrozen

I recently went to a training in Somatic Experiencing. A protocol of trauma healing founded by Peter Levine. There were many incredible things I learned from this weekend (many of which will probably come to be posted about in this blog), but one of the breakthrough moments of enlightenment I would like to share about today is the Vagus Nerve. Many of the concepts I will share come from Stephen Porges “Polyvagal Theory”.

The Vagus Nerve seems to be somewhat of a hot topic these days in mental health, naturopathic medicine, biofeedback, and other forms of healing (yoga, massage therapy, dance therapy, etc.).

Why?

The Vagus nerve is what enables our body to move into Parasympathetic dominance (rest and digest mode). When we work to stimulate our vagus nerve we are communicating to our brain and the rest of our body that we are “safe” and that it is okay to calm down. This is taught widely in many different health circles, and may be something you are familiar with. An important distinction to note is that we have two branches of our vagus nerve: the dorsal vagal and the ventral vagal complex’s.

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The Dorsal Vagal Complex (DVC) is a more rudimentary portion of our vagus system. The DVC is what is dominant when a person (or animal) is is “freeze” mode. This occurs when signals have reached the brain and nervous system that say “there is no way we are going to be able to fight off or flee away from this threat, so we just need to play dead and hopes that the harm will pass and at some point we will be able to get out of this situation.” Essentially it is like the emergency break of a car for the nervous system. The DVC is responsible for energy conservation and giving our body the bare minimum for what is necessary to survive.

The Ventral Vagal Complex (VVC) is a more formed branch within the vagus nerve. If we stick with the car analogy the VVC is like the soft break to our system that is communicating “hey, that is a nice beach over there…why don’t we slow down, pull over, have a picnic, and enjoy it?” The VVC is responsible for our ability to socially engage, and it enables us to be oriented to our surroundings.

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When we have experienced chronic stress or grown up experiencing trauma- we are more likely to be functioning out of our Dorsal Vagal Complex. This is not something that is bad or wrong, in fact it is what the body has needed to do to survive; however, the Dorsal Vagal Complex is meant to be a short-term, temporary form of survival. Our bodies are not wired to spend long amounts of time hanging out with the e-brake on (as you can imagine the wear and tear this would put on an automobile to constantly be driving with the e-brake pulled). This is significant when we are dealing with healing trauma, because this is a nervous-system level survival mechanism. Just talking alone to someone who is in Dorsal Vagal dominance is like trying to have a helpful conversation with a deer that is in the headlights of a car (sorry for all the car analogies?) and is unable to think or move.

The nervous system needs to realize that the trauma has passed in order for an individual to begin to be able to even talk about their traumas, much less experience healing after trauma!

How does this happen?

The most basic ways we can enable the system to heal after trauma or chronic stress is by enabling the mind and body to become grounded in the present moment.

  1. Take a moment to start to look around where you are. How many things that are yellow do you notice? How about green? Any other colors you become aware of? How many things that are circular do you become aware of? Are there any unique or unusual shapes that you see?

  2. What do you start to notice in your mind and breathe as you allow yourself to orient to where you are? Perhaps you find your breathe has begun to slow down. It can be common to take an involuntary deep breathe as your system begins to orient to where you are.

  3. Now perhaps notice sensations within the body. Are there certain temperatures, sensations, or feelings that you begin to notice in your body? What happens as your mind and body start to integrate into the moment and pay attention to your body?

That’s it! 3 simply (but not always easy) steps to beginning to be more mindful and present- enabling your Ventral Vagal Complex to start to become activated.

You may say “Hey wait a minute! I noticed that I feel angry, anxious, or some other feeling that doesn’t feel good…” That actually makes sense from a nervous system level. When our body has had to move into Dorsal Vagal dominance it is because we have experienced something that is too much for our body to handle, so often things will start to “feel worse before they feel better” as the body starts to wake up. It’s a bit like when you have pins and needles after your foot has fallen asleep. It’s not always a pleasurable experience, but it is signifying that nerve endings and feelings are coming back on line! So take time, be patient with yourself, and if it feels like the emotions or sensations that come up are too difficult to handle alone- please seek professional services to help you navigate living in a body more fully awake.

