Core Awareness 101: Intro the the Psoas

The psoas (so-az) muscle is the deepest muscle in the body, connecting the spine to the leg and stretching from solar plexus to upper thigh. It is a crucial element of core strength. However, it is not a muscle that does best when strengthened, stretched, or massaged. Instead, to best work toward core health and psoas health, we need to approach it from an understanding of how it relates to the whole body, not just its mechanical function.

The first thing to understand about the psoas is that it is about motion. It is the only muscle that connects the trunk of the body to the legs, and it is what allows you to lift your leg with each step. It is a suspension bridge to the spine, stabilizing it the same way ropes stabilize a tent. It also supports organ health, helping to hold the organs in place and massaging them as the body moves. This improves fluid and nutrient flow, which helps keep them functioning well.

When the psoas has dysfunction, it is usually due to exhaustion. Many factors can contribute to this, including structural imbalances, injuries, and restrictive clothing, shoes, and chairs that keep us from moving naturally most of the time. Because the psoas is about providing stability while in motion, it will work harder to compensate for a lack of stability, and so grow thick and short. This in turn pulls the pelvis out of alignment and transfers stress to the knees and low back. It also becomes less effective at supporting organ health.

The psoas is also tied directly into the flight or fight response, as it is the muscle that helps curl us into a protective ball or allows us to run and jump our way out of danger. A chronically exhausted psoas, then, sends a constant signal of stress and danger to the body. This has emotional and physical consequences and can exhaust the adrenals and deplete the immune system.

Working with the psoas to restore health and vitality to the whole system means bringing awareness and ease to the core. Moving from a tight, thick psoas to a juicy, supple one can relieve a wide range of symptoms, including water retention, sleep issues, foot rotations, and deep-seated fears. It may take practice to build awareness of the psoas, but when it becomes juicy, we are able to move with more ease and vitality.

What is HaLé Bodywork?

HaLé Bodywork begins by listening. We are advocates of client-centered care, and clear communication is at the heart of a good massage therapy session. Our treatments start from a place of supporting and listening to clients’ experiences.

Our massage therapists use ashiatsu, neuromuscular, myofascial release, and sports massage, as well as in-house in techniques that use the therapist’s own breath and body weight in order to work as deeply as needed without strain. These techniques are effective for reducing stress levels, reducing pain, and supporting emotional health, which allows us to effectively treat and support a wide variety of clients.

Treatments at HaLé go much deeper than simple relaxation. In addition to reducing the stress and muscle tension in the body, we practice manual medicine to restore soft tissue and create health and wellness. This means that we can help increase range of motion, reduce swelling, help posture issues, reduce scarring, and more.  

HaLé Bodywork begins with listening and works toward rehabilitation and wellness. It complements other treatment approaches (like medicines), and can have a profound effect on pain levels, quality of life, and overall sense of wellbeing.

Supportive Treatments for PTSD

PTSD is a stress-related disorder that can develop after a traumatic experience. It often includes symptoms of increased anxiety and hypervigilance, pain from muscle tension and headaches, and sleep issues, and it can make every day a struggle. Treatment with HaLé therapies can help empower the healing process and ease the distress.

HaLé Bodywork can provide pain relief, lower anxiety and stress, and improve mood and sleep quality, all of which are especially helpful for people with PTSD. Our sessions are also based on creating and strengthening a trust relationship with your massage therapist. This trust bond brings both physical and emotional comfort, which creates safety for increasing awareness of both physical and psychological distress. This combination of trust, comfort, and awareness creates room for healing.

Our classes also provide many of these same benefits. HaLé Yoga and our other offerings all increase mindful awareness of the body in the present moment, and help release stress and anxiety, reduce pain, and create a general sense of wellbeing. By linking the mind and body through the breath, the mind is able to calm, which can reduce the intensity of feelings and thoughts associated with PTSD symptoms.

By reducing physical and mental distress, the bodywork and classes we offer at HaLé can provide relief for PTSD symptoms. Through increased feelings of trust, safety, and awareness, the constant alarms of PTSD can be recalibrated, and we are happy to offer support through that process.

What is HaLe’ Yoga?

HaLe’ Yoga is therapeutic and mindfulness-based, which means it works to create awareness even as it supports the health and healing of the body. There is a unique connection between the body and mind, and the practice of HaLe’ Yoga is designed to use this connection to build self-awareness and increase the clarity and accuracy of how you know yourself.

We all have things that come up for us in our bodies and minds. Sometimes they are constant symptoms, and sometimes they show up every so often. The body is always talking to us through pain, pleasure, and other sensations. We can learn to understand this language.