Thank you for reading!

What if you DON'T want to heal?

So often the biggest issue I see with clients is the issue of ambivalence. We wan’t to heal, and we don’t want to heal. We want change, and we don’t want change. We want different relationships, and we don’t want different relationships. We want to look different, and we don’t want to look different.

As humans we are born more vulnerable and more susceptible than any other mammal on the planet. Any peak at a national geographic film will show you that other species are able to walk within a few short hours of being born. Human children are not only incapable of walking, but they also lack the ability to find food, to communicate properly (they learn how to translate their internal cues from their mother’s mirroring), and they are unable to to do just about anything useful for their own survival for the first many years of life. Even after children are physically capable of DOING things it takes a human body roughly 16-20 years to reach a physical stature that is comparable to other full grown members of our species. Other mammals take only a year or so to reach full physical capabilities.

What does this have to do with healing?

So glad you asked!

Due to the developmental dependency that we have on our parents, families, and communities as children- we learn at a very early age (as young as before one year old!) what emotions will get us an adverse reaction, what behaviors will give us what we need, and what is acceptable and unacceptable. We are completely dependent on those around us, so our nervous system teaches us unconsciously how we need to act and what we need to do in order to remain safe within the care of those around us. If we are taught by our families, religions, or cultures that to wander outside of these societal or familial guidelines means punishment, shame, or even abandonment, we are forced with two decisions: We need to either give up our independence and autonomy in order to give ourselves a felt-sense of “security” within our tribe, or we need to give up our need for intimate relationships and leave the herd as a “lone wolf” in order to maintain our sense of agency. We learn that we need to be perfect and fit in to what is demanded of us, or we need to stand out and be the black sheep that will inevitably be ostracized. These options give us the ability to choose between ourselves or others. It is not an easy choice, but it is a necessary choice for survival. These two options work well for us… until they don’t.

By the time a client has reached my office their hyper-independence or co-dependence has cost them greatly, and they are ready for a change. But they are also not. When we have been holding on to a flotation device for our entire life and someone tells us, “It’s okay. Just cut yourself loose” We probably will feel a range of things. We may feel angry at the person who is telling us to cut ourselves off from our lifeline for being so insensitive and naive. Don’t they know we would drown?? We may also feel terrified at the idea of accepting an invitation to be free of this safety device that also works as an entrapment. We might feel giddy at the thought of being able to dive deep into the water, swim as fast as we want to, and enjoy the freedom of swimming without needing to be strapped to an unnecessary lifeboat anymore. All of these (and more) are normal and common things for us to feel when we are being beckoned into change. Our nervous system knows that we are dependent on the people around us, and if we think that our decisions and our freedom is going to cost us those relationships then we will literally feel afraid for our lives at the thought of risking it. Many of the decisions we make are unconscious forms of keeping the status quo that does not illuminate the toxicity in family dynamics, societal norms, or religious bias, for in doing so we may be shunned, and we know in our nervous system that we need others for our own safety.

So what happens when you don’t want to heal?

Be patient with yourself! Be kind to yourself! The fear that you have of change is your body telling you the risks it knows to have when you do not to conform to others or move towards intimacy. You may be more afraid to be alone, or you may be more afraid to truly be known. It is never my job as a therapist (or anyones job!) to tell you when you are ready to change, or the rate at which you should be changing. That is going to be different for every person. The more you can lean into the ambivalence the more it will illuminate the hope that just may give you courage to risk some of the changes you have been afraid to make. There are very few things in life and in the world that change, heal, or grow from us trying to force it. When we have kindness and compassion for our ambivalence we start to give ourselves the acceptance we may have never known. We can start to feel the tenderness that we are capable of for ourselves, and this brings softness to be able to receive healing. If we have learned that we need to perform in order to succeed or be a part of community, telling ourselves that same message is not helpful. It is when we can accept ourselves just as we are, where we are, that we can truly begin to transform.