The practice of yoga is a great way to learn to speak with our own bodies. We can sit and breathe and listen, allowing information to come from the body up instead of from the head down. We can practice the movement of yoga to connect the body and the mind, to bring us a more peaceful, balanced feeling.

HaLe’ Yoga integrates movement, breath, and awareness to connect you to yourself and cultivate health. Yoga can be your greatest self-care guide as you create health and wellness from the inside out.

Treating Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a difficult and frustrating syndrome involving generalized chronic pain, fatigue, and mood and memory issues. Treatment focuses on managing these symptoms, and bodywork and massage are especially helpful for this. Developing a self-care relationship with your body through classes like Yoga for All Levels and MELT Method also helps bring long term relief.

Bodywork and massage treatments for fibromyalgia use integrative techniques to best address the sensitivity of a body dealing with fibro. Gentle stretches, rocking motions, and long strokes help release muscle tension, increase circulation, and bring deep relaxation. Because every body is unique, it is especially important to communicate with your therapist about your treatment, and to let them know if it ever feels too intense.

Multiple scientific studies have looked at the effectiveness of bodywork treatments for fibromyalgia, and the proven benefits include:

  • Higher serotonin levels
  • Decreased stress hormones
  • Improved sleep
  • Lower pain levels, especially at tender points
  • Improved overall sense of well-being

In addition to bodywork, developing a self-care relationship with your body can lay the foundations for long term relief of fibromyalgia symptoms. This is a process of learning to listen and be in relationship with your most physical self, and does not come easily to everyone. Regular practice is key, and self care classes like yoga and MELT method are very helpful in this process.

Fibromyalgia and related pain syndromes can make basic activities difficult. Treatment through bodywork and self-care can offer better sleep, less pain, and an overall sense of well-being. Regular massage sessions and classes have a cumulative effect, building on each other to make day to day living less painful and more enjoyable.

Cooling, Receptive, Restorative Yoga

Restorative Yoga is a different experience from most yoga classes. It is designed to bring deep relaxation and rest in order to create healing in the body. We all need to take a break, especially if we live with a lot of time pressure and stress. That kind of stress can break down the body if we don’t learn to regularly let it go.

The benefits of Restorative Yoga far outweigh downtime at home. A lot of us can’t rest in our own homes, because there is always a to do list, or a project list, or meal prep that comes next and draws our energy away from rest. Rest and restoration require dedicated attention.

Coming to a beautiful space that is completely dedicated to healing can really assist a Restorative practice. It uses a lot of props like blankets, bolster pillows, and blocks to create poses you can relax into, allowing gravity to do the work and your body to release. A lot of us don’t even realize we aren’t relaxing until we engage in a practice like this, and then we can feel the tension melt away, releasing in waves.

Restorative Yoga is also a cooling practice, and can help take the edge off high blood pressure and deepen the healing for other health issues, especially inflammation, pressure, and other issues that are about too much heat in the body. It is gentle enough to work for most people regardless of injuries, surgeries, age, or fitness.

Receptive and cooling, Restorative yoga is not about doing, but about being. It meets you wherever you are in your body and offers an opportunity for deep wellness.

The Process of Healing

The body is a marvellous machine, able to repair and heal itself. This process of healing happens in stages, and understanding these phases can help ease the frustration and fear of dealing with an injury. There are three main steps of tissue healing: Inflammation, Repair, and Remodeling.

Inflammation: The body immediately begins healing a traumatic injury with inflammation. The injured tissues release chemical signals that dilate blood vessels to bring extra blood flow, white blood cells, and nutrients to help clean up and wall off the injured area. This also serves to limit the function of the injured area, to prevent additional tissue damage. The swelling and pain, as uncomfortable as they are, are a protective process. Bodywork can support this phase by working on associated structures while avoiding the injured tissues. It also will help shift the nervous system out of fight or flight mode into relaxation and repair mode through stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows more of the body’s resources to focus on the healing process.

Repair: Once the injured area is walled off and cleaned up, inflammation subsides and construction begins to replace or repair the injured tissue. Temporary blood vessels grow in order to supply the nutrients needed for healing, and special cells called fibroblasts begin producing a fragile form of scar tissue called granulation tissue to fill in the gaps left after the damaged structures were cleaned out by the body. This is when it is easiest to reinjure the tissues, as pain levels have gone down but the repairs are not yet strong enough for full use. Bodywork can begin to gently address the injured areas, being careful of the fragile granulation tissue, and can continue to work on associated structures to maintain function, minimize compensation, and increase circulation.