Energy, Subtle Body, and The Spirit of Life

What do you feel when you read the title of this blog? Perhaps you feel excitement and curiosity into what they mean. Maybe you have a familiarity with such subjects, or maybe you feel a strong resistance and pulling away from words regarding “Energy” and “Subtle Body”. I am not asking you to agree with anything that I write about, but my one request is that you remain curious to your responses of what I write. What do you feel churning in your belly throughout this blog? What are you aware of in your breathe as you read the words? Do you feel tingly or numb? Just notice…

Over the last few years in my research on trauma recovery and the body I have found it harder and harder to ignore such concepts as energy, chakras, vibrations, and the subtle body. I have read books from Christian, Buddhist, Scientific, and Agnostic points of view, and the overlap of themes regarding energy have been staggering! I am under no illusion that I will be able to merge or even come close to merging these modalities in this blog, which is honestly one of the reasons I haven’t written a blog in a while. I have wanted to honor what I am learning, and it doesn’t feel like an easy task. But my hope is that through allowing some of the themes and ideas to come up here they will continue to flow into more succinct presentations in the future.

First off it feels important to answer WHY I think it is important to explore the themes of energy. I grew up in a Christian tradition that shunned theories from Eastern religions or medicines as wrong or bad. I find that so sad, and it makes me even more sad the more I learn about the importance of energy when it comes to healing the body, mind, and spirit.

When I think about energy there are various words that come to mind: Vibration, Spirit, life force, Eros. All of these words have the same concept: aliveness. All things, all matter, are energy.

E=MC2

This is a theory I am not going to pretend to understand in full. But what I do get is that energy and matter are one in the same. Therefore all matter holds energy within it. The keys I am typing are energy, the table in which my computer is resting is energy, the faces and bodies around the coffee shop around me all consist of energy. Even the words and the laughter that I am hearing are vibrations of energy moving through time and space to reverberate in my brain and make my neurons light up energetically in ways that translate and make sense of the energetic vibrations in my ear drums…. sensing a theme here?

Genesis 1 speaks of the beginning of the formation of matter, but begins with the Spirit of God “hovering over the deep”. Synonyms for hovering include flickering, dancing, and fluttering. This to me insinuates that the imagination of the author of Genesis held for God was of a moving, vibrant Being. To be created in this image is to be a being of vibrancy and movement. Perhaps being created in the image of God involves the ability to be able to dance, to flutter, to flicker freely.

Fear is the only emotion that has the ability to immobilize us. So when we are bound to spiritual and religious dogmas that teach us not to be curious, not to seek, because we may “fall off the path” we become locked in fear. The invitation from Jesus, however, is “whoever seeks will find.” Yet more often we are told in churches today that other people, usually white men, have already done the seeking for us. We are told to NOT seek, because who knows what we will stumble upon if we do? Fear therefore becomes the easiest thing for religious leaders to latch on to in order to build their congregations and followers. This creates a trauma bond between churchgoers and their pastors. When we are told that the mouth of God is coming out of a man and not within our own bodies, our own subtle energy, then we disconnect ourself from the very Spirit of God within us. We lose the vibration of the Living Spirit and are actually not then living into the fullness of what it is to be made in the image of God. God is love, Eros, Energy. God is within the vibration, the hovering, the flickering of our cells and neurons.

When we take time to listen to the voice of God within the quality of energy in our body we can tune in to the still, quiet voice that leads us to life and life in abundance.

This is why it is significant for me to step into realms of energy, chakras, and subtle body. So much of what it means to be fully alive has been lost in the Western version of Christianity out of fear and immobility. But perfect love casts out fear and enables us to gain back our mobility, our energy, and step into terrain of new life. So now that have answered why I think it is important, I want to talk briefly about what I think we can glean from it. But I want to pause and ask you to pay attention to your sensations, to YOUR energy. Is it stirring with excitement at what you have read? Do you find that your energy and blood is hot with anger at what I have said? I invite you to have an authentic experience in whatever is coming up for you- without judgment or expectation of how you “should” feel about what you are reading.

So what can we glean from theories of energy?

Plain and simple I will say wellness. Much more wellness than I have the breadth to go into today. But when we connect to our own energy and awareness we are able to release toxic energy that gets stored in our body from trauma. We are able to clear out energy blocks from shame and fear. When we do this our cells are able to function at full capacity, and we can have a healthier relationship to ourselves, to others, and to our world. When we remain curious about ourselves we are required to stay in a posture of openness. This brings softness and rest to our body which enables us to come out of fight-flight-freeze mode. When we are in a state of rest we can properly digest, our immune system can function at full capacity, we can produce fresh blood cells, and all of the other amazing things that our bodies know how to do naturally- if we give it the time and space to do so!

So I invite you on a journey with me. A journey to be curious and to stay open. A journey to discover what our bodies, and the voice of God, are speaking.

Recommended books:

Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine

The Jazz of Physics by Stephon Alexander

Eastern Body Western Mind by Anodea Judith

The Psoas Book by Liz Koch

What are you afraid of, really?

Fear has great potential to either be a catalyst for growth and change, or to be the cause of crippling paralysis. Fear is what enables us to run away from a burning building or dangerous animal, but if we have not had experiences of fear mobilizing us into action than we can get stuck in a cycle of freezing. Much of how we respond to fear and what we do with it is based on our early childhood experiences and what our bodies have learned to do with fear.

Most often fear is not actually about the phone call, job interview, or new career venture that we are deciding to make or not. Fear is actually about the neural connections that have fired together in the past. Our Limbic System is the part of our brain that houses our Amygdala; and our Amygdala is the primary part of our brain responsible for our fight/flight response. Our limbic brain, also known as our mammalian brain, can feel emotions (such as fear), but it does not have the rational that our prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of our brain) has. This means that our limbic system has no way to differentiate between the fear I am feeling when I need to have a difficult conversation and the fear I have felt when I was white water rafting the Nile River in Uganda. All it has the ability to say, as you may have seen in my previous posts, is “all systems red alert!!” or “it’s okay to rest, digest and chill”.

If as children we experienced chronic trauma or stress that was inescapable we can become trapped in a perpetual state of fight/flight or freeze. We may be constantly in a state of unrest that leaves us agitated and prone to outrageous outbursts, or we may be stuck in an immobility response that keeps us stuck in toxic relationships or communities without the sense of self agency to leave.

So what is it that you are avoiding?

Is it that you are really avoiding that big career change, or that boundary that you need to set for yourself with someone else? Are you really staying away from the risk of that new invention? Or book you want to write?

Perhaps are you avoiding the feeling of what it is to set that boundary or make that leap?

We aren’t taught in our Western culture to befriend our emotions. We are taught to not feel, or at least to pretend like we don’t feel. The problem is that this is a bit like ignoring a burning coal that you’ve buried under a stack of wood that has been drying out in a desert for three years. The more we try to hide or look away from our emotions, especially ones that are charged with energy because they are meant for our safety and survival - the more those emotions will come back with a fire that we cannot ignore. Sometimes this smoldering can look like an autoimmune disease within the body, sometime it can look like a forest fire of relationships that we leave in our wake because we have not chosen to address the coal in the first place.

So how do we face the fear in order to use it as a catalyst and not a hindrance? How do we harness the energy and fuel from the fire and keep it from becoming a destructive force to us and to others? I am glad you asked :) Here are some thoughts…

  1. This may sound challenging and absolutely awful, and I won’t say it won’t be at first, but I believe that is actually the main reason we need to do it…

    1. stay. with. the. fear.

    2. Don’t run away from it. Don’t avoid it. Don’t hide it. But listen to it. Ask yourself; what does this fear feel like? Where in my body do I feel the fear? Is it a shudder through my entire system? Is it a hole in my stomach? Is it racing thoughts in my head? Become familiar with what the fear feels like for you.