Remodeling: Once enough granulation tissue is produced, the construction of permanent tissue can begin, usually as strong scar tissue made from a dense network of collagen fibers. At first, the collagen fibers are arranged in all directions, and they adjust according to how the body moves as it heals. Some fibers are reinforced to provide more strength, as others are destroyed to provide more flexibility. This process is best done with a gradual return to functional activities, followed by time for the tissue to adapt. At this point, bodywork treatment can work much more directly on the affected area, focusing on breaking up scar tissue and increasing range of motion, even as it continues to address compensating movement patterns.

There is no specific time frame for each phase of healing, so it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of each part of the process in order to treat them effectively. Remodeling in particular can take months or even years, and supporting the body as it finds its best function as it heals can do a lot to help reduce chronic dysfunction and discomfort. Bodywork and self-care are effective ways to support this process, helping us stay in conversation with our bodies and respond to their needs.

Travel Tips for Your Body

The keys to taking care of your body while traveling are hydration, warding off insomnia, and body comfort. Biochemical processes don’t move as fast as cars and airplanes, so the body needs support in catching up. Here are some ways to practice self-care as you go:

1. Help reset your sleep cycle with exposure to natural sun for at least 20 min. Using a natural sleep aid such as melatonin or CBD oil can also help.

2. Balance the hips and release the neck and shoulders because those can get compacted during travel.

3. Stay more hydrated than usual. Coconut water and bottled spring water are especially good.

4. Diet-wise, eat bananas and maybe some nuts. Avoid fatty foods, spicy foods, dairy, and caffeine.

5. Take an epsom salt bath with a little lavender or something in it that rejuvenates to help with travel weariness.

6. Practice gentle forward fold pose: put your sitting bones against a wall, with your feet 12-18 inches from the wall and fold forward along your thighs. Relax into the pose and breathe into your back.

7. Take a twist: Doing gentle twists can release back tension and help relieve nausea and constipation.

8. Allow yourself a couple of days after your travel to recalibrate and settle back in.

9. Tell your stories to someone who can really listen. Trips can rearrange us a little, and we often return a little different from who we are when we left. Connecting with our people when we return can relieve emotional tension that otherwise could be held in the body.

On the Psychology of Muscle

Your muscles take on the shape that they are accustomed to being in for hours every day. Any one thing, any repetitive motion, will shape the muscle and shape the fascia that surrounds it. The body responds so that the form follows the function, or that the function will make the form. What we want, then, is for our bodies to assume variable positions and activities throughout the day and throughout our life.

Changing positions can be challenging, though. It takes more than stretching to release a muscle, and we can’t force ourselves into a position when our body isn’t ready. Muscle fibers require a neurological signal in the form of a chemical messenger in order to release, and even though that signal comes from the brain, we don’t necessarily decide if our brain will send that signal. We can’t just tell our hamstrings to be less tight. What needs to happen is that the brain needs to feel that it is safe enough for that muscle to release.

So don’t over-stretch yourself into being over-burdened and over-committed. Dive into a conversation with yourself, befriend yourself, and gain an understanding of what your end stretch is and how much you can take on. There are times when we can take on a whole lot, and life circumstances change and we can take on even more. But nothing is constant, everything ebbs and flows, and it is our responsibility to listen to that ebb and flow and know if we need to back off or engage. What you did last summer may be very different from what you can do this summer, but if we go in with hearts wide open we can find opportunity.

Stay buoyant and responsive to where you and your body are in the process of holding and changing positions. We can’t force these processes, but we can work with them by knowing the parts of ourselves.

Emotional Healing that Starts in the Body

Emotional and physical healing are intertwined. Physical issues can have emotional consequences like depression or anxiety, and the opposite is also true. Strong emotions can become stored in the body, often as tension, pain, or dysfunction.

When you receive bodywork and massage or engage in a self-care practice like yoga, the release of stress and muscle tension can also bring an emotional release. Often, but not always, this release brings up negative feelings that you may have pushed back, like fear, sadness, or anger. This can be a shifting point in your healing process! Even though it is painful to experience old emotions, this can be what you need to get to the other side.

Teachers and bodyworkers are not trained or licensed to provide the therapeutic processing that a mental health counselor could, but they can do a lot to create an opportunity for deep emotional healing. They may slow down or stop the physical process of your session or class in order to let the full emotional release move through. Taking full deep breaths will also help your body release the stored energy on its own, and so they may remind you to breathe. Usually you will calm down after a few minutes, and then be able to rejoin the class or return to the flow of your bodywork treatment.

There is true wisdom in saying, “I need support.” Emotional energy is a factor in our health and our healing process, and feeling safe to release emotional energy can help in so many ways. Having someone just be present and supportive by your side can be exactly what you need.

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