  2. After you have recognized the feelings of fear see if you can find a place in your body that does not feel afraid, or if you can access a memory of what your body felt like when you weren’t afraid. When did you feel peaceful? How did that feeling feel in your body? Where did you feel rest? Where did you feel spaciousness within yourself? Where in your body did you feel settled?

  3. Now that you have built a certain level of safety within yourself come back to the fear. Has it increased? Has it shifted? Now start to ask yourself, “when was the first time I felt this way?” See if there is an age, an experience, or a memory that comes to mind. Who are the people in this memory? What is the setting? How old were you? Start to create a narrative in your mind that enables the body memory of fear to find one of the places it originated. As yourself, “How was my fear attuned to?” “who helped me overcome my fear or allowed me to feel a sense of agency when I was scared?” Some of these answers may become unsettling to you, and if they feel overwhelming return to point two and continue to build safety within yourself. Returning to the questions and curiosity about the fear when and as you are able to. Letting go of judgment and expectation of if you “should” be able to engage them now- but listening authentically to where you are at in this moment.

  4. After you have located experiences when you first learned this feeling of fear ask yourself, “what did that part of me need?” perhaps there was an experience where you needed to run away or fight off someone or something and you weren’t able to. Allow your body to move in any motion that makes you feel as if you are running away or fighting something off- this can help your body complete the survival response it may not have been able to in the moment. Perhaps what you needed to receive in that moment was comfort and for someone to let you know you were going to be okay, and if that is true maybe offer yourself a weighted blanket, a warm bath, or ask a loved one that you trust to hold your and speak to you kind words letting you know you will be okay. In whatever seems right for you pay attention to your breath. See if you can allow long, deep, slow breaths to fill your entire belly and chest; this will help make sure you are staying in parasympathetic (peaceful) dominance and not re-traumatizing yourself. This can begin to give your nervous system a new experience of what fear is and let you know you are not stuck in a memory where you didn’t have choice or the ability to run or fight. You are safe now.

  5. Come back to point two- maybe even with increased awareness of places of safety within yourself that you have found. Maybe you have found a new level of agency and support that you are able to offer yourself. Perhaps you have now grown a sense of confidence that you can do scary things and still survive. Continue paying attention to and trying to expand and slow down your breathing.

  6. See if you can take this breath and safety with you into whatever that risky and scary endeavor you need to make is. Come back to your place of safety within the fear; allowing yourself to move fluidly between fear and peace; and go for it!

  7. If you found yourself still unable to engage the fear- that is okay! Perhaps you are not ready to, and it may be helpful for you to find a professional that can help you address the themes of fear or terror with you.

Often times the most dangerous thing about fear is how it can be latched on to by people or systems that wish to use it against those that are afraid.

By building our capacity to face our fears and learn what soothing and comfort feel like we can start to reclaim parts of ourselves that feel oppressed and stuck in systems or relationships that are unhealthy for us. We can start to grow our autonomy and safety within ourselves that give us greater capacity to seek out safe and healthy relationships and communities with others.

Thanks for reading!

The Enteric Nervous System: Why is it significant for mental health?

Have you ever heard of the Enteric Nervous System? I hadn’t either until a few years ago. The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) serves as a deeply important part of our overall health, as it impacts the movement and flexion of the Gastrointestinal system running from the esophagus all the way to the rectum.

You may (or may not) be familiar with the two more well-known aspects of our Autonomic Nervous System: Sympathetic (used for our fight, flight resources) and Parasympathetic (our rest and digest resource). The Enteric Nervous System is also part of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), but it has now been recognized as its own branch, since it can function without the other branches of the ANS.

Photo by sankalpmaya/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by sankalpmaya/iStock / Getty Images

A few key things to know about the Enteric Nervous System would be:

  • It has more nerve cells than your entire spinal cord

  • 90% or more of the bodies Serotonin and half of the bodies Dopamine lies in the gut

    • Serotonin plays a key role in regulating mood, social behavior, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function

    • Dopamine is correlated with our reward-motivated behavior and impacts body movements as well as emotional responses

  • There are many conditions associated with Enteric Nervous System such as:

    • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

    • Crohn’s and other forms of Colitis

    • Reflux, Acid Reflux, and more…

      • (References from video link below)

This means is that the gut (and more exactly the Enteric Nervous System) really is the bodies second brain.

Why is this significant?

For too long psychology has functioned as if we are floating heads, and it has ignored the constant and significant interplay of the mind and body. Candace Pert PhD, a neuroscientist who discovered how emotions are stored at a neuropeptide level within the body writes:

“Most psychologists treat the mind as disembodied, a phenomenon with little or no connection to the physical body. Conversely physicians treat the body with no regard to the mind or the emotions. But the body and mind are not separate, and we cannot treat one without the other”.

Not only are the mind and body not separate, but research into the Enteric Nervous System shows that the mind is IN the body. Because the neurotransmitter’s Dopamine and Serotonin are responsible for our mood and our bodily functions, and are predominantly located within the belly, this part of the body must be engaged if we are to pursue holistic healing. The ENS does have the ability to function on its own; however, because of its proximity and correlation to the PSNS and SNS it is impacted by the bodies state of stress vs. rest. This means that taking care of our gut involves what we eat, but it also involves the stress that we are surrounded by.

  • Ways to assist the functioning of your ENS:

    • Eat whole, unprocessed foods

    • Learn if you have any food allergies or intolerance and avoid such foods

    • Find ways to build up your digestive enzymes through probiotics

    • Allow yourself to have moments of relaxation:

      • Take a walk in nature and find a peaceful place to sit and just be

      • Take a bath with some essential oils and calming music

      • Participate in a yoga or mindfulness class

    • Talk to a somatically informed mental health counselor if you have felt a state of stress, anxiety, or depression

    • Get exercise in order to assist your bodies boosts of feel-good hormones

Gut issues and sensitivities, just like mood concerns, should not be ignored. The good news there is hope if you have struggled with issues such as constipation, diarrhea, IBS, or other gastrointestinal issues. The body never lies, and if you have struggled with any of these the chance is your body is communicating something to you. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you continue to take the next few moments to listen to your gut. Listen to the rumblings or the stillness. Listen to the movement or congestion. What may your gut be telling you about your mental and physical state of wellbeing? All the best on your journey to healing!

((I am not a medical doctor and the above is based on personal research and opinion. It is not intended for medical advice. You should always consult your doctor when it comes to physical health.))

Resources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/dopamine

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/kc/serotonin-facts-232248

http://candacepert.com/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXx4WTVU34Y

The Psoas and Chronic Stress/ Trauma

Muscle of Survival

Our Psoas Muscle is known as the “fight-flight” muscle. As you can see in the picture below- the Psoas connects our lumbar spine to our inner thighs by running through our hip joint. The connection between our back and our legs enables us to run and kick. These are the two primary functions that we need in “fight-flight” mode (hence the name!)

When our nervous system senses that we are in danger it alerts our Psoas to fire up. This enables us to be ready to run away from a lion that is chasing us, or to fight off another predator that may be more of our match. The neural connection between our brain and our muscles is a two way street. Just as the brain tells the Psoas to fire up; when the Psoas is in flexion it is sending neural messages to the brain saying “we are in danger and are going to need some support!” When the brain gets this message from our tense muscles our nervous fires out cortisol and adrenalin needed to preserve our life.

Obviously our Psoas is pretty significant when it comes to survival. (it is also a primary muscle involved in our stability and balance) .

The Stressed Psoas

The issue when we are dealing with chronic stress or trauma is that our Psoas is often in a constant state of flexion (activation).

When we have experienced chronic stress or trauma our nervous system is hyper-vigilant. Our brain and our muscles are in a constant state of ready, or even activation, in order to help us survive. Our nervous system does not have a rational way of thinking. It does not know how to differentiate the stress of traffic, cityscapes, or uncomfortable e-mails from a bear that is about to eat us. It only knows how to say “let’s get out of here!!” or “it’s oooookay to chill out….” Both of which occurs at an unconscious level in a fraction of a second.

Trauma research shows us that our physiology is impacted just as much as (if not more than) our psychology through stress and adverse experiences.

How do you know if you have a tight Psoas?

  • Do you sit more hours in a day then you spend moving around?

  • Have you ever experienced stressful events in life (be them extreme events such as the loss of a loved one or a car accident or seemingly less significant like the loss of a friendship or a fight with a spouse?)

  • Do you often have lower back pain?

  • Do you often find yourself feeling anxious, agitated, or frustrated?

If you have answered yes to any of the questions above there is a potential that you have a tight Psoas. This muscle can be impacted by any of these events. It can also impact our mood and emotional wellbeing due to the neural firings that occur when our Psoas is tight.

So what does it matter?

So why am I talking about the Psoas and how it is impacted by trauma?

Well… our Psoas muscle can serve as a litmus test for the rest of our body. When our Psoas is in a state of relaxation and rest- typically so is the rest of our body. And when our Psoas is tight and flexed- so is the rest of our body! This can produce an excess of cortisol and adrenal in our system which can lead to a myriad of stress-related health disorders including adrenal fatigue.

Our Psoas muscle is also correlated with our Diaphragm, which one of our main muscles responsible for breathing (see diagram below). As you can see the Diaphragm and the Psoas connect along the same vertebrae in the lower spine- so when the Psoas is tight we are unable to fully extend our Diaphragm. This means we aren’t able to take a full breath! When we are taking short, shallow breaths as opposed to long, slow breaths our body is in a constant state of Sympathetic Arousal (fight-flight). We cannot have both our Sympathetic and Parasympathetic (rest-digest) systems firing at the same time, and when our Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) is offline than we are unable to properly digest and absorb our food nutrients, our immune system is not going to be functioning at an optimal level, and we will have impaired ability to produce fresh blood cells…among many other general health functions that occur through our PNS.

A tight Psoas muscle can mean that our overall health and wellbeing is impaired.

Photo by magicmine/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by magicmine/iStock / Getty Images

What to do about it?

This good news is that we don’t have to be in a chronic state of fight-flight mode! The key is learning to listen to and respond to what our body is telling us. If your Psoas is tight (or if you have lower back pain as a potential symptom of a tight Psoas) here are some things you can do:

  • Stretch! Few things are as good on the body as stretching. Stretching should NEVER be about forcing your body into contortions. It is about getting into postures that feel slightly uncomfortable due to muscle tension and teaching your body to surrender and relax INTO the stretch.

  • Talk to a mental health counselor. Remember that the mind and the body is a two way street? Perhaps your Psoas is tight because of unconscious stresses in your life. These stressors may be scary or risky to face on your own. Talking to a professional who can help you listen to the language of your body and find out if there are circumstances or relationships you need to adjust in order for your body to be at rest is an invaluable investment!

  • Shake: Bear with me on this one- I know it may sound crazy. But one of the most amazing things we can do for our body (and one thing we almost never do) is to shake. Literally. Lay on your back and shake your head, arms, legs, and hips (paying special attention to your psoas). This can release extra energy and tension held in your viscera and nervous system so that your body can achieve a new state of relaxation.

  • Rest! After stretching and/or shaking allow yourself to lay on your back with arms by your side (palms up) and legs down with feet hanging open. If that is uncomfortable for your lower back you can bend your knees and put your feet on the floor with your knees together. Close your eyes and simply pay attention to your breath. Don’t have your phone or other distracting devices with you. Maybe play some calming instrumental music, and just be. See if you can slow down and increase your breath by focusing on your belly and chest raising with your inhale. This is giving your body the experience of resting and can help shift you into your Parasympathetic Nervous System.

Thanks for reading!